Ever since about 10:30 p.m. last Sept. 14, I have been looking forward to the PBS special Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: 50 Years and Circlin’ Back, which premieres Saturday night on a public television station near you.
I was standing in the middle of the back section of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, clapping my hands and smiling like a giddy fool who had just watched the performance of a lifetime – and I wanted to see it again and share it with all of my friends.
“I can’t wait until the show is released,” I said out loud. You see, the band’s 50th anniversary concert was recorded for release in March, during the spring PBS fund drive, and I wanted to see and experience the show again. And again.
So, when my googling finally hit paydirt and I saw that the show was going to be aired and available March 5, I literally went out into the living room and danced like a little boy.
“What is WRONG with you?” Red asked. I was so excited I couldn’t say it out loud at first, I just jumped up and down until the golden retrievers joined me.
I have seen the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in person about a half-dozen times through the years – all but the first time with Red at my side – but they outshone my every expectation of this evening, and I had such high expectations I was willing to drive 1,000 miles to experience it.
With longtime member Jimmy Ibbotson back on stage for the final songs, and augmented by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Byron House – who should each be named honorary NGDB members for life – the musicians I have followed since their first minor hit in 1966 (”Buy for Me the Rain”) never sounded better, and I finally realized what I should have known long ago: This is my all-time favorite band.
Of course other bands may have more brilliant singer-songwiters and more big hits and flashier shows, but when these partners, brothers and friends get together something downright magical happens.
It can’t be as good as being there was – for one thing, those transcendent three hours will be condensed into 90 minutes, and the tremendous “Ripplin’ Waters” is necessarily relegated to the DVD extras (it otherwise would comprise more than 10 percent of the alloted time) – but just as the Will The Circle Be Unbroken album all those years ago, it will stand as a record of lightning in a bottle, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can now be shared again. And again. And again.