‘My Nitty Gritty Valentine’
February 13, 2014
Steamboat Springs — It's been almost 50 years since John McEuen and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band first took the stage, and McEuen hasn't slowed since.
On Friday, he invites his Valentine's Day audience to join him at the Chief Theater at 7 p.m. for “A Nitty Gritty Valentine,” a look back at his musical journey over the past half-century.
McEuen's 3-million-mile voyage includes 40 albums (six solo), more than 8,000 live shows, more than 300 television shows, multiple Grammys and a host of other awards, and six kids, one stepson and seven grandchildren.
Joining him at the Chief is his "pickin’ buddy" Matt Cartsonis, with whom McEuen has played for about 20 years.
The show will be multimedia, with the screen behind the musicians displaying photographs and film from McEuen's wild ride.
It's a way to give people a visual of where the music came from, McEuen said, and he's found that "people really like finding out what went on behind the curtain in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s."
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The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which continues to record and tour, has been described as "iconic," "profoundly influential" and a "catalyst for an entire movement in country rock and American roots music."
Their 1972 album, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” has been inducted into the U.S. Library of Congress as well as the Grammy Hall of Fame and called "the most important record in country music." Their recording of “Mr. Bojangles” was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2010.
In 2013, McEuen received the Charlie Poole Lifetime Achievement Award.
Along with singing, McEuen plays the banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and piano.
McEuen said he's psyched about playing at the Chief, and calls Steamboat one of his favorite towns — a "good spot with a great audience." He said he loves its variety, embodying both the Old West and a ski town, "the different aspects of Colorado all in one place."
McEuen lived in Colorado for 22 years.
"I've been on all the roads in Colorado," he said. "I like not using a map."
He said that one of the things he likes best about the state is being "around a lot of similar-minded people that love the mountains and work hard to be there." And the tourists come specifically to have fun, he noted, adding to a "concentration of people looking for a good time."
Always creating and always learning, McEuen thrives on challenges, including one of his latest endeavors — a news, music and entertainment website called SyndicatedNews.Net.
In addition to the artist and celebrity interviews, which he said he thoroughly enjoys conducting, McEuen said his news site is a little bit funky and gives more of the story. If there is story involving a trial, for example, all of the legal files will be available on the site, "and you can make your own decision."
At 68, McEuen embraces the possibilities and reach brought by the digital revolution. At the same time, he says that technology has "made many things more difficult."
For instance, everyone now has five different places they can be reached, and if there are five different people you are trying to reach, things get pretty complicated.
"That's why I like playing the banjo," he said. "It goes back — it's understandable. It can be complicated and complex, but it's friendly."
Other projects over McEuen's long and wide-ranging career include songs for Sesame Street, composing original scores for documentaries on the Civil War and global warming, concert and film production and an acclaimed performance at Levon Helm's 70th birthday bash.
On Friday night, McEuen said, Cartsonis' playing and voice will "knock ’em out."
"Matt is one of the finest singers I know (sings like he is from Kentucky — that high bluegrass lonesome sound — with a rock and roll sensibility)," McEuen wrote. "He's a funny guy with funny songs, all accompanied by his hot licks on mandola and guitar."
Cartsonis and McEuen worked together on Steve Martin's Grammy-winning "The Crow,” a 2009 album that McEuen produced.
McEuen's friendship with Martin dates back to when McEuen was 15 and both California boys were working in the magic store at Disneyland. "We found the banjo at the same time," he said.
And it was while doing magic tricks at 15 that McEuen knew he wanted to be a performer, and knew he wanted see what was happening behind the curtain. Music followed just a couple years later.
Martin is "continually inspirational," McEuen said, describing his multi-talented friend who is always doing something, always making something.
From Dolly Parton and Jerry Garcia to Jimmy Buffet and Little Richard, the list of people with whom McEuen has recorded or performed is long and a bit mind-boggling. But the stars and legends are no big deal, he said — just people who are in the same business.
For Valentine's Day, McEuen said he hopes the visual aspect of the show will bring back memories for the audience — perhaps taking couples back to the time they met, or a concert they attended together.
"It's not just about music, it's about the stories told," he said. "And we'll do some funny love songs."
Doors open at 6 p.m., and tickets are $30. For more information, go to http://www.chieftheater.org.