“Sometimes we feel like champions/Sometimes we just can’t win/Sometimes our records hit the top of the charts/Or the discount bargain bins ...
“Through all those 20 years of touring/We’ve remained partners, brothers and friends/We’re keeep it together ‘cause we’re sure/We’re gonna be big time, before it all ends”
Twenty years of touring sounds like a lot, and it is, but then you realize that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released this song, “Partners, brother and friends,” in 1985 and have still been touring and releasing music for the 30 years since.
May 11 will be the 50th anniversary of the band’s first performance together, and they have accomplished more than most in country music. They invented their own genre, had numerous No. 1 hits on “36 to 37 albums,” according to keyboardist and vocalist Bob Carpenter and have been inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. The band has seen an album entered into the Library of Congress and Grammy Hall of Fame, but for them, that’s just the window dressing.
“That stuff is all wonderful, and we’re very honored,” Carpenter said. “That isn’t really the motivation to keep going. I mean, we tend to look forward instead of looking back. … The closer you get to knowing, you know, that you have a limited time to do this, the more you appreciate it, the more you enjoy it, the more you want to do it. You know nothing lasts forever, although maybe it does in our case.”
More than the accolades, what motivates these guys to get on the stage, night after night, year after year, is how their music connects to the fans and the energy they get back from the fans.
“This band has never been political … this band started as a band to make people feel good,” Carpenter said. “Good time music, you know?“
And based on the feedback they’ve received over the years, they’ve accomplished that mission.
“As far as what we do, especially now, we get a lot of people who come up to us and say, ‘You know we came to see you because we remember where we were, or how we met’ … something that’s tied in time wise to them listening to our music,” he said. As a result the band tries to provide a “time traveling experience. … Even for people in their 40s now, they were teenagers when they first heard ‘Fishing in the Dark.’”
Carpenter said the band feels lucky to have been able to tour for the last 50 years, even if they can’t always remember every show.
“The hardest thing about 50 years is remembering, ’cause everyone says, ‘Remember when you were here in 70, 80?’ and absolutely not,” he said. “But we’re very lucky we’ve been able to do what we love all these years. … We don’t take anything for granted.”
This year alone, the band has played La Veta Pass, Gunnison and their induction into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame back in January, and on average they try to make it to Colorado four to five times a year.
This is nothing new for the group, as they have lived in Colorado and even owned a recording studio in Aspen. So while altitude might be a concern for some bands, playing in Summit’s alpine environment is second nature for these guys. In fact, Carpenter thinks it has started to affect them less and less over the years. “Whether it’s psychological or physiological I have no idea, but it doesn’t really seem to affect us much,” he said.
The last time Summit got down to the Nitty Gritty was in 2012 when the group played Fourth of July in Breckenridge, and before that they played Copper Mountain Resort in 2008. This Sunday, Sept. 6, the band will reunite with the venue for Copper Country, a Labor Day tradition featuring free concerts on both Saturday and Sunday.
These concerts are an experience anyone can enjoy from little kids all the way up the line. As Carpenter said, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s fans have “Gotten older. They’ve gotten younger. Both. We played a show the other night in South Dakota and we had kids up against the front of the stage who were 7, 8 years old, and people on the left in their 70s. We get three to, sometimes, four generations of people coming to our shows.”
The band tries to play a wide variety of their music in live performances to make sure everyone at the show gets to hear something they like, but with over 300 songs to choose from that can get a little daunting.
“That’s the problem though. You know no matter what we play onstage, we only have two hours, usually, at the most. … You look at 36-37 records in our career with 10 to 12 songs on it, there’s no way we’re gonna be able to play over 300 songs. We always end up disappointing someone, unfortunately.”
But don’t worry, if a favorite jam didn’t make the set list this time, check out another show as they always change to make sure people are getting a fresh experience. They tend to play three to four songs off of their newest album and then a variety from the last several decades.
“I love playing the songs that people come to hear. ‘Bojangles.’ ‘Fishing in the Dark.’ That’s why they’re there and it’s great to play that stuff for them,” said Carpenter.
As the chorus from “Partners, Brother and Friends” remind:
“It’s just as long as Johnny’s got his fiddle/And Jimmy’s got his drums along/Then Jeffrey and me, and Bobby will be/Singing all our favorite songs ...
“We’ll catch the fire from the folks in the front row/Fan the flames as the beat gets strong/It’s great to be a part of something/So good that’s lasted so long.”