Saturday, Oct. 9, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played at H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center. This was the first public show held at the venue since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and kicked off the Luhrs Center’s 15th Anniversary Season.
This reopening was highly anticipated, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band brought a large following to the venue. The Luhrs Center functioned at full capacity with everyone required to wear masks, and the staff wiped down surfaces even as people filed in. The Luhrs Center has worked hard to ensure the safety of its guests and has utilized additional precautionary measures to limit contact. At the show, they were able to use new ticket scanning devices, which allowed for contactless entry into the concert venue.
Staff and volunteers alike were incredibly welcoming towards concert-goers, and there was an air of fondness through the whole performance area. Some attendees mentioned that this was their first experience with live music again after over a year of closures. The band filled the venue with both diehard fans and newcomers who jumped at the chance to see a live performance, including SU President Charles Patterson.
The band played a 90-minute show with no intermission, and went further by performing a 3-song encore featuring the fan-favorite, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
As the band took the stage, their excellent stage chemistry became very apparent. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has been performing together for over 50 years and their songs were well-loved by those in attendance. When the band played “Mr. Bojangles,” the audience was invited to sing entire verses of the music. The room knew the lyrics by heart; the impact that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has had on their fans with timeless musicality and memorable lyrics is irreversible. The crowd also enjoyed hits like “Fishin’ in the Dark,” “Buy for Me the Rain,” “Long Hard Road,” and “Dance Little Jean.”
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has gone through many membership changes over the course of their musical career. Jaime Hanna, the newest member and son of fellow bandmate Jeff Hanna, played seamlessly with the band. There was a remarkable sense of camaraderie on stage, and listeners could tell that this performance and these songs were an incredible display of love for the band’s own craft.
Jeff Hanna also expressed gratitude towards the experience and his opportunities as a stage musician, noting other big acts in the country music scene who had been an inspiration to him. The band played many covers and tributes to other artists, opening with a cover of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” by Bob Dylan & The Band, and also including works by musicians like Hank Williams, Bruce Springsteen, and the late John Prine.
Each of the band members also shared their own talents and sang a song or two they had written themselves. Jimmie Fadden captivated the crowd with harmonica solos, and Jaime and Jeff Hanna dazzled with some very sweet father-son guitar duets. Between each piece, Jeff Hanna would also give a small personal anecdote about the songs, or share a story about one of his bandmates. Overall, the show was made into a unique and personalized experience for the audience and was a truly special event.
“Standing in the lobby after the show, I observed many happy faces under their masks, as my staff and I thanked them for coming to celebrate our first show and our official re-opening,” said Robin Dolbin, the Interim Director of the Luhrs Center, “It felt great to be able to provide some entertainment and joy for the community again after such a challenging time.”
Prior to this performance, the Luhrs Center was closed to the public, yet maintained the stage for many student group performances on campus, hosting many music department rehearsals and private events. Luhrs also worked to release a special Spotlight Series, which gave many talented students and faculty a place to shine when their public stage had been taken from them.
Dolbin and the rest of the Luhrs staff have been diligent in their handling of performances over the course of the pandemic and in a constantly shifting, changing environment. She shared that it has been a challenge for all involved, but their hard work has certainly paid off for the triumphant return of the concert space. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s show was an excellent example of how successful events can be put on even when masks are still required.
People can look forward to more shows at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center in the coming months, with The Nutcracker opening on Nov. 17th. There are many more shows planned for Spring 2022 as well, which will be announced on their website on Oct. 18th. Tickets to these events will go on sale on Oct. 25th at 10AM.
For more information on upcoming Luhrs shows, visit their website at www.luhrscenter.com.
For more information about the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and their tour dates and ticket prices, visit their website at www.nittygritty.com.