Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to bring 42 years of music to Austin

Published 6:26 am Friday, June 27, 2008

Bob Carpenter doesn’t really know how to describe the kind of music he’s been playing for four decades.

Country? Folk? Bluegrass? Pop? Take your pick — because it doesn’t matter to him what the label is.

“The name has changed but the music has stayed the same,” he said.

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Carpenter is a long-time vocalist and keyboardist with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a Grammy-winning group with 42 years under their belts and hits like “Fishin’ in the Dark,” “Long Hard Road” and the Jerry Jeff Walker cover of “Mr. Bojangles.” The band is coming to Riverside Arena in Austin July 18 for a concert benefiting the Kellsey Jean Hogan Memorial Fund.

The four-member band has had its share of ups and downs in 42 years, from their early days in California with the legendary Jackson Browne, through name changes and musician swapping, back to their roots in the 1980s with 14 top country hits and then today, with plans to release a retrospective album this summer and a new album early next year.

“We still enjoy playing music live on stage for people,” Carpenter said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There is a need for us to incorporate new music into our show.”

Though life is more stable now with concerts mostly on weekends, NGDB still continues hopping on airplanes at 5 a.m. and sleeping in hotels simply because they love to play music.

“Forty-two years of airplanes, buses and rental cars,” Carpenter said. “We get paid to travel; we play our music for free. It’s gotta be like an addiction.

“When you get on stage, it’s all worth it,” he said.

Reflecting on his career, Carpenter said the highlight was definitely the three-album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a collection of collaborations with bluegrass and country stars like Johnny Cash, John Denver, Earl Scruggs, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris.

“It was like Christmas morning every day we would walk into the studio,” Carpenter recalls fondly. “It was hard to absorb how much fun it was. It was like some kind of really great dream.”

Carpenter said concert-goers can expect something from every NGDB era.

“Right now, we are doing everything from back in the early 70s — ‘Mr. Bojangles’ and music from the first ‘Circle’ album — all the way to (the 2004 album) “Welcome to Woody Creek,” he said.

Last April, the NGDB was inducted into the Music City Walk of Fame in Nashville alongside country music icon Hank Williams.

“We were unbelievably surprised and honored by the whole thing,” Carpenter said. “Just to be honored in the same breath as him.”

Carpenter said he hopes fans who have been NGDB followers since the 60s and 70s can pass down their love for the music to younger future fans.

“I think it would be great if people who enjoy our music are able to turn their kids on to it …genres of music they might not be exposed to,” he said.

Carpenter said there have been older fans at their autograph sessions who “ have their grandkids with them because they love ‘Fishin’ in the Dark.’”

If he could leave one legacy in music, Carpenter said, it would be to set an example for those who want to pursue their lifelong passions.

“We want people to know that even if you are 100 years old, you can still go out and do what you want to do,” he said.

For more information about the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, visit

The band will take the Riverside Arena stage at 9:15 p.m. Friday, July 18, with local band D.C. Drifters & Friends opening the show at 8 p.m.