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Review: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band plays memorable, career spanning show in S'toon (April 5th/2023)

Updated: May 14, 2023

by Scott Roos

photos by Deanna Roos (Deanna Roos Photography)

Father and son Jeff Hanna (right) and Jaime Hanna (left). The interplay between these two at any given time throughout the performance was a highlight. (photo by Deanna Roos)

doot deet doot deet doot deet dee doodle deet

It’s one of the most familiar riffs in all of country music - at least if you reside on the Canadian prairies. It’s one of those “if you know you know” moments that happens with a song every so often when you’re in a certain place at a certain time. The reverbed twang alongside a slightly more sassy rock style picking causes the crowd to give a loud cheer. They know what’s coming as the spartan, four note lead guitar line kicks in.

bee doodle dee echoes tentatively through the entire space of Saskatoon’s TCU Place along with its appropriate answer bee doodle doe. The singalong starts up as practically everyone in this capacity crowd knows the words by heart. They’ve grown up going to barn dances, parties, listening to cover bands play it… But now, in front of them is The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (NGDB) - the band that made this song “Fishin’ in the Dark” famous.

“Baby Get Ready” my wife and I loudly sing the lyrics to each other. I turn to the mildly inebriated fella behind me and we give each other knowing smiles and nods. It’s a borderline religious experience. It’s a celebration of the human spirit in song. “You and me go Fishin' in the Dark” everyone collectively hollers together. This is our hymn of choice tonight. We’d been fairly reverent in the soft theatre seats to this point. We’ve cheered loudly to be sure, but when this anthem kicks in we can’t help but rise to our feet. The night is still young and honestly one of the concert highlights of my life has already transpired.

“‘Fishin in the Dark’ was an even bigger hit in Canada than it was down here in the States. It was a fair sized hit and we're grateful that it did so well with the radio. The Canadians got it sooner and it had a longer lasting impact than here," guitarist/vocalist and original NGDB member Jeff Hanna told me in a conversation we had back in early March. Based on the current reaction to the song that I'm experiencing, I believe he’s definitely not wrong and this is a moment in time that I’m sure many in attendance will not forget.

“It's pretty humbling to think that we might have done something or been a part of something that had an impact on folks. It’s remarkable,” Jeff Hanna continued when reflecting on the collective legacy of the NGDB.

The crowd was on their feet for "Fishin' in the Dark" (photo by Deanna Roos)

The April 5th date in Saskatoon was the fourth in a run of seven Canadian dates that the band was doing on their “The Hits, The History, and Dirt Does Dylan” tour. Backstopped by original members Jeff Hanna (guitars/vocals) and Jimmie Fadden (drums/vocals/harmonica) alongside long time keyboardist Bob Carpenter and the additional “newer” members Jim Photoglo (bass), Jaime Hanna (guitars/vocals) and Ross Holmes (fiddle/mandolin) the band was on point throughout the evening's festivities. They were a very well balanced outfit playing each song with precision and grace (I suppose this goes hand in hand with the decades of experience every band member has), but, by the same token, they are free wheeling enough to be able to engage in several spontaneous, extended jams. There were also duets, trios, quartets - you name it. Basically, the whole presentation was entertaining af. The overall sense of fun within the tight knit group was truly a sight and sound to behold.

“Music is such a unique and powerful force. I love being part of that,” Jeff Hanna added.

The setlist was career spanning. With a sprinkling of the obligatory, “can’t leave the building without playing” songs like the aforementioned “Fishin’ in the Dark” as well as “Cadillac Ranch”, “Working Man (Nowhere to Go), and “Mr. Bojangles” to name a few. They also played songs from their latest Dirt Does Dylan full length including a wonderful cover of “Girl From North Country”. The evening ended with a two song encore that included “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that was definitely a nod to their legendary bluegrass collaborations of the same name. A tasteful cover of The Band’s “The Weight” wrapped it all up.

Stunning musicality, classic songs, deep cuts and stage presence aplenty were on full display. The crowd lapped it up for a truly memorable evening. Tip of the cowboy hat is in order for opener Kelsey Waldon who played a charming solo acoustic set to warm up the crowd. It was good times. The best of times. Thank you all for the music.

opener Kelsey Waldon (photo by Deanna Roos)

Waldon returned during the encore to help the guys sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (photo by Deanna Roos)

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1 Comment

Karon Shmon
Karon Shmon
Apr 13, 2023

Great review. The NGDB is an outstanding gift I have cherished as long as they have existed. You captured the concert highlights as well as the tone and appreciation in which their loyal fans revere them. As a friend and I were leaving, we said we hadn't heard all of the hits. Then we looked one another and laughed by adding, "that's because they have had so many they couldn't possibly sing all of them." I hope they continue to perform and to hold Saskatoon as a place where they are truly appreciated and loved.

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