John McEuen enjoying his 50-year music anniversary
Troubadour comes to Park City next week
Singer, songwriter and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band co-founder John McEuen said there is no better way to celebrate 50 years in the music industry than to play a show in Park City.
“It’s a culmination of a career that will be presented on stage and on the video screen at the same time,” McEuen told The Park Record during a phone call from his home in Florida. “It’s really difficult to believe. Culmination seems like things are coming to an end, but I feel like it’s just starting.”
The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
“The music will be some of my favorite Dirt Band songs from ‘Dance Little Jean’ to ‘Mr. Bojangles’ and ‘Some of Shelly’s Blues,’” said McEuen, who turned 71 in December. “Of course we do ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ and other favorites that are jug-band and bluegrass tunes.”
The concert will also feature some surprises.
“There is always something we haven’t ever played before,” McEuen said. “We have to come up with something and that usually happens during the encore.”
In addition, the show will cover some songs that will be highlighted in his future tours.
“I have a new album called ‘Made in Brooklyn’ that was released late last year,” he said. “Stereophile magazine named it Recording of the Month. So I have to play something from that.”
McEuen and a group of players, including John Carter Cash, Jay Ungar, Steve Martin and David Bromberg, to name a few, recorded 15 songs in a former New York church in two 12-hour days.
“When people ask me how we did that, I say we did it in two days and 50 years,” McEuen said with a laugh.
During the live show, McEuen will serve as bandleader and he’ll be joined by some of his Dirt Band compadres.
“I’ll bring in Les Thompson, an original Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member, who people will see in the films that I will show,” McEuen said. “We’ll also play with John Cable, who was in the Dirt Band in the 1970s, and Matt Cartsonis, who has been my music buddy for the past 20 years.”
McEuen said he enjoys playing with this group because each push him to up his game.
“If you play pool with someone who is better than you, you will play better,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been lucky to have been driven by many great players whom I both played live and recorded with. Their inspirations are good to have in there.”
McEuen performs an average of 125 concerts a year, including 75 Dirt Band shows and 35 solo shows.
“It’s strange,” he said. “No matter where I’m playing, it feels like it’s the only one in the world.”
McEuen added believing every show in a one-in-a-million experience is why he has to make every show his best.
“You have to be as good as you possibly can because people have listened to your recordings or have come to see you play for years,” he said. “So, you better not have an off night in this business. Whether your sick or not, you still have to play.
McEuen said his fans are the reasons he why he strives to perform the best he can.
“Quite often a person will buy a ticket a month or two in advance,” he said. “These are the people who allow me not to have a job, meaning I don’t have to get up and go to work at 8 o’clock and come home at 5. I get to work for the people who are sitting in the audience, those seats. And it’s fun to make them laugh, cry and clap their hands.”
McEuen always knew he wanted to do something other than sit at a desk.
“I wanted to get out and travel the world and continue to build as I got older,” he said. “I like the fact that this is something that I could keep doing and continue to see where it could take me.”
The idea to become a musician hit McEuen when he was 17.
“I saw this group called the Dillards who played the Darling Family on the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ when I was getting ready to graduate high school,” he said. “When I saw what their music did to the audience, I knew that’s what I was going to do.”
After that, McEuen attended every Dillard show he could.
“I went to see them so much in concert that my mother told me I should change my name to Dillard,” he said.
McEuen even practiced writing his autograph.
“I was a dork before I worked my way up to nerd status and started playing music,” he said with a laugh. “Then everything changed.”
McEuen started with guitar, but made some adjustments so he could play the music of his favorite band.
“I changed the strings and tuned it like a banjo,” he said.
After playing a few years, he auditioned for a group that had been together for a month.
“Les, who will play the Park City show with me, told me to come and play with his band,” McEuen said. “I had a song that I wrote for a contest and we won, so I thought I should stick with these guys for a while.”
Six months later, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released its self-titled 1967 debut album.
“My goal was to get on the radio and travel the country and be a troubadour, so this has worked out wonderfully,” McEuen said.
The Park City Institute will present John McEuen at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets range from $29 to $79 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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