John McEuen and former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band members to revisit ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ in Aspen
IF YOU GO …
Who: John McEuen & the String Wizards
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $40
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band soundtracked Aspen’s hippie heyday in the 1970s and it’s hard to imagine the town without the country rockers.
But as the Dirt Band’s John McEuen recalled during a recent trip back here, the Dirt Band almost never made it to the mountains.
“We didn’t know what a ski town was,” McEuen told The Aspen Times as he celebrated the Dirt Band’s 50th anniversary in 2017.
The Los Angeles-based band members had been playing a string of shows in Denver in 1970 when somebody from Aspen lobbied them to make the trip into the mountains and check out the scene here.
“We decided to go give it a shot,” McEuen recalled.
They played the Aspen Inn, at the base of Aspen Mountain, for a week of gigs, and thus began the band’s deep and long-running relationship with the town.
“Everybody fell in love with Aspen,” McEuen recalled. “This was back in the days when everyone was arguing about things like, ‘Do we need a traffic light?’”
Scared away from Los Angeles by an earthquake in February 1971, the band packed up and moved to Colorado within a month. McEuen settled in Idaho Springs, while a handful of members — and the band’s manager, McEuen’s brother Bill — moved to Aspen full time.
In the years that followed, they’d play long runs of shows here and collaborated often with local musicians including John Denver, Bobby Mason and Jan Garrett. They were something like Aspen’s house band back then, when, as McEuen recalled, they once played an après-ski concert for Aspen Highlands in exchange for 14 season ski passes.
McEuen will return on Feb. 16 to Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House, where he’s been a regular for decades. He’s playing with the String Wizards — a four-piece that also includes Dirt Band members Les Thompson and John Cable — for a retrospective and multi-media show focused on the Dirt Band’s watershed 1972 triple-album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
During those heady early days, when hits like “Mr. Bojangles” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” were cementing the Dirt Band’s place in rock history, McEuen knew something special was happening.
“I had a sense, in what I saw from the stage, that we were doing something that was reaching people,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I have so many photos and things. I felt, not necessarily that what we were doing was important, but the era that we were going through was important.”
Along with the familiar hits and stories of the old days, McEuen will showcase songs from his 2016 solo record “Brooklyn.” At 73, McEuen is not only looking back on the good old days in Aspen but looking forward to new adventures.
“I don’t think I’ve done everything yet,” he said. “There’s more. I’m one of many people who goes out onstage, but I’m the best ‘me’ I’ve ever been. And people seem to be liking it.”
To that, he added wistfully of returning to Aspen: “Do you know how much fun that is? To be able to go to a town that you played years and years and years ago, and now you’re back to play in the best theater in the state?”
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.