Nitty Gritty Dirt Band put the fun in funerals in Medina
Photo by Nikki Miller
You know that feeling you get when you go to a cousin's wedding? "Wedding... okay. Open bar (or cheap bar if you're most of my kin)... cool, this'll be good. Drunk uncles? Yes. I like it. Wedding band? Awesome. These guys coulda really gone somewhere if they were only stupid enough to think they coulda gone somewhere instead of opting to make bank playing a wedding once a month. Gonna drink a lot, then spill all ensuing drinks on this here dance floor. Chicken dance? No. Dancing with the flower girl to 'Fishin' in the Dark?' Yes."
On Friday night, I ventured for the first time into the almost-sticks, the farmland of yesteryear now turned expanse of strip malls, to see the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the Medina Entertainment Center, and the whole thing felt to me like a cousin's wedding. Hello, groom's family. I'm Nikki, the bride's cousin from the city. I was once of your ilk but now have dumb tattoos, and not tramp stamps like your daughters got their first year at State, mind you, but real, awful visible ones, and talk big city talk and have big city politics and big city attitude. Stare at me why don't'cha? That's what wa's like walking into the Medina, much as I loved it for its neon bowling alley, ample parking, and $18 prime rib special.
Before the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took the stage at this big ol' hillbilly weddin' dance, locals the Killer Hayseeds opened. I caught about half of their set after taking advantage of that $18 prime rib special, but can tell that in addition to maintaining an active dance floor they were a spot-on Top 40 cover band (I think I heard covers of Montgomery Gentry, Zac Brown Band, the excellent Little Big Town and... ooh! To my delight, a cover of "I Can't Tell You Why" by the Eagles. Yeah, I fuckin' like the Eagles, deal with it). My friend and I arrived early in hopes of claiming a good table at the venue, but after eating a whole helluvalotta meat, we returned to the ballroom to find that our table, close as it was to the stage, was also situated behind the PA speakers. Oof -- bad table placement. So we pretended we were, say, at First Ave for an Insane Clown Posse show, but that the front of the stage was full of Juggalos (in this case, folks who paid extra to sit at the tables right in front of the stage) and so we had no choice but to move our asses over to a place where the sound was good.
Photo by Nikki Miller
And we found one promptly, but that place put us in direct contact with the rest of the wedding party. You know that feeling of exhaustion you get after being at the cousin's wedding reception? You've got a totally awesome band playing all your favorite songs (in this case, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are ACTUALLY THAT BAND!). They're fun and engaging -- and hey in my mind, wedding bands are. Wedding bands get a bad rap. But you've got party attendees sitting at their long, plastic tableclothed tables (note that where I come from, tablecloths are not made of "cloth") sipping weak drinks, looking bored and sleepy. Yawn. And attendees who aren't half asleep are drunk and looking for a "fight," passive-aggressive Midwestern style. In this case, it was the woman who stomped up to us as we stood in front of her table and announced, "ALL I CAN SEE IS YOUR BACKS!" Or the old lady dancing with her hubby, shaking her head as we all poured on to the dance floor for "Mr. Bojangles," anticipating we'd get in the way of her totally jammin' two-step grooves.
Makes sense, then, that midway through their set, vocalist Jeff Hanna shared that they'd played a lot of weddings in their time (and funerals, he added, saying "We put the fun in funerals"). They kicked off their almost two hour set with a cover of Dylan's (and the Band's and the Byrds') "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," which they released uncredited with Roger McGuinn in 1989, and continued this theme hearkening back to a time when folk/country rock was pouring out of California and everyone was covering everyone else and especially covering Dylan, with covers of the Grateful Dead's "Dark Hollow," "The Weight" by the Band, and Canned Heat's "Going Up the Country." Songs off their new album were peppered throughout, as well as a handful of forays into NGDB Hitsville with "Cadillac Ranch," "Baby's Got a Hold On Me," "Bayou Jubilee," and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" in an encore. Oh, and of course, "Fishin' in the Dark," which involved some well-timed technical delays on Hanna's guitar, as everyone in the crowd probably knew the damned lyrics to that song better than he even does. Singalong ensued, and some drunk dude to our right, perhaps reliving his high school days, began doing this dance behind his paramour... it seemed familiar to me, this dance. I think I saw it the other day. It's called "daggering." I'd link to a video but I don't think we're supposed to link to nasty shit like that. Go to YouTube, search for "daggering," verify that you're over 18, and you'll see why this was a strange dance to see at a bluegrass/rock show in the suburbs. Seriously, folks. Your grandma might be watching.
Photo by Nikki Miller
Aside from all elements that left me feeling as if I should grab my wedding cake and get the hell outta Dodge, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band put on one damned entertaining show, which is really saying a lot for a band of dudes who've been going at it now for over 40 (40!) years. That's impressive. Hanna's voice sounds as it always has -- perfectly nasally, youthful and clear as a goddamned bell. His harmonies with his bandmates, the vocal qualities nearly duplicated, make up the sound that for me is signature for this band. Add one of the best banjo players around, and they're a band I'd gladly venture out into the almost-sticks to what feels like a big bad wedding party to see again. Bitchy two-steppin' lady and all.