In his more than 50 years as a performer, John McEuen has played a lot of venues, but he’s never played Augusta.
“I’m looking forward to playing in Augusta. It’s a beautiful theater,” said McEuen, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who will perform with his Circle Band at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Imperial Theatre as part of the Southern Soul and Song series.
Although the Dirt band did sing the American Dream in 1979 that proclaimed “Augusta, Georgia is just no place to be,” McEuen and the band will make sure downtown is the place to be this weekend.
Other former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band members, who are part of McEuen’s Circle Band include Les Thompson and John Cable. The concert has two distinct parts. One features what he calls the Dirt Band’s “crowning achievements” — the Will The Circle Be Unbroken album from 1972.
The band will play in front of a screen projecting a video that includes photographs taken by McEuen’s brother who produced the album.
“Then, there are other times the screen will talk with the likes of Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff and Doc Watson,” he said.
The second part of the concert features songs from McEuen’s album Made in Brooklyn.
The night will feature a variety of hits throughout the years.
“I’ll bring my favorite songs — Bojangles and Shelly’s Blues,” he said, but no American Dream.
While the video montage commands a strict music set, the rest of the performance offers some flexibility, which is something McEuen loves.
“One of things drove me out of Dirt Band after 50 years was for 11 years, it was the same set. I couldn’t stand the same set more than three nights in a row,” he said. “Every audience is different. You want to take some of what you do, but you might go ‘this is more of a bluegrass crowd. Let’s go that way. Or this is more of a guitar crowd. Let’s go that way.”
Throughout the night, McEuen will blend in stories behind the music to give people an idea of what was going on when the song was written.
“There’s a lot of talking about the music and where it came from,” he said.
McEuen got his start at Disneyland in the 1960s, where he and comedian Steve Martin worked together in the magic shop. He became interested in the banjo after seeing the band, The Dillards, and began playing. He started the Dirt Band in 1966.
In his more than 50 years, he’s made more than 46 albums including seven solo ones and has earned four platinum and five gold records. He’s received multiple Grammy Awards, an Emmy Film score nomination and nominations for CMA and ACM awards.
Since 1963, he has performed in more than 11,000 concerts, 300 television shows, 10,000 interviews and flown more than four million miles. In 2010, he was honored with the Best in the West Award solo performer from the Folk Alliance Organization.
One of the highlights was a series of packed out performances behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s.
McEuen said one thing keeps him going after more than five decades of performing.
“It’s the people that come to see me. I’ve got people that want to hear the music. That’s what I was hoping for when I was a teenager. I wanted to play all over the country and get people to come see me. My show in Atlanta is sold out. How can I not go if people want to see you play?” he said.
And his show won’t disappoint, he said.
“If they liked anything the banjo or the mandolin guy in the Dirt Band played, I’m that guy,” he said.
Tickets are $20-$50 and are available here.
(Editor’s note: Publisher Charmain Z. Brackett has two tickets to Friday’s concert. They will go to the first person who emails her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Subscribe to the newsletter here.