The Dirt on Nitty Gritty: Bob Carpenter shares the band’s pandemic life

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band plans to play about 70 shows in 2022, having them travel through 27 cities including Gilbert on August 27 and Tucson on August 28. (Photo by Jeff Fasano)

By Josh Ortega

It was supposed to take 10 days, but it turned into a year and a half. 

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band returns to Arizona with shows in Gilbert on August 27 and Tucson on August 28. Bob Carpenter says the band’s newest album highlights their favorites from Bob Dylan’s vast catalog “done the Dirt Band way” and includes contributions from three new band members. Carpenter has held various roles in the band and attributes their success to their willingness to keep a fluid sound. 

“Fifty-six years, everybody I guess got bored, so they start changing around, but we do whatever we have to do to make music,” he says.

Carpenter officially joined the band in 1980 and currently plays the accordion. He’s changed instruments over the years, including electric bass, acoustic and electric guitar, and keyboard.

“They really never had a dedicated keyboard player in the band ever,” he says. “So, this was sort of like a new wrinkle for them.”

Their newest album, “Dirt Does Dylan,” contains 10 tracks that had them reinterpret some of their favorites from Bob Dylan. 

It included contributions from three new band members: fiddle specialist Ross Holmes; band founder Jeff Hanna’s son Jaime; and singer-songwriter and bass player Jim Photoglo, who wrote one of the band’s biggest hits, “Fishin’ in the Dark.”

Carpenter says the band started working on the album in March 2020 and finished a majority of it within about five days.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band planned to perform two shows and then return to the studio to finish it. Then “it” happened. 

“We went out and did two of the shows, and then everybody rushed home because of the pandemic,” he says.

They didn’t return to the studio until August 2021, when they recorded the last track, “Forever Young.”

As the pandemic started to subside and people tested negative, Carpenter says band members who lived in Nashville would sneak back into the studio to finish their parts.

He says drummer Jimmie Fadden had to work remotely from Florida until he could return to the studio.

Carpenter remained in California and had to wait until he could jump on a plane back to the studio to finish his work.

On top of that, the band also toured from September to November to make up for some of the shows postponed by the pandemic, and he says they didn’t finish the album until right before Christmas 2021. 

During the pandemic, Carpenter says the band realized they missed playing in front of crowds and it harked back to their early days.

“We went out when we were young guys in our late teens,” he says. “We started playing music in bars and stuff in front of people, and that’s what we’ve always done.”

The band started planning in January to play about 70 shows in 2022, and while they’ve had several scattered throughout the first half, the major part of the year starts now.

The tour started on May 20 and has them traveling through 27 cities, including Gilbert on August 27 and Tucson on August 28. 

He says the band plays about four songs from the new album, such as “Forever Young,” that Jeff, Jaime and Carpenter each sing lead on different verses.

“We took part of the ballad version and part of the up-tempo version that not many people know about … we combined them and rearranged it.”

The album also includes a rendition of “She Belongs to Me” the Hanna men sing from the “Bringing It All Back Home” album from 1965.

Along with classics like “Mr. Bojangles,” “Long Hard Road” and “Fishin’ in the Dark,” they also play hits from all three Circle records.

Carpenter says the band’s success through the years derives from a confluence of a lot of different things including their popularity, health and projects that stimulate them enough to go on tour. 

“It’s been a one-in-a-million shot because I don’t know how many other bands have been touring and recording for 56 years, but I can’t think of any.” 

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, August 27

WHERE: Higley Center for the Performing Arts, 4132 E. Pecos Road, Gilbert

COST: Tickets start at $39.50



WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday, August 28

WHERE: Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress Street, Tucson

COST: Tickets start at $40