The Nitties kicked off their set with a
tune that’s often misattributed to the Grateful Dead: Bill Browning’s
“Dark Hollow,” the tale of a man trying to escape the thought of an ex.
“I’d rather be in some dark hollow, where the sun don’t ever shine/than
to be in some big city, in a small room, with a girl on my mind,” is
the opening verse. Simple, yet strikingly emotive. And as just about
everyone gets scorned by unrequited love during their lives, many
people can relate to the lyrical pathos.
When the Nitties were just getting
started in California in the mid-1960s, their contemporaries included
bands such as the Dead and Jefferson Airplane, who initially performed
traditional folk music. But as those bands and others tripped the
plastic fantastic and transitioned into jamming psychedelia, the
Nitties remained true to their roots, but still found a way to fit in
with that crowd.
“There was one song that brought the hippies and rednecks together,” said John McEuen,
banjoist, mandolinist, and fiddler in the Nitties during a break
between songs at Chevy Court. Without saying a word more, he laid down
the yee-haw groove of the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies.
Just about everyone in the court was deputized as honorary rubes by
shouting the “Hillbilly, that is” lyrical oath at the top of their
The audience of about 2,000 was as
diverse as a random contingent of skee-ballers. There were families
enjoying the mellow sounds, as well as older and younger folks
discrepant in age sharing the timeless connection evoked by the
Nitties. Along with McEuen, guitarist Jeff Hanna and drummer Jimmie Fadden are original members from the early days, while keyboardist and accordion maestro Bob Carpenter
has been rollicking with the band since 1977. All four musicians were
as in harmony with another as the changing seasons, and their
virtuosity on their respective instruments is how they have been able
to adapt to crowds that would otherwise consider folk tunes musical
Their amphetamine-bluegrass take on the Beatles’ classic “Get Back,” which appears on the band’s 2004 CD Welcome to Woody Creek
(Dualtone), kicked the audience into the highest gear of the night.
They possibly stomped their feet on the Chevy Court grass, but
definitely clapped along to the beat while singing the entire song.
During gonzo journalist Hunter S.
Thompson’s August 2005 funeral at his Owl Farm Ranch in Woody Creek,
his neighboring buddies, the Nitties, performed one of their most
recognized tunes. They sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as Thompson’s
ashes were blasted from a cannon set atop a 150-foot still-standing
“gonzo fist” statue in a ceremony attended by everyone from actors
Johnny Depp and Jack Nicholson, to former presidential candidates
George McGovern and John Kerry. They also played that song at the fair,
and while many others have covered it, the Nitties perform it in a way
that breaks the surface, taps the roots and makes all worries seem no
heavier than a leaf falling from a tree. . . reminding another one will
grow in its place. The audience at Chevy Court stood in a sort of a
silent “Kumbaya” moment before letting out an appreciative round of
But it’s impossible to keep a crowd of
draft-beer drinking fairgoers philosophical for too long, so the band
had the sense to lighten things up a little bit by performing their
biggest hit, the 1970 chart hit “Mr. Bojangles.” The tale of the man
with “silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants that’d click his heels
and dance for you” seemed tailor-made for the carnival atmosphere.
Indeed, the crowd revered in the jovial waltz of the tune, which showed
that no matter what state of hippiedom you’re in, the inside of the
Nitties’ circle is all-encompassing.