Nitty Gritty Dirty Band’s John McEuen to close out year at Ute Theater in Rifle |

Nitty Gritty Dirty Band’s John McEuen to close out year at Ute Theater in Rifle

Carla Jean Whitley


John McEuen

Dec. 30, 8 p.m. The performance will include a celebration of music from the acclaimed album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” as well as a number of other selections from McEuen’s storied career.

Ute Theater, 132 E. Fourth St., Rifle | $38 | 665-6560 |


“The Life I Picked: A Banjo Player’s Nitty Gritty Journey,” McEuen’s biography, is set for publication April 1. It includes stories from his life in the music business—and crossing paths with the likes of Tom Petty, Leon Russell, Earl Scruggs, Bill Cosby and more. It also recounts his experience raising six children.

“It’s basically about getting to live the American dream and have it work,” he said. “And when it didn’t work, OK, next.”

Some musicians scoff, or even storm off stage, when audience members call out song requests.

Not John McEuen. The multi-instrumentalist, a founding member of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, welcomes suggestions.

“Sometimes somebody will holler something out, and we’ll just do it because we know it together. It’s not uncommon to play at least a song a night that hasn’t been played all year,” said McEuen, who plays banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin. “I don’t like playing the same show every night. That’s one of the things that drove me away from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The audiences don’t like it either, I find.”

He hopes fans will bring not only their requests, but also their questions to his Dec. 30 show at Rifle’s Ute Theater.

“You can’t do that at Red Rocks,” McEuen said. “The Ute Theater is really one of those nice things you look forward to. Some people go, Rifle? What’s in Rifle? Well, not much, but the Ute Theater is.”

The roots musician knows Colorado well. He lived in Idaho Springs for about 20 years, and is a member of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. The state remains a wonderful place to tour, he said, and the Rifle show will be his final performance of the year.

Two of the players who will accompany him, Les Thompson (bass/vocals) and John Cable (guitar/vocals), are also former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band members. McEuen’s career has included a number of side and solo projects, which allowed him to play with Matt Cartsonis (guitar/mandola/vocals).

After 50 years on the road, McEuen still finds joy in the process.

“It’s not easy to do this. You have to fly, often two planes, wait, drive rental cars, try to find food. You finally get there to do the sound check, and you’ve already put in 20 hours to get to the show,” he said.

But that’s where the joy begins. It’s like learning a magic trick, he said. You practice the trick on your own, in the mirror, and master it. Once that’s done, you perform the trick in front of someone who doesn’t know what’s happening.

That’s the excitement.

“You want to do the best hour and a half, and make it last two hours because it’s going so well,” McEuen said. “I try to take people away from where they live for a while. We try to transport them to a different space for a while, and they don’t want to leave.”

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