John McEuen of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame comes to Rifle
If You Go...
Who: John McEuen
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: New Ute Events Center in Rifle
How Much: $25
Looking at all the musicians John McEuen has worked with is a little overwhelming, even for the man himself: “I’m shocked when I look at the list,” he said with a laugh.
From his not-so-humble beginnings in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which was just last month inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and whose 1987 single, “Fishin’ in the Dark,” just went Platinum in October, to his involvement on the star-studded album “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” to his Grammy win for “The Crow,” the 2009 Steve Martin album he produced, McEuen has had his hands in some of the most important rock, country, folk and bluegrass music of the last four decades.
Now, he’s bringing his solo tour to the New Ute Events Center in Rifle. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, and tickets are $25.
McEuen has deep ties to Colorado, making his induction into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame all the more poignant. He lived in the Idaho Springs area for almost 20 years.
“I’ve been over Vail Pass at 1 in the morning more than most people,” he said. “I’ve played all over Colorado. I’ve only played the fair at Rifle, but this new room sounds incredible.”
But the very beginning of McEuen’s career in music began somewhere unexpected: a magic shop at Disneyland.
“It was my first real job,” he said. “I was doing magic tricks all day long in a store, selling them. Every 20 minutes or so, the audience would change, would drift through. So you got to work on doing stuff in front of people all day long. It was like the best practice you could have, and I really liked that performing aspect.”
But he knew he didn’t want to be a professional magician. That’s where music came in.
He started playing guitar, his first instrument, at 17. But at 17 and a half, he saw a performance that set him on track to become one of the most prolific multi-instrumentalists in popular music.
“I saw the Dillards at a club in Orange County, and I went, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” he said. “They were excellent. They were funny, the music was hot and fast, and the people loved them.”
Right after that show, McEuen knew he wanted to learn the banjo, and he got his first one from his father for his 18th birthday.
McEuen now plays guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin regularly with the Dirt Band, which is still together and touring. They did 80 cities last year, and McEuen did about 40 more on his own. This is par for the course for McEuen, who said he averages about 120 tour dates a year.
“It’s what I wanted to do when I was a teenager: be the troubadour guy that goes all over the world,” he said. “And guess what? I’m doing it. What’s not to like when you go places where people want to see you?”
On top of writing new music, producing albums and touring, McEuen has had a radio show on Sirius XM, “Acoustic Traveller,” for eight years. He produces 12 episodes a year, with each episode airing seven times.
“I get to about a half million people a month with that show, and I couldn’t do it on my own,” he said. “What am I going to do, put up an antenna? Here, I have a wonderful organization that wants to broadcast a show that I put together.”
And what about in his free time?
“Is there free time, or is there time that you can do something with so when that day has gone by you will have accomplished something?” he said. “I don’t consider it work, this other stuff. The only work to this job is things like getting up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight and changing planes to a 10 a.m. flight, and then driving for two hours to get to where you’re going to play. But that’s not bad at all.”
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