With bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs joining fellow banjo virtuoso John McEuen on “Soldier’s Joy,” the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum hosted another magical moment on a rainy Tuesday morning (Dec. 10) in downtown Nashville. Scruggs and son Randy were there to do what they do best — play music — while commemorating the artistic success of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band ’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. III.
Dating back to the original 1972 album, McEuen and the other members of the Dirt Band have hosted the all-star recording sessions that have crossed generational boundaries. In doing so, they have attracted major music stars by merely allowing them to make music in the simplest — yet richest — way possible.
Tuesday’s event debuted Farther Along, a 36-minute film documenting the latest recording sessions while allowing band members to donate personal items to the museum. Jeff Hanna gave a set of thimbles he used to play the washboard, Bob Carpenter donated an accordion and McEuen offered a 30-year-old promotional package (including a railroad tie) from the original Circle album. Jimmie Fadden donated harmonicas and a bandana, but Jimmy Ibbotson gave away the most significant item — the pearl inlaid Martin D-41 acoustic guitar he bought in the early ‘70s after the Dirt Band scored its first hit with “Mr. Bojangles.”
Randy Scruggs, who co-produced Circle III, was still a teenager when he played guitar on the first album in what became a series. Praising the Dirt Band’s creative vision and career longevity, Scruggs said, “I don’t think there’s another band that could have done this. They set the bar so high.” Scruggs donated his musical charts from the sessions, along with a journal he kept throughout the recording process.
Scruggs certainly realizes the power of passing the music from generation to generation. He then introduced two of the Dirt Band’s sons — Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen — who performed a song they recorded for Circle III. The song, “Lowlands,” was written in the ‘70s by Scruggs’ older brother, Gary.
During the ceremony, the Dirt Band also performed “Take Me In Your Lifeboat.” Jeff Hanna’s wife, singer-songwriter Matraca Berg, joined all of the musicians onstage for the signature song, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
As Ibbotson told the crowd before the song began, “If you don’t know the words by now, you’re in the wrong town.”