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Nitty Gritty Dirt Band celebrates 40 years of folk tunes at Birchmere

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

It's no accident that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is launching the tour celebrating the 40th-anniversary release of its iconic album "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" in its original vinyl format in Washington.

Not only is the region full of musical memories for the band -- multi-instrumentalist John McEuen recalled one such memory, meeting a young newcomer named Emmylou Harris for the first time in this area -- but it has a disproportionate share of fans.

"That area had one of the highest concentrations of fans for 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken,' " said McEuen. "The Washington-Baltimore corridor has always had one of our highest concentrations of fans."

Credit the area's rich acoustic heritage that birthed the music of such renowned musicians as Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Seldom Scene, for prompting fans to gravitate to the Dirt Band's sound, which basically launched the format now known as Americana. Of course, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" was a musical force in its own right.

In concert
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Yankee Dixie and featuring Tara Mills
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
» Where: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
» Info: $45; 703-549-7500; birchmere.com

The album melded the music of the young Dirt Band with such legends as Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and many others.

Those who think that Brad Paisley is the first musician to honor legendary musicians by reinserting them into the spotlight (as he has with Little Jimmy Dickens, Alabama and others) need only look at the Dirt Band's long list of collaborators on the "Circle" albums. "I remember Mother Maybelle Carter finding out she had no idea of the impact of the songs," said McEuen. "When the first album first turned gold, she said, 'I didn't think that many people would even hear those songs.' "

As McEuen worked on the remastering of the album, which is scheduled to be released on March 12, he was again struck by the raw beauty of the sound.

"It is not like going back in time, but it is like looking back in time through a time machine," he said. "You can see where the music has been and where it's going. There's nothing quite like that."

Of course, the Dirt Band has never been stuck in the past as proven by its continual release of new material.

"We can't believe it's been 46 years and the fact that the band has never been better," said McEuen of the group's longevity. "I am looking forward to the next songs [lead vocalist Jeff Hanna] sings and what I will play to back him up."

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