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August 15, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER

WEEKEND: Unbroken Circles

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performs a free concert Saturday in Palmdale as part of its 30th Anniversary Tour.

Outside its circle of die-hard fans, the Dirt Band is probably best known for its recording of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" and for its 1970 landmark, platinum-selling, three-record album "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

That record, which featured guest performances by country and bluegrass legends Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Merle Travis, Vassar Clements and others, is generally credited with exposing younger audiences to these old guard artists. Considered a modern classic, copies of the album now sell for as much as $35 in used record bins.

Although the Dirt Band has endured numerous personnel changes through the years, it has retained a steady nexus in Jeff Hanna, Jimmy Ibbotson and Jimmie Fadden. More than a dozen other players have come and gone. Jackson Browne was an original member. Bernie Leadon, the former lead guitarist of the Eagles, was in the band for a short period in the late 1980s. Bob Carpenter is currently the newest member of the band, having arrived 21 years ago.

"We only tour about five or six months a year now; we usually take the winter off," Carpenter says. That translates to about 80 gigs a year, "No reason to kill ourselves," says Carpenter.

In concert, the band tries to mix in tunes from its 26 albums, as well as some new material that they're planning to record later this year.

"The new tunes have been getting a great reception," Carpenter says. "We try to give people a little taste of everything, but we have about four or five tunes that we have to play every night."

The band also is featured on two current compilations: They performed with singer Karla Bonoff on "You Believed in Me" for MCA's special Olympic video, "One Voice." And their version of "Maybe Baby" is on "Remembering Buddy Holly" on Decca Records.

* The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at 8 p.m. Saturday at Maria Kerr Park, 39700 30th St. West. Free. Call 805-267-5611.


Up All Night

Robert Lowry, the tenor of the a cappella group The Insomniacs, says their primary goal is to have the most fun possible. For them, that means close, four-part harmony.

The quartet, which performs Friday night at Coffee Junction in Tarzana, describes its style as "a cappella with an attitude." Other sleep-deprived members of the group are soprano Stephanie Silver, alto Terry Lieberstein and bass Bill Bookston.

"We do a lot of real intricate arrangements," says Lowry. "We do a lot of swing, but we have a varied program. Our stuff spans over 400 years."

Lowry has been hooked on four-part harmony for more than 20 years.

"It seems to be the kind of music I do best," Lowry says. "Once I got a mathematical understanding of it, I learned how to make chords ring."

Since they're having so much fun, all the members must keep body and soul together in other ways. Lowry is an auto mechanic, Silver runs her own business staging Broadway-themed birthday parties, Lieberstein owns an environmental education business and Bookston is a actor.

Lowry does not seem concerned about what effect performing in coffeehouses will have on the group's sleeping problems.

"We always say a cappella singing is the safest thing to do at night when you can't sleep," he says.

* The Insomniacs perform at 8 p.m. Friday at the Coffee Junction, 19221 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. No cover. Call (818) 342-3405.

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