John McEuen and the String Wizards
Banjo aficionado John McEuen, right, and his new group, the String Wizards, perform Wednesday at the historic Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

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The sleepy little town of Carpinteria was treated to an exceptional concert by legendary singer-songwriter and banjo aficionado John McEuen.

One of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, McEuen brought his new group, the String Wizards, to the historic Alcazar Theatre on a cold winter night Wednesday.

The String Wizards featured another founding member of the NGDB, Les Thompson on bass, vocals and bouzouki, John Cable on guitar, mandolin and vocals, and longtime McEuen collaborator Matt Cartsonis on vocals, mandolin and guitar.

McEuen has played at The Little before, including a surprise performance with his sons, Jonathan and Nathan, who live in nearby Santa Barbara. That tour was in support of the album For All the Good, which featured a family collaboration of the three accomplished songwriters.

The most recent show featured an extraordinary presentation, sharing the music and memories of the landmark Will the Circle Be Unbroken platinum album. The show also featured McEuen’s reflections on Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s remarkable 50-year career.

The multimedia show featured archival photographs, film, Circle session photos, and a narrative interwoven with NGDB classic tunes, hot bluegrass and rare cover tunes. The intimate show dazzled the crowd packed into the tiny little movie theater that benefits from accidentally perfect acoustics.

The concert was a living history of Americana music, which included the entire span of McEuen’s years in music, in two sets lasting nearly three hours.

Nathan McEuen joined the band as a surprise guest at the end of the show for several songs. John McEuen mentioned that his son has taken a personal interest in the nonprofit Alcazar Theatre and was planning on recruiting more top talent to play at the community venue.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.