Old-time revival

The Truckee River Swing Band is enjoying a resurgence of folk in the music scene

From left, John Grantham, Bill Naylor and Dik Hitson are the Truckee River String Band.

From left, John Grantham, Bill Naylor and Dik Hitson are the Truckee River String Band.

Dik Hitson has a theory on musical cycles.

“Every 20 or 30 years, I think, music kind of recycles itself—and it’s time for us now. At least, it seems like it is,” Hitson says. “It’s kind of like nostalgia for swing bands.”

For Hitson and his band, the Truckee River String Band, the timing was right to play the music they grew up with. With influences such as the Kingston Trio and Pete Seger, the three men say they hope to bring back memories for their audiences and win over new fans who weren’t alive when folk was a major player in the music business.

“We’ve been really lucky and had a good reaction, especially from the people over 40 who remember those college protests and all the Pete Seger and Kingston Trio days,” Hitson says. “But we have been surprised how the young people, who have never heard the Kingston Trio or the Limelighters or any of those bands, have come forward and said, ‘Where did you learn those songs?’ They have just been really surprised at how enjoyable that old, classic ‘60s stuff is.”

Hitson, along with band members John Grantham and Bill Naylor, have enjoyed the audiences’ enthusiasm. And they have enjoyed playing together as well.

“We are close friends,” Hitson says. “Socially and culturally, [we’re] a little bit different, but the music is so much fun that even if we have disputes and stuff, when we begin to play the music, all that melts away. The enjoyment of that is so soothing and thrilling that you just forget about the differences.”

The differences Hitson refers to come from their backgrounds. While Grantham and Naylor both served in the military—Grantham in the Navy and Naylor in the Air Force—Hitson was writing protest songs, including a song for the Sierra Club titled “Is Mickey Mouse Really A Rat?” The song was about Walt Disney’s proposed resort in the Mineral King valley in the Sierra Nevada. Disney never built the resort and backed out of litigation, tired of the notoriety the case brought him.

“I don’t know how much my song had anything to do with it, but he was never able to do it,” Hitson says.

The group came together through mutual connections to the Northern Nevada Bluegrass Association. Naylor was a leader of the society when Hitson retired to Reno from Los Angeles. Hitson quickly found out about the group and began playing bluegrass with them.

“I liked his style,” Hitson says, referring to Naylor. “It was very easy and comfortable and kind of a non-showbizzy kind of style. We had talked about putting together a small group—that group is much larger [at] eight to 10 pieces. We had talked about a trio for a long time.”

But a third part was still missing, and that’s when Grantham came into the picture. He showed up at a meeting of the bluegrass group, and Bill and Dik immediately knew they had rounded out their trio.

“Finally, we ran into John,” Hitson says. “John came to one of the bluegrass meetings and we just liked him really instantly, so the three of us put together a little group shortly thereafter.”

And for the past year to 14 months, the trio has been playing the music they love—the music of their youth.

“There is a time for the revival of the revival," Hitson says. "And that’s been as much encouragement as anything—to provide old music that people want to hear fresh and put whatever meaning it has to them to it."