Tribute concert kicks off two-week Dylan festival
More than a dozen musicians, some with ties to Bob Dylan, will perform a tribute concert benefiting the Armory Arts & Music Center to kick off the weeklong North Country Dylan Celebration. A complete list of events here.
A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan will be more than three hours of Dylan’s music performed by 19 musicians, including Scarlet Rivera, a violinist who was part of the Rolling Thunder Revue; Matt Fink, a keyboardist for Prince and the Revolution; and Jamie Ness, whose band Freewheelers plays Dylan tunes.
The concert is at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Music Center. Tickets are $30 plus fees at dulutharmory.org. This is the first major event of Dylan-related festivities in Duluth and Hibbing in the days surrounding the artist’s 73rd birthday.
It’s Dylan’s consistency and longevity in the biz that makes him such a unique figure worth covering, said Marc Percansky, a magician who is emceeing the event.
“His career is so extraordinary,” he said. “The way he’s still going and still creating the best work anybody could imagine. He’s such an innovator. People are fascinated with him. His lyrics are poetic and leave room for interpretation. He’s played music in every kind of format and he’s always changing.
“He’s a very interesting person.”
A Salute to Dylan
Technically, the idea for this collaboration was born of an email musician Paul Metsa received in the early 2000s. The Iron Range-raised folk singer was invited to Turkey to perform on a horse farm in honor of Bob Dylan’s 60th birthday.
“I know it sounds insane,” Metsa said. “These Dylan fanatics had heard about me on the Internet. I really considered doing it.”
Instead, he thought local. Instead of Turkey, why not collect a bunch of musicians and celebrate Dylan’s birthday at First Avenue and 7th St. Entry in Minneapolis?
The Million Dollar Bash included 40 bands on two stages at the venues. Part of this included gathering the group of Minneapolis session players who played on “Blood on the Tracks,” including Kevin Odegard, Bob Berg, Gregg Inhofer, Chris Weber and Billy Peterson. They played “Idiot Wind,” “You’re a Big Girl Now” and closed with “Tangled Up in Blue,” according to an article Metsa wrote for a Colorado-based Dylan fanzine.
“The house was swaying in unison and shaking like a night train bound for glory,” Metsa wrote.
Until then, the “Blood on the Tracks” musicians hadn’t played together since 1974. After that, these Dylan-themed shows cropped up occasionally in the Twin Cities area. The core musicians invited other musicians into the fold and the group continued to morph into something new.
“We keep adding more and more people,” said Percansky, who has been emceeing the event since 2004 when he was part of a skit that riffed on the video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
By 2011, the group Blood on the Tracks Live performed at a Guitars for Vets benefit in St. Louis Park, Minn., and just two of the original members remained.
None of the original “Blood on the Tracks” session players are part of Saturday’s event, but a few have ties or, at the very least, have been influenced by Dylan.
Rivera was a teenage violinist looking for something beyond the classical track when she was intercepted by Dylan on a street corner in Greenwich Village. It was 1975 and she wasn’t entirely sure that was Dylan doing the asking.
“I was calculating in my mind if that was really him,” she told the News Tribune in 2012. “It took a number of seconds to say, ‘Yes. It really is.’
“You don’t want to just jump in a car with anybody. I wasn’t about to play on the street, he was asking me to go to his studio.”
She ended up playing on every song of Dylan’s album “Desire” and traveled with him through the mid-1970s as part of the Rolling Thunder Revue.
Rivera and Minneapolis-based musician Gene LaFond have been playing in Duluth as part of the Dylan Fest activities since 2012. LaFond knew of Dylan from his early gigs in the Minneapolis coffee shop scene. Later, with a mutual friend, LaFond would travel around to catch up with Dylan’s tours and had VIP access to the scene.
Percansky has known Dylan almost his whole life, he said. He first got into the music when he heard “Blood on the Tracks.”
“There was no looking back after that,” he said.
Metsa, who is from Virginia, likes to joke that Dylan is “the other folk singer from the Iron Range.”
“I really respect and love him for a lot of reasons,” Metsa said. “But I think the most important reason after being in the business myself is to realize how long this guy has been doing it. He’s had one job for over 50 years. Considering how rough and tumble the music business is, he’s a shining example of bravery and durability. I salute him for that.”
What to expect
The musicians had a drop-in rehearsal Tuesday at Taylor Sound Rehearsal and Recording in St. Louis Park.
Nelson French, who is on the Armory’s board of directors, was there to share info about the cause. The Armory Arts & Music Center has raised about $2 million and needs to raise $2 million to $6 million more, he said.
French said he found that some of the musicians had a relationship with the venue. Lonnie Knight, he said, played there with The Castaways and Jokers Wild.
“They know the music legend and the history of the place,” French said.
The final set list for Saturday’s show is under wraps, but French said there will be 30 songs and to expect some spontaneous mixes to pop up on stage.
“What was palpable is that when these guys get together they energize each other,” French said.
The show will close with all the musicians joining together for “I Shall Be Released.”
Go see it
What: A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan, benefit concert for the Armory Arts & Music Center
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Sacred Heart Music Center
Tickets: $30 in advance at dulutharmory.org; $35 at the door
Musicians scheduled to perform: Ralph Dacut, Matt Fink, Arne Fogel, Barry Thomas Goldberg, Steve Grossman, Jim Hall, Billy Hallquist, Stan Kipper, Lonnie Knight, Kenny Krona, Gene LaFond, James Loney & The Ghostettes, Gary Lopac, Paul Metsa, Barbara Meyer, Jamie Ness, Chico Perez, Scarlet Rivera and Courtney Yasmineh