A Brief Review of Last Night's Stellar Dylan Fest Kick-Off Concert at Sacred Heart
Last night the Northland was given a treat: a concert billed as A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan. If you were there, you know you were glad you didn't miss it. I know it exceeded my expectations five-fold.
Marc Pecansky, Billy Hallquist and Nelson T. French were the principles behind this event which was again designed to raise awareness the Armory Arts and Music Center building fund. Percansky is a a Twin Cities magician and producer known as Magic Marc. Hallquist a musician central to the Blood on the Tracks performances that this event morphed from. French is, of course, one of our local advocates serving on the board for the restoration of the Armory.
The Sacred Heart Music Center is a former Catholic Church which has gained a reputation as an exceptional music and arts venue. Last night's concert demonstrated once again why. The stained glass windows, pillars, ornate woodwork and balconies and fabulous acoustics conspire to produce a wonderfully full surround-sound experience.
The doors were opened early in the day so that the musicians could set up their gear, do their sound checks and get everything in order. Late afternoon found everyone getting away for a spell to either rest for the long night or get costumed for the bash to come. At seven the show would start.
A good crowd had ambled in by seven as the sun had begun its descent with a flourish of illumination behind the variegated stained glass symphony of color. The event opened with Marc Percansky, decked up in showman style, introducing us to the evening with some magic he had prepared, after first acknowledging the unexpected recent passing of one of our local artist performers, Gary Reed.
John Bushey, host of the Dylan-themed KUMD radio program Highway 61 Revisited, shared some of his own magic, tying it to Dylan in this manner. Bob Dylan's favorite magician was Harry Houdini. Like Houdini, both men were born with other names -- Erich Weiss and Robert Zimmerman -- and both men were of shorter stature physically, but both men became giants in their field: the world's greatest magician and the world's greatest singer-songwriter.
The tricks Bushey performed were, he claimed, favorites of Harry Houdini. And he performed each while saying, "This is the way Harry Houdini would have done it." The rope tricks and ring tricks were a special treat for those near the front whose mouths were agape with wonderment.
Next, two students from the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) were introduced to play some original music. From a show production perspective this permitted latecomers to slip in to continue filling the room while sharing one of the underlying motives for this event. When the boys were done, the band made its entrance: Matt Fink (keyboard), Bill Hallquist, Gary Lopac, Lonnie Knight, Chico Perez, Stan Kipper and Ralph Dacut.
At this point it would be useless to try to convey how fluid they were, opening with Chimes of Freedom. The various musicians each took a verse on some of the songs, and on other songs a single musician was featured as when Stan Kipper sang High Water (for Charley Parker). Seven songs into the concert my only thought was, "How could one man write so many great songs?" My Back Pages, Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You, It Ain't Me Babe, You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, and Tangled Up in Blue formed a seven-star studded opening crown of spendid musicianship and rockin' stimulation.
Local musician Jim Hall then took center stage to perform Simple Twist of Fate, and one wonders what its like to have such a strong backup band. In fact, the band was so tight you's think they were a regular touring company.
Jamie Ness gave us Maggie's Farm next, in the style of The Freewheelers. Man they were rocking now, and into it. So was the audience as dancing had begun in the aisles.
Kenny Krona did his Quinn the Eskimo , followed by Barbara Meyer's engaging version of Blowing in the Wind.
The backing musicians left the stage and Courtney Yasmineh did a heartfelt solo rendition of The Times They Are A-Changin', which gave some people goosebumps.
Showman Paul Metsa then grabbed the stage for a solo production of She Belongs to Me, and you knew this was no ordinary night. Just Like a Woman closed out the first half of the show.
Hallquist & Geno work out second half details backstage
After an interlude/intermission Nelson French made a brief presentation on the AAMC, his passion that he hoped would be ours. This Armory project is only one of the restorations he is working on. In his day job he is active the restoration and preservation of the St. Louis River and other waterways feeding the Great Lake of Superior.
After the intermission the band gave us a heat-producing Not Fade Away, the one cover here that Dylan did not write. The song is credited to Buddy Holly, whom Dylan claims to have stood within three feet of at Holly's second-to-last concert, here in Duluth's Armory.
The second portion of our show saw continued to feature various singers with From a Buick 6 (Barry Thomas Goldberg), I Wanna Be Your Lover (Steve Grossman) and Watching the River Flow (Arnie Fogel)... all leading up to the introduction of that very much respected red-headed lady who debuted with the Rolling Thunder Revue and was dynamically captured on Dylan's Desire album. With Gene Lafond singing, Scarlet Rivera's electrically charged violin playing sizzled with power that utterly mesmerized the room. Upon completion of the song everyone leaped to their feet to offer a standing ovation.
Scarlet herself introduced the next song by stating that this was the one cut on that Desirealbum that was recorded in one take. Upon completion of One More Cup of Coffee, the crowd was again on its feet demonstrating their appreciation.
After Forever Young, featuring Hallquist, Lopac and Lafond on vocals, James Loney came out to sing Serve Somebody, accompanied by his Ghostettes. Lonnie Knight gave us Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, then the opening bars of Like a Rolling Stone filled the room. It's All Over Now Baby Blue became a group sing and the evening closed with I Shall Be Released.
The evening began with magic and it ended with magic. Here are a few more photos, but I would rather give you the music.... It was a very special night.
The after party lasted till three a.m., but I had been sleeping more than three hours by then, needing to conserve my strength for the week ahead: our North Country Dylan Fest. Tonight it's Dylan Trivia Night at Cormody's Irish Pub. 9 PM.... Test your wits against the best, and the rest.
Ennyman is a Life Under Construction. Writer, artist, philosopher, friend... visit www.enewman.biz to put your mind at e's.