Summer concerts in St. Louis Park and Maple Grove lack Dylan tribute
The times have changed for summer concerts in St. Louis Park and Maple Grove after the Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan came to a close following the death of organizer, Billy Hallquist, last year.
A few of the numerous musicians who participated in the annual nod to one of Minnesota’s greatest songwriters have performed concerts this year of their own music, though.
For example, musician Jeff Dayton performed in St. Louis Park and Maple Grove in July. Fellow Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan alum Barbara Meyer played in St. Louis Park in June, and St. Louis Park resident Dan Israel is hosting his second annual Dan Israel and Friends concert 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, at Veterans Memorial Amphitheater in St. Louis Park’s Wolfe Park, 3700 Monterey Drive.
Beginnings as a reunion
The Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan had its roots in a 2001 reunion at First Avenue of most of the Minnesota musicians who played with Bob Dylan on his album “Blood on the Tracks.” The reunion organized by Paul Metsa – who, like Dylan, grew up on the Iron Range – celebrated Dylan’s 60th birthday that year. Metsa wrote that he had the idea after an invitation to play a Dylan tribute event in Turkey.
“Although an all-expenses-paid trip to Istanbul to play Dylan tunes, and some of my own, to the Turkish faithful of His Bobness sounded like a hallucination worth having, I reconsidered,” Metsa wrote in 2001 for On the Tracks Magazine. “Two martinis and a half a pack of Marlboro Reds later, it seemed obvious that Minneapolis owed its favorite folkie son a birthday tribute of the highest and swingingest order.”
Later reunions took place in later years in places like the Medina Entertainment Center, Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing and the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. The Pantages show, which included all of the Minnesota “Blood on the Tracks” session players, coincided with the release of the book “A Simple Twist of Fate” in which guitarist Kevin Odegard discussed his experiences with Dylan while recording the album.
Of the Pantages show, Odegard said, “That was the one that really thrust us forward.”
In addition to Minnesota musicians, reunion organizers brought in Mary Lee Kortes, a New York musician who had covered the “Blood on the Tracks” album. Eric Weissberg, who played with Dylan in New York on an initial recording, also came to St. Louis Park for the Dylan tribute.
“He was the band leader for the New York sessions, most of which were scrapped on the released version of ‘Blood on the Tracks,’” Odegard said. “But having him on the stage with us in Minneapolis added an extra layer of professionalism. We had a great time.”
The reunion, called Blood on the Tracks Live at the time, came to St. Louis Park in 2009. By then, organizers had begun inviting musicians who did not play with Dylan to participate.
“We wanted to be more inclusive of the community,” Odegard said.
Dozens of performers played in the shows.
“We picked up people who were interested and who we were interested in hearing their interpretations of things,” Odegard said.
In 2010, the show began raising funds for Guitars for Vets, a Milwaukee-based organization that supports veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hallquist took over organizing the event in 2012 after Odegard said he had become engaged in his day job.
Hallquist brought the show to Maple Grove as well as St. Louis Park that year and following years. With the original Minnesota members of Dylan’s “Blood on Tracks” band moving away from the tribute, Hallquist changed the name of Blood on the Tracks Live to the Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan.
Hallquist’s health began deteriorating, though, Odegard said. He was diagnosed with cancer in late 2014. Last year, the Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan doubled as A Tribute to Billy Hallquist. Although weak, Hallquist came up on stage for the final St. Louis Park show in 2015. He died later that year.
“It began as a band reunion and ended up as a tribute to Billy, and we figured that was a great place to leave it in 2015 because Billy had done so much to keep it going after I left,” Odegard said.
While organizing the show, Hallquist had made a point to try to include the music community as much as possible and brought in Scarlet Rivera, a violinist who played for Dylan on his “Desire” album as well as on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
Hallquist brought “a touch of perennial class to the event,” Odegard said.
He added, “Billy was a wonderful showman – an impresario. That’s one of the words we anointed him with – our storyteller.”
Hallquist had presented the idea that the tribute could perform other songs other than “Blood on the Tracks” numbers, leading in 2011 to a focus on the Dylan album “Blonde on Blonde.”
Odegard said, “From there it took off, and everybody started digging for deep cuts and obscurities…. It really impressed on us on how huge the canon of Minnesota boy Robert Zimmerman was and will remain.”
Sometimes different musicians performed the same songs in different styles from year to year, Odegard noted.
“Some were done oddly, almost spoken word, some punky numbers,” Odegard said. “But the audience always seemed to like it.”
Hallquist brought the music community and the community-at-large together as one, Odegard said.
He added, “It wasn’t unusual to have 30 or more people on stage at once. Dreams came true with a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Minnesota and international musicians. Among the great talents that shared our stage were eight actual Dylan sidemen from his Columbia Records masterpieces ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Desire.’”
While he called the series of shows terrific, Odegard said, “It was time to end it. You couldn’t top it. You couldn’t top what Billy had done. There was no way.”
Many of the musicians who participated over the years expressed similar sentiments about Hallquist.
Asked to weigh in, Robert “Bobby Z” Rivkin – a drummer for Prince as well as at Dylan tributes – said simply, “I miss Billy. Not much else to say.”
Israel said of Hallquist, “More than missing the festival, we miss him. We miss Billy. It’s really kind of shocking that he’s gone. Every time I run into anybody who used to go to that thing, they’re stunned it’s not going on anymore.”
Dan Hallquist, who produced the 2015 tributes for his father, said, “I have a special place in my heart for those times and people. It was a concert that my dad, Billy Hallquist, planned his life around. STTMBD (as my dad referred to it in writing) had a loyal following with many familiar faces in the crowd every year. The show evolved over the years and became something more than just a concert. The memories and relationships from the past summers will always be remembered.”
Steve Grossman, who is among the musicians from the event who is participating in Dan Israel and Friends Aug. 6, said, “It was such a beautiful event that became the highlight of each summer. Every day I run into someone who asks me when the show is this year, and sadly I have to tell them ‘not happening.’”
Grossman said he feels fortunate that local legends like Odegard and Hallquist included him in the show.
“It really was a ton of work for them, coordinating all the musicians and logistics,” Grossman said. “Last year’s emotional show with Billy on stage for the last time was hard to top, but hoping someday soon we can do a reunion to keep his amazing spirit alive.”
After naming a lengthy list of musicians who performed in the tributes, Odegard said, “For a small group of lifelong friends to play with so many of our heroes was a dream come true. Our 1975 band never really disbanded. I have known some of these people for 45 or more years. We checked off dozens of wishes on our bucket lists over fifteen years of shows.”
Marc Percansky, who served as the master of ceremonies for the tributes, noted one performer told him that he did not usually have a chance to perform in front of 3,000 people, and that even playing a song or two had been a thrill for him every time.
“As for me, I will certainly miss the shows as much as anybody,” Percansky said. “They were summer highlights for me, too. I put a lot of work and effort into them.”
The tributes required months of planning and preparation, noted Percansky, who Odegard called “our hero who kept the trains running on time.”
Percansky said, “With our show last year, I felt we went to the top of the mountain. I am proud of what we accomplished, the money that was raised for Guitars For Vets, all the friendships that were made and the great songs that were sung! Bob is an iconic artist along with Prince, and I am glad that we all shared in celebrating his music over the past seven years.”
Ideas for the future
Percansky suggested the concert could return next year in another shape and form.
“It will never be the same without my compadre Billy Hallquist and nothing lasts forever,” Percansky said. “It will just be different.”
Odegard said he and drummer Stan Kipper are considering creating a show in the future.
“We’re going to put something together that we hope will appeal to that same audience, but it probably is not going to include more than one or two Dylan tunes,” Odegard said.
However, Israel said he has had thoughts of putting together a Dylan tribute band of his own that would perform more regularly.
“It wouldn’t be as collaborative,” Israel said. “It wouldn’t be like a million different guests. I think we can safely say that was a unique thing that unfortunately may never come back the same way.”
The Dan Israel and Friends concert Aug. 6 will feature Israel, Katy Vernon, Martin Devaney and “Baby” Grant Johnson. Grossman and fellow tribute alum Jeff Victor are slated to play songs with Israel at the end of the show.
Israel said the tribute shows helped inspire his event.
“Unfortunately, those are no longer, but I wanted to keep doing something there,” said Israel, who lives so close to Wolfe Park that he said it is basically his backyard.
“I’m looking forward to my little folk fest again,” Israel said. “It’ll be fun. I hope people show up. If they do, hopefully, I’ll have a chance to do it again.”
The final Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan performance is available online at tinyurl.com/Dylansalute.
Odegard provides a playlist with clips of Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan concerts at the bottom of his page at youtube.com/user/kevinodegard.
To donate to Guitars for Vets, visit guitarsforvets.org.
Contact Seth Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org