Saturday, May 28, 2016

Eli Hebl Nails It. Winner of 2016 Duluth Dylan Fest Singer/Songwriter Competition

Dylan Days in Hibbing had many highlights, but one of the most talked about and anticipated was the Singer/Songwriter contest. When Dylan Days in Hibbing passed, the Duluth Dylan Fest Committee sought to fill in the void. Though last year's effort at the Red Herring was a good first effort, this year's competition at Clyde Iron Works had just the right ambience. The room was packed and the performers were seriously prepared.

John Bushey of KUMD welcomed everyone and thanked Zimmy's for having started this event years ago. He then turned the program over to our hosts Pat and Karen. Pat is a singer songwriter himself and Karen, originally from California, hails from the Iron Range. The judges this year would be Karen Sunderman of the Playlist, musician Jim Hall, Chris Harwood, a TV guy who is also a musician, and Christa Lawler, who covers the arts and entertainment scene for the DNT.

Time does not permit a full replay here, so we'll just share a few highlights. One limitation that I've become painfully aware of is that attempting to write about music has a massive limitation. Music is its own language. To fully appreciate the songs and sounds, you really do have to be there. I can show photos but there's no real correlation.

Daniel Botkin, the artist from Illinois, took the first slot on the slate. Botkin introduced his song by stating that he has six daughters and this was written for them, with accompanying picture cards that he drew. Someone assisted him and held the cards in the manner of Dylan's famous Subterranean Homesick Blues video. "The Ballad of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Priest" was a clever take-off on Dylan's song of similar name, and it made for a memorable opening number last night.

Troy Atkin, wearing a Minnestoa Twins ball cap, took the stage with a guitar and a trombone. He used the brass instrument for the introductory licks of Rain Day Women, and brought smiles with his two songs. John Adler and Iris Kolodji followed and it became apparent that there was a lot of talent in the room.

A young man wearing a blue and white mesh baseball cap took the stage and explained that he grew up about 30 miles North of Duluth in the small town of Two Harbors. His song was written after something of an epiphany in which he realized that if he "didn't do something" this would be his whole life. He sang, "In the morning when you cry beneath the family tree, the fallen leaves and twisted branches, loss will set you free."

This fellow was followed by a singer who said his optometrist is Bob Dylan's cousin. He lives in a town on Highway 61, and the connections were vividly being laid out. A fellow named Terry had a conversational style of singing. Kim Naglin and Joel Wyblode of Hibbing shared how it was fun to play music on the same stage that Dylan played on half a century ago. They did a song from Time Out Of Mind, and the evening was just so perfect for its mix of Dylan and the inventiveness being displayed.

A number of performers clearly have fans here. Dan Lang and Joe Hauge play for a band called Minnesota Buick. Gene LaFond and Amy Grillo have been strengthening their fan base, having moved this past year to the North Shore. Brian Stelmaszewski, better known as the right hand member of the team "Lefty & Stel", was another of the many familiar faces -- and voices -- here.

When all was said and done Eli Hebl, that young man from Two Harbors, was voted the winner. Dan Lang garnered second place and Iris Kolodji third. Congratulations all around and thank you to everyone who came and shared.

* * *
Just a reminder. Today and tomorrow there are still more events. A U.S. Postal Clerk will be at the Armory Annex this morning from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with an official Duluth Dylan Fest cancellation stamp. Bring your letters to be mailed and have your stamps "cancelled" here today. Or buy our post cards and stamps on the spot. Afterwards, grab a bite to eat across the street at Valentini's and enjoy the music of Marc Gartman, another talented transplant to the Northland.

Tonight it the Armory Benefit Concert featuring music from the Baement Tapes. You can purchase tickets here, or pay a little extra at the door. It promises to be another great evening of music, all for a good cause. To learn more about the basement tapes, check out my blog post Story of the Great White Wonder -- the Original Basement Tapes Bootleg. There's always more to discover.

Tomorrow we'll do a Sunday morning coming down kind of thing at Zeitgeist Cafe downtown, and exchange farewells with friends old and new. Thank you to everyone who has been so faithful in making this another great week.

Meantime, life goes on all around you... Embrace it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Duluth Dylan Fest 2016: The Rex, the Films and Blood on the Tracks Express

First off, a plug for the new Bringing It All Back to Duluth Does Dylan which was introduced on Bob's birthday. Like, wow. This is an exceptional CD. Each of the performers has risen to the occasion. Definitely not a CD you buy just be be Minnesota nice to your friends.

Here's the thought I had Tuesday night at The Rex as the various bands performed at the CD release party. We have all been to a major fireworks show at one time or another, if not annually for the Fourth of July. The way the show is produced, rockets fire up into the sky and through physics and pyrotechnics all kinds of spectacles occur, stimulating and dazzling the eye.

So the observation I made as all these bands were interpreting the many fabulous tunes they selected was this: the rockets that propelled all those colorful explosives skyward were the songs of Bob Dylan. Each song then get interpreted, re-invented, revitalized, re-created into this sensational display that defies confinement, defies explanation, is nothing short of a phenomenon.

Feeding Leroy, gettin' down.
And earlier that evening we saw two songs that were reconfigured in an altogether domain, into the visual realm of film. As I watched Amanda Sundin and Lindsay Wayt's interpretation of "Things Have Changed" I had an immense grin the entire time. The film was told with scenes and settings that translated the lyrics into story. Being familiar with the song, a favorite of many including myself, made it all the more enjoyable.

Team two tackled "To Ramona." Kate Harrison demonstrated her skills as a director and editor. The rest of the team included Chris Linder, Leander Van Ess, and Ramona (KDLH news producer Mona Jeanne.) Both films will be aired again during the "shorts" portion of the DuSu Film Festival.

Bringing It All Back To Duluth Does Dylan will not disappoint any Dylan fan. Whatever your expectations, it is my expectation that this compilation of Duluth musicians interpreting Dylan will exceed your expectations. You can purchase the CD at Duluth Does Dylan.

* * * *
As for the train, it was treat to have a couple extra cars attached at the front, The Million Dollar Bash Car which included music by CowboyAngel Blue, and a car for getting access to service as well as a little quiet.

It's been my experience that no matter where you hang it is a good time, especially when shared with friends or lovers. At on end of the train is an acoustic car and the tail is an electric car. Feeding Leroy fed the crowds on the trip to Two Harbors and Superior Siren stirred them on the return trip in the acoustic car. These two groups were tremendous fun. At the far end there was a packed crowd listening to Erik Koskinen going North, and the4onthefloor rocking on the way back.

And then, of course, there is the destination experience as the Boomchucks change their names to the Freewheelers and amp up the crowd with funtabulous frenetic energy. This year included a very nice four page handout with information about the bands and a few rules of the rails. It was nice addition to a special evening.

Here are some photo to help give you a sense of the event if you weren't there. Maybe we'll see you here next year? We had friends from England, California, France, Texas and Australia, among other places.
"May we interest you in Jello shots? Two for a dollar."

* * * * 
So much for the hoopla. I think most folks got home safe. Some folks wisely took Friday off so they could sleep in, get rested for tonight's Singer/Songwriter Contest, a popular event from Hibbing's Dylan Days that is now incorporated into our week. 

Tomorrow morning at 11:00 is the Official Dylan Fest Postage Stamp Cancellation at the Armory Annex, with music across the street by Marc Gartman in the afternoon at Valentini's. 

Then in the evening the Basement Tapes / Great White Wonder Concert will take you home.  Show starts at 7:00 but arrive early because there's a bit of road construction that will inhibit your path to a premium parking spot. The show will be worth it though.

Meantime.... what a great week of events so far. See you on the scene.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

2016 Duluth Dylan Fest Day 5 -- Blood on the Track Express

Poets of the North Country @ The Underground
It's been a great week of Dylan-inspired music, art, poetry and activities here during Duluth Dylan Fest 2016. Tonight is another event for the highlight reels, the Blood on the Tracks Express, from Duluth to Two Harbors and back. Here's a Throwback Thursday peek into what the ride is about.... music, friends, dancing and music. This is one of the most memorable and talked about events each year during Dylan Fest, no matter what the weather.

VERY IMPORTANT REMINDER: The train will board at the Depot this year. Do not stand in line in the rain behind Fitgers.

HERE'S ANOTHER TIP: There is an opening reception at the Duluth Art Institute for Naomi Christenson's exhibition Pattern Conspiracy from 5 - 7 p.m.  Of course if you stay too long you will miss the train. Don't worry though, it takes a little time to board 300 people. The DAI reception is free and looks to be an exceptionally interesting show. Here's Naomi's statement about her work:

Woven into the fabric of reality is pattern. It’s written in our DNA … in fact our DNA is delicate, undulating pattern of information, an amazing combination of form and function. Everywhere you look, whether through a microscope or a telescope, there's pattern. Conspiracy? Maybe. You see it, feel it and live it every day. Pattern gives poetry it’s meter, music it’s rhythm. It dazzles our eyes and moves our hearts. My obsession with this conspiracy leads me to respond in kind, celebrating the patterns I love most and allowing that celebration to move through me and into new expressions of pattern. In the process of observing and creating, I'm able to explore the conspirators and see the beautiful connections we all share.

* * * * 

Current Duluth Poet Laureate Jim Johnson
Last night's Poets of the North Country event at the Underground was well attended and much enjoyed. Our featured readers were Barton Sutter, Ellie Schoenfeld, Jim Johnson and David Pichaske, each of whom spoke for twenty minutes. Each had stories to share and read from their work. After a short intermission local poets shared briefly, most being the familiar to us who follow this region's rich poetry scene, though as Bart noted beforehand it was not always so. He shared how in the early 80's he and Louis Jenkins would meet somewhere to share their work with one another. How diverse and broad the Northland poetry landscape has become.

The local poets who shared were Gary Boelhower, Jan Chronister, Don Dass, Steve Downing, Phil Fitzpatrick, Julie Gard, Michelle Mathees, Liz Minette, Nicholas Nelson, and myself. Master of Ceremonies Jeffrey Woolverton, who graciously organized the event, closed the evening with a reading of his own.

Phil Fitzpatrick is always a favorite of mine.
The colorful setting made a visually interesting environment. The Playhouse has been performing Chris Monroe's Some Sneaky Sheep and Other Tales. Anyone who knows Chris Monroe's picture books knows that this has been a fun week of shows here in The Underground.

I took lots of notes and there were many great moments, some that made us laugh out loud and some, like Boelhower's "Listen to the Canary" and Nelson's "I Don't Have a Definition," that made us reflective. As time permits I hope to gather a few more thoughts related to this event.

Big thank you to everyone who helped make this happen, and to the writers who enriched us with their sharing. And an additional thanks to Cowboy Angel Blue who entertained us at the afterparty at Karpeles.

* * * *
Tonight it's the Blood on the Tracks Express, boarding at 5:30 from the Depot, but there are more events coming that you will want to be aware of. Thank you to the Duluth News Tribune for helping get the word out. Here's a summary of the next three days. We do hope you will join us somewhere along the way.

* * * *
ONE MORE REMINDER: Fast on the heels of Duluth Dylan Fest is the annual DuSu Film Festival. Richard Hansen, who hosted the 48-Hour Dylan Fest Film Contest showing Tuesday is exceedingly enthusiastic about this year's offering of films. If you go you will find links to the full schedule from June 1-5. Richard is, by nature, exuberant about film but this year seems especially so. Note: the entire film fest is free, a true love offering to the Twin Ports community.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesday: A Moveable Feast Here At Duluth Dylan Fest

Unveiling the Marker at 519 Third Avenue East
Screening of the 48 Hour Film Fest
Bringing It All Back To Duluth CD Release Party

Poets of the North Country @ The Underground
Doors open and Reception @ 5:30 
Program begins @ 6:00 

After Party
Cowboy Angel Blue @ Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
902 E. First Street

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Duluth Dylan Fest: Religious Themes Pervaded His Life's Work

Wailing Wall by Daniel Botkin
Back in the late Sixties or maybe early Seventies (someone may remember this and even have the article) I saw an article about Bob Dylan predicting that he would one day become the center of a new religion, much like Jesus or Muhammed or Buddha. Much like the label "voice of a new generation," it's a sure thing he'd have distanced himself from that expectation as rapid as any other defining epithet. What prompted that early prediction was the earnestness of the religious themes which permeated his songs.

This memory was brought to mind yesterday when I read one of the countless "Happy Birthday" articles wishing him the best on his 75th birthday today, Jeffrey Salkin's article suitably titled, "Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!" from the Religion News Service.

This is all especially interesting because we've lived in a era where one of the fundamental givens of our time is that humanity evolved from lower life forms and that we are simply a bi-product of countless millenia of stimulus-response experiences. Many would cite that Capitalism is soulless by nature (survival of the fittest, he who has the most toys wins, etc.) and philosophical materialism declares that there is really is nothing more than a Material world. Our politics, too, reflects this in its own way, At least at its higher levels it appears Machiavellian to the core, power brokers committed to gaining and maintaining power at any cost.

Into this contemporary stew, Bob Dylan became a prophetic Voice. He was like a voice crying in the wilderness. A hard rain's gonna fall. His songs addressed issues of injustice, covetousness, greed, pride, and the need for a moral vision that included justice, temperance, faith, hope and charity.*

Today in Duluth his fans are celebrating Bob Dylan's 75th birthday by unveiling a marker in front of his birth home here in the Central Hillside. (3:30 p.m. @ 519 East Third Street). For years I have felt that the city should do more to honor its native son, the way the other cities have done with their "offspring." But as Jesus himself stated, "A prophet is without honor in his own country."

So it is that a handful of people have been laboring to bring greater recognition to Dylan's significance to and in this Northland region, something more than acknowledgement, more in keeping with his stature. And yet, how acknowledge Dylan without turning these touchpoints into shrines? But it becomes quite the dance, because Dylan himself would not wish to be enshrined. Or worshiped. Dylan's life was about something higher.

Dan Botkin discusses his work with WDIO reporter.
Last night Chicago artist Daniel Botkin gave a talk in which he explained his various paintings and the meanings behind the images. Religious themes pervade Botkin's work because religious themes pervade Dylan's lyrics, not just the early ones. (c.f. The Dark Side of Dylan, Christianity Today column about Tempest.) Even when painting the passing of a guitar (symbol of carrying the music to a next generation) Botkin uses a scene from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where the finger of God touches Adam's finger, transmitting the spark of the divine. In this case, it is Woody Guthrie handing Dylan the guitar from a cloud where he is perched with "Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly, too."

It's been a fascinating week as the world tries to find creative ways to pay tribute in an authentic way, while attempting to avoid mythologizing. But maybe mythologizing can't be helped when you try to place any man on a pedestal. There are so many new stories being told and the mythologizing starts to feel so thick you can cut it with a knife.

It's an exciting time here this week, though. People who knew Bob when he was growing up are in the circle of admirers paying respects, looking back at photos on display at Karpeles, for example.

Today there will be music, a mayoral proclamation, prayers for good weather, and a birthday cake. Some of it (like the birthday cake) is probably normal for any 75 year old with a family or friends. The mayoral proclamation is not. And if you're in town, the CD release party is at The Rex tonight, Duluth Does Dylan IV, featuring many of the bands from Duluth's previous CDs on the same theme. It'll be a memorable birthday bash, I'm sure. Especially if you're there.

* * * *

There were news stories last week about the auction of a 1980 letter in which Bob reveals his Christian faith.  Here's a second on the same letter from Toronto. What's apparent here is his earnestness. The opening lines from one of my own poems comes to mind at this point.

We're a complicated people,
a mixed and crazy breed.
We can always blame our parents,
for we're all of Adam's seed...
The future remains unwrit.

Here's my salute to Bob on his 75th. Happy Birthday.
And my tip for long life: Keep having birthdays!
Stay busy being born, and you will never get bored.

*See Christopher Ricks' Dylan's Vision of Sin

Monday, May 23, 2016

Six Articles Of Interest Leading Into Duluth Dylan Fest and Bob's 75th Birthday Week

I can't remember exactly when I began to feel myself to be a part of the Duluth Dylan Fest team. I've been covering this event here for years it seems. Two years ago I was asked to create the trivia contest that takes place on Sunday evening at Carmody's Irish Pub so that this year marks my third year of "official" involvement, though I've participated on the periphery for many years previous. The big surprise as I've gotten more deeply involved is the number of things I've learned about but can't talk about. And then there are all the rumors. As Dylan himself once song, "I've heard rumors all over town..." Or as Tina, Marvin and a host of others have sung, "believe half of what you see and none of what you hear." For the record, if you live here in the Northland you start to hear a lot. For myself, it's been a privilege to help promote the week's events, which kicked off last night with the new Dylan Music Video Contest at 7 p.m.

This team leaves to produce "To Ramona"
A pre-selected set of 5 minute songs had been placed in a box and each team that signed up wwas instructed to draw a name, as if drawing names out of a hat. Tomorrow night we'll re-convene at the Zinema Theater for the screening. 48 hours is the time frame. The winning music vid will be aired during next week's DuSu Film Festival. The four contestants included: Justin Anderson (Just Like A Woman); Ramona, Kate, Chris and Leander (To Ramona); Amanda Sundin and Lindsay Wayt (Things Have Changed); and Tamaye Ceannaideach (Mississippi.) The Dylan song that immediately came to mind: "I Can't Wait."

This was followed at 9 p.m. by the Dylan-Themed Trivia on Sunday nights at Carmody's, now in its sixth season, and it was nice to see such a healthy crowd for the event. Big "shout out" to Frank & Patty, who flew in from California for the kick-off of Dylan Fest and won first place by correctly guessing 24 out of 25 answers. Congratulations!

* * * *
Here are a half-dozen links to stories you can find online related to Bob's birthday tomorrow or Duluth Dylan Fest.

Our View: It’s OK to celebrate Dylan

"Duluth Dylan Fest kicks off Sunday and includes music — lots of music — a bus tour from Duluth to Hibbing and back, a film festival and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at Dylan’s first home in the Duluth hillside."

Joseph O’Connor: a letter to Bob Dylan ahead of his 75th birthday

"I don’t know how many times I’ve since listened to Desire, but it must be hundreds. As for Blood on the Tracks, Slow Train Coming, Saved, the magnificent Street Legal, Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, Time Out of Mind: they were part of the soundtrack to my life. You’re a wintry walk on Dún Laoghaire pier with my first girlfriend, you’re a voice in a student bedsit at dawn, then a presence from a car radio late at night as I drive the streets of London with my baby son, to help him sleep."

Duluth rallies around Bob Dylan's 75th birthday as Hibbing struggles

"Duluth is commemorating the birthday in a variety of ways, including an impressive exhibit of Pagel's items, a tribute album and concert, and the unveiling of a plaque at Dylan's childhood home. But 75 miles away in Hibbing, where he lived from ages 6 to 18, the only formal event will be a bus tour — from Duluth."

The Photographer Who Captured Bob Dylan’s Electric Transition
"Daniel Kramer took intimate photographs of Bob Dylan during the musician’s transformation from king of folk to rock pioneer. Here they are in a beautiful new book."

What's really cool about this story is that you can see some of pages from Daniel Kramer's earlier version of his book of photos... covered with Bob Dylan's handwriting. These are on display at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum which you must take time to visit this week while you're here. (Pictured top right.)

Forever young: 25 things you should know about Bob Dylan on his 75th birthday

The photo on the right headlines this Trib story.
There are a lot of interesting facts in this story which appeared in Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. Here's one I wanted to draw attention to:

"3. The turning point in Dylan’s career was a New York Times review by Robert Shelton in September 1961. It led to his contract with Columbia Records."

This original NY Times story is also on display this week at Karpeles in the Bill Pagel exhibit here in Duluth. In addition, the photo used to lead into the article -- Dylan receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama -- is also in this exhibit.

Dylan Art Seen: Daniel Botkin's "Busy Being Born" at The Red Mug

Ok, so this one is a reminder that a special reception for Daniel Botkin's "Busy Being Born" is happening tonight. Music starts at 4:30 p.m. with an artist talk at 6:00. Join us!

* * * * 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Story of the Great White Wonder -- the Original Basement Tapes Bootleg

"If the past isn't alive in you, the future will be empty." 
~Greil Marcus on The Basement Tapes

This year's Duluth Dylan Fest culminates with a concert featuring musicians performing songs from The Basement Tapes. There are a whole host of activities slated to make this year an especially special week. Dylan will be 75 on Tuesday, an occasion is being marked with events around the world. You're invited to join us. Learn more at the Duluth Dylan Fest Facebook Page.

Most of the events are free, starting with the opening of the film contest at 7 and Dylan Trivia Contest at 9 p.m.
At Carmody's. With prizes. For events requiring tickets visit the Duluth Dylan Fest connections at Eventbrite. The Basement Tapes: Great White Wonder concert tickets are on sale here. The concert, "curated" by Gene LaFond, is a fund raiser and awareness raiser for the Armory Arts & Music Center.

* * * *
Most Dylan fans already know the story of how Dylan and the Band ended up in Woodstock after a world tour that was met with hostile reactions toward his "new sound." Nevertheless, with each telling from various points of view a new picture emerges. Below is a YouTube video that offers up some of the significance of that moment in time. There are also a few additional links to Bob himself sharing how the songs were created and Robbie Robertson telling his story.

Watching this video brought back a few memories for me. The Basement Tapes bootlegs were probably the most famous in history, though they weren't the only bootlegs being circulated. Pirating music has become a whole different animal in the digital age. In the days of vinyl, bootlegs were a physical product sold under the counter. When I was in high school, we had a little record store in Somerville, NJ where I used to buy albums. One day I heard about a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young bootleg that was available. I was told to be discreet, so when no one was around I asked the long-haired guy behind the counter for a copy of the bootleg. I was a very straight-looking kid in high school, so the guy studied me suspiciously, but I knew the record was going for three bucks and threw three George Washingtons on the countertop. He reached under the counter and pulled out an album sheathed in a white, unmarked album cover. It had a real cloak-and-dagger feel to it. As I left the store I couldn't wait to get home and play it.

As you watch this video you'll see how the Basement Tapes bootlegs went global. In one scene you can see how some folks in L.A. stamped the unmarked white cover and gave it a name. Hence, the Great White Wonder.

Eventually, as in eight years later, the Basement Tapes was released as a real album. In the 1990's the "Official" Bootleg Series was initiated, currently comprising 12 sets of outtakes from the various periods of Dylan's career. The Basement Tapes (2014) is called Bootleg Series: Volume 11, and is available as a six CD or two CD set. Or, if you desire, in as three vinyls for those sensitive to the sound fidelity.

Greil Marcus, Clinton Heylin and Sid Griffin talk about this chapter in history.

Here's a soundtrack of Bob Dylan talking about where the songs came from that he wrote there at Woodstock that year. And here's a segment where Robbie Robertson talks about the making of Basement Tapes. And for an in depth account of this period read Levon Helm's This Wheel's On Fire.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Go for it... in Duluth.