In a way it seems it has been around forever, but for the last ten years, in one form or another, a celebration has been held to honor the birthday of Bob Dylan who turned 73 on May 24th. He shares the day with local musician and member of Y’uns, Steve Horton. I’m told the first celebration happened at the Laurel Theater, but it soon moved to the amphitheater on the World’s Fair Park where it was a ticketed event. In recent years it has been held on Market Square in conjunction with the first Friday in June which has turned out to be a great decision in terms of attracting a crowd.
And it does attract a very large crowd. Slated to start at 6:00 PM, the crowd began staking out spots by just after 5:00 PM. By the end of the show hundreds of people had gathered and heard performances by some of Knoxville’s best musicians. It’s always a joyous and hopeful event with so many people knowing the music very well, singing along and dancing. The children, who always seem to be present in great numbers, serve up the hope. I love seeing the little ones exposed to great music.
And great music abounds. It’s hard to think of more than a handful of artists whose music could sustain over four hours of performances. Or a musician whose music inspires such a variety of people working different genres. The fun of the evening lies in seeing what surprising interpretations of songs will emerge and which songs will be chosen.
The first thing we noticed, unfortunately, was a negative thing: the porta potties sat right next to the stage close to the crowd. It was most unpleasant to sit and smell the chemicals all night. Whose idea was that? Please, not again. Ever. It underscores the need for public restrooms downtown. This was supposed to happen this summer, as I recall. Rick Emmett? What’s the status?
Opening the show was a last minute addition from Kentucky, I believe. Luke and Jeff Jakowski gave a heartfelt run through half a dozen songs which were highlighted by Luke’s seemingly emergent guitar playing. I’m thinking there may be good things ahead for him. Their set included “Girl from the North Country,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Farewell,”She Belongs to Me,” “I Threw It All Away,” and “All Along the Watchtower.” The best surprise was “Farewell,” which is pretty obscure. Luke did repeat Jimi Hendrix muffed lyrical version of “Watchtower,” but it’s the one most people know. All the songs were released in the 1960s.
Van Eaton, a wonderful local singer/songwriter performed a solid set, backed on most of the song by local harmonica hero Michael Crawley. His set included a couple of songs from the sixties, “Tomorrow is a Long Time” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but he moved to the seventies for “Simple Twist of Fate,” and the eighties for “Sweetheart Like You.”
David Dwyer, who hosted the event solo this year due to the absence of Steve Dupree, read “The Death of Emmett Till,” and later, “The Man in Me.”
The Detroit Daddies, scheduled to follow Van Eaton, could not play due to the sudden illness of local favorite, guitar player extraordinaire. and leader of the Band Dave Meer, who was hospitalized. I can report that last night he was complaining about the hospital food on Facebook, so he must be feeling a bit better. In his place Steve Horton, Michael Crawley (who dedicated his performance to Phil Pollard) and J.P. Reddick performed “He was a Friend of Mine,” and “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” from the sixties and “Blind Willie McTell” from the 80s.
Norwegian Wood performed next and, as always, put their stamp on the great music they select. I never thought I would enjoy classically styled versions of sixties music, but in their hands it becomes something altogether different and I’ve loved it since the first time I heard them play on Market Square several years ago. With one exception from the 1970s they also stuck to sixties material. Their set included “If Not For You,” “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” “One More Cup of Coffee,” “My Back Pages,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Rainy Day Women.” On the later they were joined by members of Y’uns. I thought “If Not For You” was a highlight and I wished they had played “Lay Lady Lay,” which I can still remember from last year’s show.
Daniel Kimbro, who most people know as a bassist, placed himself firmly front and center for an outstanding set. Backed by ace musicians Chad Melton on drums and Jason Day on keyboards they played wonderfully amazing jazz versions of erstwhile folk songs, playing “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” and “Don’t Think Twice,” from the 1960s and “Billy” from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack from the 1970s. It was one of the more obscure songs from the night, though he did play it last year, and he absolutely owned it.
Nancy Brennan Strange played a set with Mike Craver and I really looked forward to it. I’ve always heard about her great voice, but I’ve never heard her sing. Unfortunately I had no choice but to get something to eat at that point, so I missed some of it. Her band played “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word,” which Bob wrote in the 1960s but never, to my knowledge, recorded. I did get to hear Nancy sing “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” and her beautiful voice rang like a bell. I really need to hear her do her own thing.
Y’uns played a short set of three songs from the sixties, “Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance,” “Peggy Day,” and “Tears of Rage,” and one song from the 1970s from Blood on the Tracks, “Buckets of Rain,” one of my favorite songs from that great album.
The Lonetones played a short set all from Bob’s 1960s catalog including “Lay Lady Lay,” “If Not For You,” “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” and “Song for Woody.” “I’ll keep it With Mine” was notable for the vocal debut of local killer cello player Cecelia Miller who did a fine job. The band segued “Song for Woody,” into “This Land is Your Land,” which seems so obvious, I’m not sure why I’ve never heard anyone else do it. Two really fun moments for me included watching teenagers sing along with “This Land is Your Land,” and watching children flood the foot of the stage during this performance.
Kelsey’s Woods ended the show on a very strong note. This is another band I’ve got to get out and hear. I’m not sure how I’ve missed them and I didn’t know what to expect, but their visceral rock and roll blew me away. I’d not thought about the band Garage Deluxe in a long time, but as soon as I heard drummer Andrew Bryant open hsi mouth on “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” they completely came back to me. I’ve never heard anyone who could nail a Levon Helm vocal like he can. He told me later he has plans, along with some others, to play a Band tribute show at Barley’s this Thanksgiving. I’ll definitely give thanks for that.
Sticking to the 1960s and 1970s catalog, the band performed “The Man in Me,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” The crowd which had danced in fits and starts through the rest of the night rose to their feet dancing for most of this glorious set.
The night ended with the usual sing-a-long gathering of the remaining musicians plus a couple, Kelle Jolly and Sam Quinn, who had not performed earlier. They sang the anthematic “I Shall Be Released,” followed by Kelle taking the lead vocals for a gospel version of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which completely blew everyone away.
It was a very good night and I hope the event continues for many more decades. You can find more photographs of the event here on the Inside of Knoxville Facebook Page (and feel free to “like” it while you are there). If you missed it, even if you don’t know much about Bob Dylan’s music, it’s an event that could be enjoyed simply for the range of genres and the exposure to so many local artists. Obviously having the best catalog in American music to choose from doesn’t hurt.