The Bob Dylan Birthday Bash is one of those rare times of the year when I allow myself to take a First Friday and just settle in for an event I love, though there are often many other fine events happening around the city. It was certainly the case last Friday night, but I pitched my chair, accompanied by Urban Daughter and enjoyed a night of great music at the hands of many of our talented local musicians.
Sponsored by WDVX and others, the event is the brainchild of Steve Horton (of the Lonesome Coyotes and Y’uns). May 24th happens to be a shared birthday between Steve and Bob, so it seemed like a natural. He continues to coordinate the event which, in recent years, has been emceed by Steve Dupree and David Dwyer.
It’s a great way to see a number of local bands and artists, though you’ll not see them performing their own songs. Everyone does a Bob Dylan set, though a big part of the fun is seeing the various artists put their stamp on the songs, playing them in their own style.
The music got underway around 5:30 with Tall Paul and friends, including Michael “Crawdaddy” Crawley. I’d never heard Tall Paul before, which is a bit weird because he was already somewhat of a legend around Knoxville when I arrived in 1982. I believe I remember him playing at Hawkeyes, though not when I ate there. He played a set filled with sixties songs and the first of several (“He was a Friend of Mine) for the night which were first released on Dylan’s Bootleg series.
Tall Paul Set: Tangled Up in Blue, Like a Rolling Stone, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Mr. Tambourine Man, He was a Friend of Mine
Will Boyd and his band played next and the musical universe shifted a bit when he applied his jazz arrangements to traditional Dylan songs to very interesting effect. Will is an outstanding saxophonist and his versions of the Dylan classics sometimes pushed the limits of recognition. The nod for most obscure song from the original catalog may go to Will for his inclusion of “Hazel” from “Planet Waves.” He also worked “House of the Rising Sun” into the set on the basis it was included on Dylan’s first album.
Will Boyd: Love Minus Zero, No Limit, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Hazel, Subterranean Homesick Blues, The Times They Are A-Changin’, House of the Rising Sun
Exit 65, led by ever-smiling Chris Durman focused on the cusp of the decade (60s/70s) with their set, again with three songs not included on the original albums, as well as nods to some of the more popular titles like “Forever Young.” Their performance of that song was one of the highlights of the early night.
Exit 65: Quinn the Eskimo, Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You, Million Dollar Bash, Tomorrow is a Long Time, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, Forever Young
Maggie Longmire and friends offered up a diverse set, including six songs from five different decades. As much fun as it is hearing artists who don’t likely know the Dylan catalog very deeply, it is always a pleasure hearing her for the opposite reason: You get the idea she knows the breadth of the work. I particularly enjoy when she ventures into more recent material.
Maggie Longmire: Jokerman, One More Cup of Coffee, From a Buick Six, To Make You Feel My Love, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Someday Baby
Four Leaf Peat did their dependable best, bringing their a-game as always. Member Chad Beauchaine pointed out that Dylan’s music isn’t exactly in their Celtic comfort zone. That wouldn’t be clear from a listening to their fine set and they did identify songs that fit them well. One of the strangest moments of the night occurred during their set. As they played “John Brown,” a song about a boy who proudly goes off to war only to return a mutilated shell of his previous self. The strange thing was that this was the song the audience chose to get up and dance to. It’s pretty macabre material for a dance song.
Four Leaf Peat: Mama You Been on My Mind, Pretty Peggy-o, John Brown, You Ain’t Going Nowhere
Showing that they are increasingly a band to be reckoned with on the local scene, Jason Hanna and the band turned in an excellent performance. Again, the material selected was good, with two songs from bootleg CDs and one from the lesser-known “Street Legal,” which just happens to be my favorite Dylan album.
Dixieghost: Maggie’s Farm, Nobody ‘Cept You, Golden Loom, New Pony
The finish was a Horton sort of affair, with event organizer Steve Horton and friends performing a set of sixties songs. Joined on stage by his son, Will Horton of the Black Cadillacs, the performance brought more highlights and the crowd danced as they played. Having Hector Qirko throwing out his tasteful licks on guitar lifted the music to another level. Will Horton then took center stage with 4/5 of the Black Cadillacs and played two songs in a set unfortunately shortened because the event had run late.
Steve Horton and Friends: Bob Dylan’s Dream, All I Really Want to Do, One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later), Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Positively 4th Street
Will Horton and Friends: Meet Me in the Morning, From a Buick 6
It was great 74th birthday celebration for the bard and enjoyed by hundreds of people. Many, including our mayor, danced into the night. Having the event on Market Square and on First Friday as it has been for several years has proven to be a great move. If you missed it, I would encourage you to make it next year – and I hope we have it for many years. An older friend said to me, “Look at our city!” as he motioned his hand to indicate the vibrant scene on the square. “This gives me chills.” Indeed.