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Duluth Dylan Fest lures fans of all kinds

Feeding LeRoy photo courtesy of Sonja Bjordal1 / 6
4onthefloor photo courtesy of Gabriel Douglas2 / 6
Marc Gartman and Jerree Small. File / News Tribune3 / 6
Laura Sellner photo by Spencer Carlson of Foyote LLC4 / 6
Karen Sunderman. 2014 file / News Tribune5 / 6
Illustration by Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com6 / 6

News flash: Not every regional musician is a Bob Dylan superfan. At least one player with local ties is drawn to Dylan’s songs — but more when he isn’t the one performing them. Another music head experienced the Dylan mystique during a 1999 concert, but still considers herself more of a Deadhead.

Another singer-songwriter spent a life surrounded by Dylan-isms, but it took a decades-old album to gain an appreciation for his work.

Duluth Dylan Fest, an annual multi-day celebration honoring Duluth’s native son, starts Sunday with a film festival and a trivia contest and continues through a farewell brunch on May 29.  Along the way: an art opening, a CD release show, postage stamp cancellation, the Blood on the Tracks Express, a singer-songwriter contest and more.

Superfan or not, many local artists still have some sort of connection to him. The News Tribune recently talked to local artists who will be featured as part of the fest about Dylan’s influence in their lives and work.

‘Different lyrically and stylistically’

When she was in high school, Sonja Bjordal’s taste veered toward Jewel and The Cranberries. Then she discovered Dylan, whose music offered her something new.

“The singer-songwriter thing was something more than what I thought it could be,” she said. “It was something different lyrically and stylistically.”

Bjordal sings and plays guitar with the acoustic alt-rock-country-folk band Feeding LeRoy alongside Lee Martin, Luke Martin, Mark Macham and Adam Staupe.

“As far as my personal perspective, I see him as a poet and a writer and that influences me, personally, because that’s my focus,” Bjordal said. “I appreciate his words.”

Feeding LeRoy is playing on the Blood on the Tracks Express on May 26. Music fans board at 5:30 p.m. at the Depot for a train to Two Harbors and back with a bunch of music. The band’s “I Shall Be Released” is on the “Bringing it all Back to Dylan Does Duluth” CD and will play the release show at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Clyde Iron Works.

Bob Dylan slept here

Gabriel Douglas worked at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown for four years, the frontman for The 4onthefloor said, on the same block where Dylan once had an apartment in the space above what is now the Loring Pasta Bar.

It is a regular stop for musicians playing the theater, he said.

Douglas, who lives in the Twin Cities, was introduced to Dylan’s music when he was a college student at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He’s seen him live at various festivals, accidentally, because Dylan has been on a bill with other bands Douglas wanted to see. Dylan is not, Douglas said, his favorite live performer.

The appeal, rather, is his out-spokenness.

“I just always think it’s cool that he went to the drum of his own beat,” Douglas said. “And he still does. I’m a dude who likes people with opinions, and he’s had enough opinions on stuff. It’s been cool to learn about his political leanings. He’s candid.”

Some of Dylan’s music has slipped into Douglas’ life through back channels. He’ll hear a great song, maybe “I Want You,” played by one of his friends, compliment it, and:

“They’ll say it’s a variation of a Bob Dylan song,” he said. “That’s how I’ve fallen in love with most Bob Dylan songs is someone else playing them and then realizing it’s a Dylan song. That’s a cool thing with me and Bob. He still haunts me.”

The 4onthefloor will play at on the Blood on the Tracks Express on May 26.

‘Print it, get it out there, move on to the next thing’

Marc Gartman describes himself as a pretty typical musician who was influenced by Dylan, but it’s the singer-songwriter’s dedication that has most influenced him.

“I’ve listened to a bunch of his records,” said Gartman, whose projects have included Two Many Banjos, Coyote and Fever Dream. “As far as specific influence, it’s maybe not his songwriting — he’s so unique in his own way — but to pick up a guitar and try to write my own songs.”

Gartman started writing when he was in his mid-teens, around the time he was listening to albums from when Dylan was just a bit older than him, he said.

“I remember being probably about 16 and there was a bootleg cassette store near me,” Gartman said. “I bought a bootleg from the early 1960s. (Dylan) had lost his harmonica holder, and he’d fashioned a coat hanger into a harmonica holder for his face. I remember going into my closet and trying to do the same thing.”

The last time a Dylan collection really hit him, Gartman said, was the release of “The Basement Tapes Complete” in late 2014.

“It hit me in a weird, wow, heavy deep way,” he said.

Gartman performs with northern Minnesota super group The Weary Tunesmith’s (Gartman, Rich Mattson, Germaine Gemberling, Tim Saxhaug and Mimi Parker) during the Duluth Does Dylan CD release show at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Clyde Iron Works. He will also be at Valentini’s from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on May 28.

Gartman has seen Dylan live a couple of times, including a show at Beacon Theatre in the 1980s, where “he sounded kind of awful,” Gartman said. He left the 2013 concert at Bayfront Festival Park because of the uncomfortably tight crowd.

Dylan’s still doing it, though, and Gartman admires that.

“He’s a great songwriter, and he’s just always moving on,” he said. “That’s sort of me, too: Print it, get it out there, move on to the next thing. He’s always done that and I appreciate it. I feel the same way.”

‘Desire’

Laura Sellner grew up in Duluth and said she has always been surrounded by him, but hasn’t listened to much of his music.

“Desire” changed that.

Sellner was introduced to the mid-’70s studio album that included the Rolling Thunder Review and included songs like “Hurricane,” “Mozambique” and “Joey” by a friend with whom she had a “kind of a tumultuous relationship.”

“I was just kind of starting to figure out that I wanted to make music,” she said. “And he played that album for me, and I fell in love with it. Especially ‘Isis.’ ”

Sellner, who fronts Superior Siren (which is sometimes a solo project, but these days usually includes Rachel Gobin on cello, Nyssa Krause on bass and Emma Deaner on drums), picked “Isis” to cover on the “Bringing it all back to Duluth Does Dylan” CD.

“It’s a very interesting story,” she said. “It’s a love story.”

Sellner said Dylan isn’t someone she turns to weekly, but there are certain songs she appreciates.

“When I think of good songwriters, I think of Bob Dylan along with Paul Simon and the Beatles,” she said. “Maybe, subconsciously, it has affected my songwriting.”

Superior Siren, self-described as playing “folk creep” on its Facebook page, plays the Blood on the Tracks Express and as part of the CD release show.

‘I get what the magic is’

Listen, Karen Sunderman is a Dylan fan — she’s seen him live three times — but her loyalties have always leaned more toward Grateful Dead and Paul Simon. Her first Dylan concert was a historically bad show in 1986, the first concert at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The show, which featured Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Dead, was panned by reviewers because of the terrible sound system.

“The sound was most dreadful on the sides of the Dome not facing the stage,” then-News Tribune reviewer Bob Ashenmacher wrote. “A slapback echo muddied everything and completely obscured the few remarks the performer made between songs.”

Petty, Sunderman recalled, saved the day.

She had her own Dylan moment during his 1999 concert with Paul Simon at Bayfront Festival Park.

“Bayfront was muddy, and people were mush-mush-mush, mud between their toes,” she said. “He talked to Duluth. I’m a huge Paul Simon fan, (but I thought) ‘I get what the magic is.’ That was the moment that crystallized it for me.”

Sunderman said she sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” around campfires when she was young.

“I don’t have a deep repertoire of Bob Dylan in my head,” she said. “One of the things I’ve resolved is, he’s turning 75. Maybe I should learn more deeply.”

Sunderman, who hosts the regional arts program “The PlayList” on WDSE-TV and is a judge for the Dylan Fest Singer Songwriter Contest at 8 p.m. May 27 at Clyde Iron Works, said Dylan’s sound lingers with local musicians — from Paul Metsa to Al “Trapper” Ranfranz’s harmonica.

“I think there is a sound here, whether it is all traced back to Bob Dylan,” she said. “There’s a working class ethic that comes to the music that is important to our community.”

Duluth Dylan Festschedule

Sunday

  • 7 p.m.: 48-hour Dylan Fest Music Contest: Filmmakers had two days to create a music video to accompany a Bob Dylan song. Carmody Irish Pub. Free.
  • 9 p.m.: Dylan Pub Trivia. Carmody Irish Pub. Free

Monday

  • 6 p.m.: Dylan art opening: Artist reception and talk with Daniel Botkin. Red Mug Coffeehouse. Free. (Music starts at 4:30 p.m.) 
 Tuesday
  • 3:30 p.m.: Marker installation at Dylan’s childhood home at 519 N. Third Ave. E. Live music. Free.
  • 8 p.m.: Duluth Does Dylan CD release show with music by featured musicians. Clyde Iron Works. Tickets at www.eventbrite.com.

Wednesday

  • 6 p.m.: Duluth Fest Poets of the North Country featuring Jim Johnson, Barton Sutter, David Pichaske and more. The Underground. Free.
  • 8 p.m.: Live Music at the Museum with music by Cowboy Angel Blue. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.

May 26

  • 5:30 p.m.: Blood on the Tracks Express: Train ride from the Depot to Two Harbors and back with a stop at the American Legion for a Freewheelers’ show. On board: music by The 4onthefloor, Erik Koskinen, Feeding LeRoy, Cowboy Angel Blue and Superior Siren. Tickets: $30 at Electric Fetus or www.eventbrite.com.

May 27

  • 9 a.m.: Dylan Bus Tour from Duluth to Hibbing and back. Leaves from the Armory Arts & Music Center Annex and returns at 5 p.m. Hosted by local Dylanologists. Tickets: $40 at www.eventbrite.com.
  • r 8 p.m.: Dylan Fest Singer Songwriter contest. Contestants sing an original tune and a Dylan tune. Prizes to the top three. Clyde Iron Works. Free.

May 28

  • 11 a.m.: Dylan Fest Postage Stamp Cancellation and music at Valentini’s Vicino Lago. Music at the restaurant by Marc Gartman.
  • 7 p.m.: The Basement Tapes/Great White Wonder concert. Minnesota artists perform a benefit for the Armory Arts and Music Center. Sacred Heart Music Center. Tickets start at $30. Available at www.eventbrite.com.

May 29

  • 11 a.m.: Dylan Fest Farewell brunch with music by Jim Hall. Zeitgeist Arts Cafe.
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