In the nine days surrounding Bob Dylan's 78th birthday, fans of the iconic artist have been offered an array of ways to celebrate him. It started with a full house for Cowboy Blue Angel on May 19 - Sunday not being a night known for its elbow-to-elbow bar crowds, and it will end this coming Sunday with folk-blues musician Jim Hall, who has been playing these parts for more than 50 years, a span just shy of Dylan's duration.
In between: an exhibition of Dylan-inspired art at Zeitgeist, a poetry reading with contributors to a new Dylan-inspired anthology, collector William Pagel's Dylan memorabilia on display and more.
Duluth Dylan Festival, in its ninth year, started as simply a birthday party for the Duluth-born former Robert Zimmerman, who spent his early childhood here in the Central Hillside neighborhood. It expanded in 2011 and now draws fans ranging from amateur poets to academics.
"Every year, it has continued to grow," said Zane Bail, one of about 12 volunteer committee members who will close down this year's event and, in June, begin work on the 2020 edition.
There is no way to get an exact count of individuals who hit the fest, as most of it is free, but Bail said total attendance will be between 1,200-1,400 people - although some festival-goers will go to more than one event.
"We get people from Australia, Denmark, England," she said. "People from across the country and around the region and state."
CANDLES, CHIANTI BOTTLES
On Wednesday night, two native Duluthian singer-songwriters known for folk tunes were under the bright lights at Teatro Zuccone. At stage right was Kyle Ollah; at stage left, a life-sized cardboard cutout of early-era Dylan. The latter, a prop brought along by the editors of "Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan," was available for selfies.
"I wanted nothing to do with Bob Dylan when I was growing up," Ollah, providing music between poems, told a crowd of about 50 who had gathered to hear these works inspired by Dylan's life and work.
"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" changed Ollah's tune. He said he heard it after he had moved to Golden Valley, Minn., to attend high school at the Perpich Center for Arts Education.
"I heard this song and thought, 'Wow. Where is he from?'" Ollah said, getting laughs from the audience.
Dylan stories are the go-to ice breakers at Dylan Fest: The origin of fandom or the small-world connections to the big star. Margaret Hasse, a writer whose "Summer of Love, 1967" - a throwback that includes imagery of candles in chianti bottles - is part of the poetry collection, provided the latter from the stage.
She drew a line from Ollah's alma mater to Bob Dylan before she read her piece.
"Bob's brother had a hand in the arts high school," she told him, referring to David Zimmerman.
DYLAN IN THE CLOUDS, AND OTHER INSPIRATION
Kris Nelson, a Cloquet-based artist known as The Chair Lady, creates scenes on the common wooden kitchen furniture. She was driving home from Duluth, considering her submission for this year's Dylan Fest art show, and she saw Bob Dylan in the sky.
"It was a really cloudy day," she said. "I was thinking about him, and I saw his image. It was pretty weird."
Dylan was in the cloud formations, she said.
"I swear it was his head," the artist said. "I actually stopped and got out of the car and took a picture."
When she got home, she pulled out Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" and incorporated the version of the musician from the album cover into her scene of moody clouds, a sunset, and rolling waves - all on the seat of a chair.
Nelson's chair is among the dozens of pieces of local art - much of it portrait work, some of it abstract, a bit of it memorabilia - hanging in the Zeitgeist Arts Atrium.
Ed Newman's moody-hued portrait hangs in a central spot. He's a longtime festival attendee who became more and more immersed in the events. Now he's on the organizing committee.
"(Dylan's) music really spoke to me at a time in my life and helped me realize I wasn't alone in the world," Newman said.
THE NEXT GENERATION
On a chilly and wind-whipping Monday night, more than a dozen young musicians and fans set up at Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe for a Dylan-themed open mic session, featuring student-aged performers from the Music Resource Center.
The after school music program has ties to the Duluth Armory, which has ties, at least emotionally, to Dylan, who had a transformative experience there - according to an acceptance speech he gave at the Grammy Awards - while watching Buddy Holly play one of the final performances of his life there.
"This is the most chill part of Dylan Fest," said Mark Poirier, of the Duluth Armory.
The Music Resource Center doesn't have a Dylan curriculum, but outgoing director James Geisler, relatively new to Dylan-ism, said the sessions are in his spirit.
"Bob Dylan went against the grain," said Geisler, a hip-hop artist in a Hawaiian shirt who performs as James G. "We try to teach an open pipeline of creativity. Let kids test the boundaries of creativity."
Among the most Dylan-minded of the musicians are siblings Traxx and Rokkyn Kavajecz, who have had a sort of family-based school of rock. They credit their parents and uncles (the latter are members of the band Crescent Moon) with introducing them to the old-school songs they play as the up-and-coming - or perhaps fully arrived - cover band Born Too Late, which had a Dylan Fest gig last year.
Rokkyn, 12, recalled riding in the car to Catholic school and listening to Motley Crue.
This also explains one of their open-mic picks: "End of the Line" by The Traveling Wilburys, a late-1980s project featuring Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. Traxx played guitar; Rokkyn sang; James G. added a rap solo to the song.
Newman has interests outside of this past week's topic du jour - art, literature, social issues - and he writes about them on his blog Ennyman's Territory. As for Dylan, he offers a variation on an old quote: "If a man is worth knowing at all, he is worth knowing well," Newman said.
Dylan provides the artist with endless nooks and crannies.
"You can keep mining his writing and songs and performances and still be enriched," he said.
Bail came to Dylan in college via other folk legends: Peter, Paul and Mary and The Kingston Trio.
As for Bail: She believes he is a genius.
"I just appreciate his storytelling, his music, and I also love that other artists feel the same way. I'm a big fan of The Birds, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Joan Osborne. They've all done the interpretation of his songs," she said.
Osborne, in fact, has made an entire album of interpreting Dylan's songs - and performed a concert of his work on Thursday at Sacred Heart Music Center, a sold-out show and potentially the highlight of the week-plus.
Cowboy Blue Angel is an Iron Range-based band that has been called upon for years to perform Dylan's songs during the festival.
For Bill Maxwell, singer and guitar player, it's all about the artist's phrasing: the smoke pouring out of the boxcar door in "Idiot Wind" and the entire second verse of "Up to Me."
"Some of those things cause you some introspection," he said, adding that maybe even your own interpretation wasn't what Dylan meant when he wrote it.
"It's been said before," Maxwell added, "you either get Dylan or you don't."
Brad Nelson, who is also on the organizing committee, noted Dylan's international fanbase and wondered if maybe we're too close to see what we have in Dylan.
"We almost don't even realize what an international phenomenon he is," he said. "It's like having the Beatles from your town."
IF YOU GO
Friday, May 24
Bob Dylan Birthday Party, 519 N. 3rd Ave. E. 3 p.m. Free.
Singer-songwriter contest, Sacred Heart Music Center. 6:30-9:30 p.m. Free.
Basement Tapes Band, Bent Paddle Taproom, 9-11 p.m. Free.
Saturday, May 25
Tour of Bob Dylan Sites, carpool at Armory Arts and Music Center Annex, 9-11 a.m. Free.
John Bushey Memorial Lecture by David Gaines, Karpeles museum, 1-3 p.m. Free.
Bob Dylan Reunion Concert, Sacred Heart Music Center, 7-10 p.m. $10 at www.eventbrite.com or at the door.
Sunday, May 26
Farewell Brunch with Jim Hall, Zeitgeist Arts Cafe, 222 E. Superior St., 11 a.m.-1 p.m.