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Bob Dylan sits at heart of musicians' inspiration

Bob Dylan performs in November 1963. (News Tribune file photo)1 / 6
Todd Eckart2 / 6
The Freewheelers3 / 6
Billy Hallquist (Dan Swanson photo)4 / 6
Gaelynn Lea5 / 6
Courtney Yasmineh6 / 6

One musician discovered Bob Dylan’s music as a teenager while living alone in a cabin in northern Minnesota. For another, Dylan provided the soundtrack in the early days of a relationship.

Yet another discovered her sister’s cassette tape of Dylan’s greatest hits — and had a powerful experience when she saw him perform live nearly two years ago at Bayfront Festival Park.

More than a dozen performers are scheduled to play Saturday during the Acoustic Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan. It’s one of the final events of Duluth Dylan Fest, a weeklong celebration surrounding the Duluth-born, Hibbing-raised singer-songwriter’s birthday. The concert is 7-11 p.m. at Sacred Heart Music Center and includes a genre-busting mix of artists like Scarlet Rivera, a violin player who traveled as part of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, and Gene LaFond, who came of musical age in Minneapolis while Dylan was still on the coffeehouse circuit.

The News Tribune asked a handful of the musicians — who will perform a Dylan-inspired tune as well as something original during the concert — to share their connection to the music of Bob Dylan.

Todd Eckart

“Lay Lady Lay” is the first Dylan song that Eckart recalls hearing as a kid.

“My mom would say ‘I don’t really like this guy’s voice, but I like this song,’ ” said Eckart, who is known for lounge acts that include touches of Dean Martin, Elvis and Old Blue Eyes. The song stuck, Eckart said, but it took a while to develop Dylan fandom.

“I would say that I wasn’t a fan of his immediately,” Eckart said. “Until I grew up and understood his music.”

Eckart will perform “North Country Blues,” a song that was released Jan. 13, 1964 — the day he was born.

“Bob’s music really — his lyrics really cut you,” Eckart said. “He’ll use a word we hear in everyday language, when he uses it with other words it’s like, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ ”

The Freewheelers

Every once in a while, local rock ’n’ roll band The Boomchucks shed its original tunes — and its name — and performs the music of Bob Dylan. They’ll do it twice this week, first as part of the Blood on the Tracks Express (train boards at 6 p.m. today at Fitger’s Brewhouse before heading up the North Shore), then as part of the Acoustic Salute.

Jamie Ness got into Dylan when he was living in Minneapolis in the mid-1990s, right around the time Columbia Records released “The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.”  

“Me and my buddy Noah Wilcox used to play Dylan covers around the house,” he said. “There’s a certain time in a person’s life when Dylan can land on them like a ton of bricks.”

Brad Nelson became a fan about 16 years ago, he said, when the woman he was dating had almost everything on vinyl.

“We did a lot of hanging out and listening to Bob Dylan in the evenings,” he said.

Nelson was into the punk scene when he was younger. He gets traces of that in Dylan’s discography.

“I kind of like music with an edge,” he said. “It’s almost like if folk music and punk rock were merged. Bob Dylan is age-appropriate punk rock for me.

I think at this point, he is definitely one of my favorites and definitely almost comfort food now.”

The Freewheelers will perform an original piece of music written around Dylan’s poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” which The Freewheelers recorded alongside other Dylan covers.

“I just really wanted to do something unusual when we did some recordings of Dylan’s stuff,” Ness said. “I wanted to do the thing that was the hardest to do and that was that. It’s like nine minutes and it’s fast, and there’s a lot of stuff in it.”

Billy Hallquist

Billy Hallquist is easing into his 50th year in the Twin Cities’ music scene, a life that has overlapped with Dylan — but never quite landed with a face-to-face meeting. The musician runs with a crowd that played on “Blood on the Tracks” sessions.

“I wasn’t personally involved in the (“Blood on the Tracks”) sessions,” he said. “But a lot of the people who did run in the same circles as me. Those are all the guys I hung around with and was hugely jealous of for many years.”

Dylan famously recorded with a bunch of players in New York City, then later re-recorded with a bunch of players in the Twin Cities. Some of those musicians, plus others who were invited into the fold, began playing reunion shows around the time of Dylan’s 60th birthday. Hallquist has been a part of this scene for years and is involved with organizing the concerts — though, these days, they don’t always include musicians with ties to that album, so Hallquist bills it as a tribute instead.

Hallquist said he’s been listening since “Highway 61 Revisited.”

“Those were the songs that really kind of captured my imagination and gave me a whole different approach,” he said. “I wasn’t really a songwriter. I became a Dylan fan junkie kind of guy.”

Gaelynn Lea

Lea was introduced to Dylan by way of her sister’s cassette of his greatest hits. Then, as she grew into folk music, his music was everywhere.

Lea, a violin player who performs solo and as part of The Murder of Crows, prefers Dylan’s standards. During his 2013 concert at Bayfront Festival Park, she had a moment.

“At the very end of the show, he played ‘Blowing in the Wind,’ ” she said. “It was so powerful to watch (the musician) who wrote that song play it. So many people have been inspired by him. Even the songs we all know start somewhere. That was my Bob Dylan moment.”

For Saturday’s concert, Lea is leaning more obscure with “All the Tired Horses.”

Courtney Yasmineh

Yasmineh ran away from her Chicago home in 1978 and moved into her late-grandfather’s abandoned cabin on Lake Vermilion. She was already a singer-songwriter, but didn’t know about Bob Dylan until she was introduced to his music by her classmates at what was then Tower-Soudan High School.

“I loved all the songs so much,” she said. “I was living in a cabin alone. I felt like his music sounded like where I was living, the way I was living.”

“Planet Waves,” she said, is an album of songs that sound remote and different to what she had been listening to in Chicago.

“That sort of started me on a quest to be a singer-songwriter of substance,” she said.

To this day, Dylan is someone she thinks about every day.

“Bob Dylan is my one and only hero,” she said.

She’s seen him live plenty of times, but they’ve never met. Yasmineh said she graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul the same year as Dylan’s daughter. He was at the ceremony.

“He was in the back, and he was the only person wearing a big hat and a fur coat,” she said.

Yasmineh is an internationally touring artist who will also perform at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Electric Fetus in support of her latest album “Red Letter Day.”

During Saturday’s concert, she will sing “You’re a Big Girl Now,” which she said see relates to on multiple levels — including as a parent talking to a child.

“I also see it as how far I have come since I have listened to Bob Dylan and was introduced to that very song.”


What: Acoustic Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan

When: 7-11 p.m. Saturday

Where: Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. Fourth St.

Tickets: Click here to purchase. $25 in advance;$30 at the door; VIP seats available.