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'Rolling Thunder' will celebrate the music of Bob Dylan

An annual celebration of the music of Bob Dylan hits its ninth year this weekend. "Rolling Thunder 2002" will rock the Norshor Theatre Saturday, June 1.

An annual celebration of the music of Bob Dylan hits its ninth year this weekend. "Rolling Thunder 2002" will rock the Norshor Theatre Saturday, June 1.
Rolling Thunder, named for the famous never-ending tour of the legendary Duluth native, is the brainchild of area musician Paul Larson, who pulls together a band and plays Dylan songs for an evening every year. Larson found Dylan while studying music at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Soon, Larson collected almost all of the 30 albums Dylan had released. (It's now up to about 40.)
Larson said the melodies, the lyrics and the chord structure of Dylan's music appealed to him.
Of the melodies, he said, "A lot of them are very simple, but he's a very lyrical singer." Larson noted that while some people make fun of Dylan's voice, it's more musical than most people think.
As for the lyrics, Larson, who also plays in a local jazz-blues group, said Dylan continually writes about the times he lives in and uses language that's evocative and means different things to different people. "I think that's why he's so appealing," Larson said.
Following Dylan's career has also been inspiring. "He's always reinventing himself," said Larson, who added that the bigger ensemble of Dylan's current work focuses more on the groove.
Rolling Thunder is comprised of Larson and six other veteran Northland musicians: Marvin Pomeroy on drums, Doug Davis on bass, Steve Johnson on violin and mandolin, Clark Yost on lead and synth guitar, David Slattery on pedal steel guitar and Kim Ellerman on harmonica. Larson does most of the singing and plays acoustic guitar and harmonica.
Larson has seen Dylan, who still plays more than 100 gigs per year, perform at least five times, including his two Duluth performances. He doesn't make much of the rumor that Dylan doesn't like Duluth or the fact that he has returned in recent years.
"I just think he's pretty much an ordinary guy, and he happened to do it," Larson said.
He said his local Dylan-inspired performances have been influenced by the Dylan concerts he's seen, but indirectly.
"I don't try to be Bob Dylan at all," he said. "All I try to do is expose to the people what I got out of it."
However, there is at least one similarity. Dylan is famous for doing new arrangements of all his old songs, often varying style dramatically from performance to performance. In the case of Rolling Thunder, Larson does arrangements of different pieces.
The set list for this year's performance includes a lot of Dylan favorites, which was intentional. Among them are "All Along the Watchtower," "I Shall Be Released," "Don't Think Twice," "The Times They Are A-Changin.'"
Over the years, the event has been held in a number of different locations, including R.T. Quinlan's, the Dreamland Ballroom, Fitger's Brewery Complex, the Shrine Theatre and the Norshor Theatre. In its early years, it was known as the Bob Dylan Review.
"It continues to gain momentum," Larson said. "There's a few more people here every year."
And while the crowds are diverse and range in age from people in their 20s to people in their 60s, he said the reaction is always positive. Larson is already considering plans for next year's 10th anniversary.
The performance Saturday will start at 9:30 p.m. at the Norshor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St. Cost is $5.

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