Did you know that Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson are turning 70 next week? That’s a big deal, right? For the young among us, perhaps I should add that Sir Paul was a member of the Beatles and Brian Wilson a member of the Beach Boys. If you don’t know who they are, there isn’t much I can do for you here. Have you made plans to celebrate? Probably not. In one measure of the reverence being accorded various members of the baby boomer generation as they age, we don’t celebrate or generally even notice their birthdays – unless their name is Bob Dylan. (Click here for the complete version of My Life With Bob Dylan).
This is the eighth year his birthday has been celebrated with a public event in Knoxville, meaning it started on his 64th which isn’t considered a big one for most of us. The crowds have waxed and waned through the years, but the last two years have been the largest by far. In previous years the event was held in the amphitheater on the World’s Fair Park, but was moved to First Friday in June on Market Square starting last year. Also starting last year, national headliner Tim O’Brien who recorded a CD of Dylan tunes called “Red on Blonde,” was added to the bill of local performers.
I thought last year was a bit weak (you can read the review of last year’s show here). Performers tended to forget lyrics and/or were completely dependent on lyric sheets. The sound was atrocious. Tim O’Brien seemed almost irritated to be here and also messed up some of the songs. Still, there were highlights and last year’s low lights clearly didn’t impact the size of the crowd this year, which, if anything was bigger than last year and probably ran into the thousands as people came and went.
One of my favorite sights to watch at a musical event are dancers. I love the oldest and the youngest, the best dancers and the most courageous for attempting to dance and there were plenty of all of the above at the show, which added to it tremendously.
I didn’t catch all of the acts, but the ones I caught were much better. The sound was also better, though not as good as it should be. Michael Crawley and Dave Meer were playing when I arrived and I always enjoy them whether with Jenna Jefferson or as the Detroit Daddies. Michael is a phenomenal harmonica player and Dave is an awesome guitarist, so they were a good start to the event (for me – I may have missed an act or two at the beginning).
Karen Reynolds, who hosts Writer’s Block, played with her band and, while she made it clear that she rarely plays other people’s songs, her vocals are always amazing. She really has one of the more powerful voices on the Knoxville scene. Evan Carawan followed her playing the dulcimer. His parents, long-time musical residents at the Highlander Center, have played the previous Dylan Bashes and he is no doubt deeply rooted in Dylan’s music.
Maggie Longmire stepped to the stage next and played an all-electric set with a very inspired playlist including “Things Have Changed.” It was great to see her rock-out and she did the songs in wonderful fashion, showing a depth of knowledge of the Dylan catalog that didn’t likely require cramming at the last minute. I can’t say enough about how much she and the band, Maggie’s Farm, rocked. They were definitely a highlight of the day.
Mountain Soul played next and did a fine job paving the way for Hot Shot Freight Train. I wasn’t sure what to expect from these guys who have been working hard the last couple of years to make their mark. The slot right before the headliner seemed like pretty lofty territory for the guys, but I was very impressed. Their song selection was also excellent and they got major points from me for playing “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” in its alternate version from Live 1975 with different lyrics and a total rock-out approach to what was originally an acoustic song. OK, I’ll stop the nerdy talk. They were good.