On a steamy Tuesday night in a venue too small for the crowd that gathered, I attended my 50th (show) as Mr. Zimmerman marked his 75th (birthday) at the Ken Kweder and Jon Houlon 10th Annual Bob Dylan B’day Bash at Rembrandt. Unequivocally, it was absolutely the best way to end my year.
First, Bob Dylan. What can you say about Bob Dylan that has not been said a million times before? There are stories about his elusiveness, his mystique and his songwriting prowess. XPN played Dylan all day on his birthday and the 14 hours I listened was only a good start. On XPN, I heard great Bob Dylan stories from musicians and versions of his songs I have never heard before. One of my favorite Dylan covers is “Goin’ to Acapulco” by Calexico and Jim James from the “I’m Not There” soundtrack and favorite Dylan impersonator is Tilda Swinton, also from that movie.
I am not even sure how many times I have seen him live. My first Dylan show was at Live Aid in 1985 and last was in 2011 at the Bill Graham auditorium in San Francisco. The San Francisco show was memorable for a couple of reasons. One- I went with my Mom; two, we scalped tickets; and three, we enjoyed Mark Knopfler way more than we did Dylan. And in between those two shows, I saw him a ton of times alone and with the Dead. So, I am by no means a Dylan rookie (I even owned one of his Christian albums back in the day- Saved), though I would never say he is in my top 10 artists. He, though, has literally influenced every single one of my top 10 artists. Hmmm. Maybe I should rethink that.
Every year, the best and brightest of Philly local musicians get together and honor him on his birthday. It is always at Rembrandt’s and always on his birthday. I have wanted to go for years, but never quite got around to it. In fact, I would get discouraged, because it always seemed to be on a school night, it was always over crowded and blazing hot in the smallish upstairs room and would go on for hours. This year, all of those reasons were exactly why I knew I had to be there.
Curated by Philly’s Ken Kweder (go see his documentary!) and John Train’s Jon Houlon, they put together 40 different acts for the evening. Before we went upstairs, Susan and I were delighted to run into friends who were there grabbing a bite before the show and we had an absolutely lovely and laughter-filled pre show with Amy, Jodi, Christa and Happi before heading upstairs. Being with these ladies is like being with royalty and practically every performer had to pass by our outside table before heading upstairs for a meet and greet. In fact, at one point, we all just sat on one side of the table, very last supper like, so we did not have to keep turning around at every new comer.
Once upstairs, it was as crowded, hot and chaotic as I had imagined. Yup, I was in heaven. Just as we were angling for somewhere to sit, Jon mentioned that there were seats on the stage and people should feel free to grab them. Not having to be offered twice, we settled in for the evening. Our seats will also explain why all of my shots are from behind the performers.
The night was perfect. Some of my highlights from the folks I knew were Sydney from the Philadelphia Ukulele Orchestra singing on “Quinn the Eskimo;” Lauren Hart’s “Make you Feel My Love;” Jim Boggia’s “Girl from North Country;” Slo-Mo’s “Forever Young” on steel guitar; and Hannah Taylor’s “Bucket of Rain.” But this was not a night to travel down memory lane and I got to discover new bands. These lovely young twins, Nalani and Sarina, are absolutely worth seeing. Jay Ansil is an incredible musician and played mandolin on one song and harp (harp!) on another. Additionally, there was one father son act. They did not play together, but after the father’s performance, the son, Major Van Winkle, played a song. And if there was a metaphor for passing the Dylan torch, this performance was it. He came up with a computer (the 2016 version of Dylan plugging in at Newport Folk Festival) and did a rap song sampling tons of Dylan songs. Throughout the night, we heard songs featuring the banjo, mandolin, ukulele, harp, computer, hurdy gurdy, cello and harmonica. We heard blue grass versions and instrumental versions. We heard songs that channeled Dylan’s voice perfectly and tunes that sounded nothing like him. And I sang along to almost every song. That’s Bob, man. He may not be one of my most favorite artists, but I pretty much know every word to every song out there. Hmmm.
The night was long, something you want as a capper to a year of 50 shows. There was a defined set list and where we should be. Occasionally, we were kept up to date at the progress of the show, i.e. Jon would announce that we were entering the 10 pm hour. At 11:35 pm. From our seats on stage we got to be roadies, Happi was entrusted to hold the Hurdy Gurdy and Christa took photos of Hannah Taylor like it was her job. There was lots of laughter, sing alongs, beers and fellowship. And music, lots of music by some of Philly’s finest. As previously stated, there was no better way to end my year of 50 shows…
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