WORCESTER – He says he stole the idea from Rochester, NY’s iconic Colorblind James, who started the idea of having an annual Bob Dylan birthday bash show in 1986. James passed away in 2001, the same year veteran singer-songwriter Bob Jordan started a Worcester version of the Dylan bash. Dylan’s birthday on May 24 gives rise to countless tributes across the country and a chance for his rich legacy of songs to be re-interpreted. The event unites local musicians to perform and pay tribute to Dylan and his remarkable catalogue of tunes.
The Rochester event is still going on, and so is Jordan’s, both more popular than ever.
“I’m one of the guests at the Rochester event as well,” said Jordan. “I started the Worcester bash with Chuck and Mud at the Green Rooster, and have done it most years since. In the years that I skipped, Chuck Demers has hosted a similar event.”
The 2019 Bob Dylan Birthday Bash (Part One) takes place on Saturday, May 18, at 7 PM at John Henry’s Hammer Coffeehouse, First Unitarian Church, 90 Main St., Worcester. Tickets are $15 at the door.
Grafton native Jordan now lives in Rochester but returns to the area for this tribute, as well as another the following week, and organizes the backing band for the event, known as the 524Band. The event is known as a freewheeling and fun tribute to an important musical artist. Jordan promises a program that spans the Dylan pantheon, with surprising selections from the sixties to the current decade. It’ll include more than 30 songs with more than two full-band sets.
“Dylan’s vast catalog of tunes lends itself to re-interpretation,” said Jordan. “Many of the songs can be adapted to different genres. If you try to pay tribute to the Beatles, or Queen, or many other artists, you get locked in to copying the classic arrangements. Dylan songs are more open, as melodies can be added, tempos varied. Most guitar players, whether blues, rock, folk or original type player, have a Dylan tune up their sleeve. And we do try to do different songs every year, to keep it interesting.”
It’s always interesting, and Jordan, when asked to share some of the most memorable performances at the event, said it’s tough because there have been “so many great ones” with a lot of surprise and humor injected into them.
“I fondly remember Chip Smith and the late Jeff Baskowski doing horn arrangements for ‘Minstrel Boy’ done as a SKA tune with the Banana Splits theme blended in,” said Jordan, “and their Dixieland version of ‘Blind Willie McTell.’ New Hampshire rocker Jonee Earthquake came one year and created a re-imagined ‘If you Gotta Go, Go now’ in a rockin’ minor key, and he also sat in on Pedal steel-unrehearsed. We once did a whole set of blues-Dylan that starred Lydia Fortune and local Gospel singer Sharon Henderson and a stellar performance by Dave Niles on lead/slide guitar. He’s back this year as well. Hip Swayers have killed it with ‘Sub-terranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘Clothesline Saga’ and will be featured this year with four songs. Ron Carlson always delivers great tunes, always different every year. We did a doo-wop version of ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’ that still makes me laugh. TJ Peavey, likewise, has come up with a surprise tune and boundless energy. I’m sorry he won’t be there this year. And there are many more.”
The 524 Band (Brian Rost, Chip Smith, Paul Prunier, and guest guitarists Charlie Blaum and David Niles) supports Jordan and guests: Ron Carlson, The Hip Swayers, Natasha Hanna , Nate Smith, Stan Matthews, Arthur Sneiderman, Deb Barron-Northway, Gabe Navarre, Rich Leufstedt, Matt Robert, Marty Ayotte, Mark Jacques, Ed Arndt, Nikki Howard, Dave Baronowski (of the Clamdiggers) and others.
When lining up the show each year, Jordan said his biggest problem is not finding performers; it’s not having enough room for everyone who would like to play.
“There are people such as Dave Baronowski who have attended earlier shows and then haven’t gotten a chance to play,” said Jordan. “This year, he will be there.”
Roughly 70 musicians from around Worcester have participated, and Jordan said he usually “goes with whoever contacts me first, and then call around to see who from my past guests is available.” Since moving away, his contact list isn’t as tight, but Jordan’s had some local help.
“I’ve had help, especially from Charlie Blaum, who contacted me to play a couple of songs and got drafted to be in the 524 Band,” said Jordan. “That’ll be a treat, because although Charlie is a veteran performer and highly regarded player, he hasn’t been on stage for some time. And this year Facebook was helpful, as most of the performers are friends or friends of friends.”
The Dylan tribute continues the following week on Sunday, May 26, with Part 2, the acoustic side of Bob Dylan, hosted by Chuck Demers at WCUW Community Radio, 910 Main St. Worcester. WCUW’s event is at 5 p.m. (doors open at 4 p.m.), and $10 tickets are at the door.
Dylan fans who want to attend both shows may purchase advance tickets for $20 at WCUW.org through Brownpapertickets.com. For more info on advance tickets and the WCUW event, call 508-753-1012.
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