In the dark, bitter cold winter of 2003, twenty-three local singer-songwriters loaded up in the back room of Leopold Bros. recycle-everything-even-the-gas-you-create-while-making-beer pub and waited for their turn to play two Bob Dylan songs each. By the end of the night, the audience had seen some fabulous performances, and the artists had raised $3,000 for Washtenaw County's domestic violence shelter, SAFE House.
About five years ago, when local folk musician Brian Lillie produced the first show, it was a small event held in a coffeehouse. He called it the "Bob Fest" and raised about $300. In its current incarnation, Dylanfest serves three purposes: local musicians raise money for a good cause, the audience gets to hear Dylan songs rarely played over the airwaves, and everybody enjoys a monster party — a smorgasbord of much of the best of the local music scene.
Dylan has produced somewhere in the range of 500 songs over forty years. Jud Branam of Corndaddy reports that at Dylanfest three years ago, "we had twenty-five acts, each played two songs, and nobody played off Blonde on Blonde, which is a
really essential album in the Dylan collection. It's staggering that you can skip an essential record and still have a great night of music."
Early in the evening, many solo or duo local performers took the stage, starting us out with a kindly, mellow sort of tone. They were names we all knew and quite frankly couldn't believe our luck to see performing together in one venue: Dick Siegel, Chris Buhalis, and Jo Serrapere, just to name a few.
But as the night went on, the stage became more crowded, and the lovely lyrical tunes gave way to fantastic renditions of rockin' songs. My favorite was the Show Ducks, an ad hoc amalgam that included members of OBASOL, writer and saxophonist Steve Amick, and Jim Roll, who as far as I could tell was wearing red long johns and carrying a percussive stick adorned with a cowbell, tambourine, wood block, and high hat. They looked very interesting, and I was eager to see them perform.
Well, I'm here to tell you: show those ducks did. The two women singing up front sported feather boas and fishnet stockings. Amick sang through a bullhorn on "Maggie's Farm" while someone played "The cow says moo" on a Fisher-Price See and Say. They looked hot and sounded great. The crowd loved it.
Dylanfest is on Saturday, May 15, this year, at the Blind Pig. It always sells out, so get there early.