Rock concerts, once my reason for living, seldom tempt me anymore. But when one comes along that features the entire soundtrack of your life, there’s no excuse not to show up and marinate in music.
And when the headliner is also featured on this month’s edition of the grown-up version of Tiger Beat — AARP Magazine — well, the lure overwhelmed even my powerful urge to stay home and knit with a cat on my lap.
That’s how Russ and I found ourselves at the Fargo Theatre on Saturday for Dylanfest. Turns out, communing with your peers to tunes from the Bob Dylan songbook is a lot like gathering reverently around a smoky campfire with a grizzled old story-teller — sharing the story of our people, one tune at a time.
“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Forever Young” — performed in single servings by a dozen and a half regional headliners, they brought a grin to the face and an occasional tear to the eye of a full house of aging hippies … sprinkled with a few younger hipsters who mostly came to hear “Subterranean Homesick Blues” reimagined as hip-hop.
Dylanfest was cannily designed by impresario Merrill Piepkorn to exactly fit the specs of his target audience. Once long of hair, now long in the tooth, we nodded our heads and sang along beneath our breath.
Yes, I sang along; all of the lyrics are embedded in my brain. It worked out much better than the last time we went to a more contemporary concert with our mortified daughter. This time, our neighbors never complained or even threw the evil eye. Most of them couldn’t hear all that well anyway.
That doesn’t imply that every ear and trifocaled eyeball wasn’t riveted to the stage. One and all, we were enraptured. Heck, I think we all even stayed awake for the whole thing.
Bands ran the gamut from Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome and Tucker’d Out to Heavy is the Head and Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, interspersed with solo singer-guitarists and occasional surprises.
One was Bobby Becker, the 75-year-old musician and entrepreneur best known in this neck of the woods as the venerable lead of Terry Lee and the Poor Boys. He talked of the days (or, more literally, the day) when young Bobby Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minn., played keyboard, sort of, with Becker’s already-established band at the Crystal Ballroom.
Still wet behind the ears, the undiscovered Bobby — then calling himself Elston Gunnn (three N’s) — lasted just one night before Becker fired him. His next gig with another Fargo Bob, last name Vee, survived only a little longer. On the road again, Gunnn-nee-Zimmerman eventually landed in Greenwich Village, where the Bob Dylan legend would be born.
Reflecting on his experience with the middling-to-poor keyboardist from the North Country, Becker reminisced about how Dylan really owes his success to his minimal tenure with the two better-known local Bobs: “If both of us hadn’t fired him, God knows where he’d be today.”
Dylanfest was the perfect date for those of us who lean toward exciting evenings of watching PBS documentaries kicked back in a well-worn recliner.
Beginning at 2 o’clock sharp, the musical menu wrapped up just three hours later, leaving plenty of time to go out for the early-bird special at IHOP and be back home by dark.
Reprising your youth among an older audience has real advantages. Russ and I appreciated that, for once, we could see the stage for the entire concert, without annoying young whippersnappers jumping to their feet and blocking our view. It does pay to sit among fans whose knees, like your own, no longer tolerate that nonsense.
Yet our grey-haired majority still had much in common with the more flexible youth in our midst. Take our shared slang. We may be more mature, but we know all about “hip.” Oh, yes, that comes up quite often, as in “guess who’s getting one replaced?” And “joints,” of course — mostly in reference to “hip” (or sometimes “knee”). Too, the generations still share that fascination with mind-altering pharmaceuticals — especially Premarin, Prilosec and Prozac.
Dylan’s music survives. As timeless as memory, as fresh-off-the-press as tomorrow’s news, it maintains its full-strength power to touch my heart, though the context may have shifted a bit across the years.
Consider the lyrics of “Forever Young.” It’s been recorded to fine effect by four generations of popular artists, from Joan Baez and Neil Young to Tony Bennett, the Black Crowes and the Soweto Gospel Choir. Its poignant words resonate at any age:
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.
Then again, the 73-year-old Dylan himself ought to get the last word.
Here’s what he told AARP Magazine about aging:
“Look, you get older. Passion is a young man’s game. Young people can be passionate. Older people gotta be more wise. I mean, you’re around awhile, you leave certain things to the young. Don’t try to act like you’re young. You could really hurt yourself.”
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P.S. Concert organizer Merrill Piepkorn recognizes when he’s on a roll. He’s doing it again at the Fargo Theatre at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 15. This time, though, he may be going too far. It’s a birthday tribute to … Lawrence Welk. He’d be 112.