Bob Dylan was one of the world’s most prolific and revered songwriters when Paul Bidanset pitched his idea for “A Night Of Bob Dylan” to O’Connor Brewing Co. back in August.
In the meantime, the 13-time Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee added the Nobel Prize for Literature to his resume, which turns out to be serendipitous for the Norfolk Folk Festival fund-raiser, which will take place Saturday night.
“We lucked out with that one,” Bidanset joked on Tuesday.
Riding the wave of Dylan’s resurgent and multigenerational popularity, Bidanset’s band, Brackish Water Jamboree, and a group of friends will cover more than 20 of his songs in a rare “late night” show at O’Connor. With a line-up that includes Mykal Allen, Andrew Bertrand and Sean Heely, Gordon Bradley, Troy Breslow, JOVE (Jodi Butler and Dave Poitevin), Zak Vincent, and Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall, Bidanset expects the event to be reminiscent of “The Last Waltz,” the 1970s concert film starring Dylan, the Band and a “who’s who” of musicians from the era.
Curating the setlist turned out to be easier than expected.
“I was afraid that there would be some people fighting over songs,” Bidanset said, “but everyone got their first picks, which was nice. If you picked any other iconic band, you’d have a lot of overlap, but Bob Dylan’s got such a huge catalog of different sounds, luckily we didn’t run into that.”
Brackish Water Jamboree is riding its own wave of popularity, playing bigger and bigger gigs in the two years since it formed, including a shared bill with the Hackensaw Boys last weekend at the grand opening of Green Flash Brewing Co. in Virginia Beach. “We’re starting to get used to playing on some bigger stages the past six months or so,” Bidanset said. “We’re kind of getting used to playing with sound guys—pretending like we’re grown-ups.”
To prepare for “A Night Of Bob Dylan,” we asked the members of Brackish Water Jamboree to name their favorite Dylan songs and share their thoughts on what makes them special. Here’s what they had to say:
Paul Bidanset (vocals, banjo, guitar and harmonica): “My favorite Bob Dylan songs change depending on the mood I’m in. Probably most often, my top two would be ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues,’ but if I had to choose two based on what I’ve been listening to lately, one would certainly be ‘Wallflower.’ This is as country as country gets: a simple, mellow waltz about a guy longing for a beautiful woman, both on and off the dance floor (and it’s soaked in pedal steel). My other ‘current’ favorite song would be ‘You Changed My Life.’ It’s actually from 1991 and is a pretty big departure (arguably) both lyrically and musically from his folkier tunes for which many of us celebrate him. This song isn’t far from his born-again Christian music era of the ’80s; it’s a gospel tune. He’s preachin’, but he’s not preachy. It’s not judgment, fire and brimstone; it’s joy and love. He’s not a condescending holy roller. There is something very romantic (and refreshing) about his approach to religion in this song. It’s real—like Bob.”
Rachel Gaither (fiddle and vocals): “I have never been much of a Bob Dylan fan, even though I recognize his work as complex and rich and iconic. … So, that being said, I would say of the Dylan songs with which I’m familiar, the song I’ve most been able to connect with is ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ Oddly enough, I never really identified with the iconic version done by Jimi Hendrix, either. ‘All Along the Watchtower’ didn’t click for me until I heard Dave Matthews’ version when I got to college—I’m a sucker for emotive performances. I also put a lot of focus on lyrical delivery as a performer—Jimi Hendrix’s performances seemed to focus more on stage dynamic and instrumental acrobatics—so Dave Matthews’ delivery was the first time I actually really heard the lyrics and the complexity and irony in Dylan’s writing—the imagery of princes in their towers, while women and poor servants come and go, the beginnings of a storm brewing. It drew me in, and I heard the mood of the social and political climate of the time. That song sums up, for me at least, why people said he was the voice of a generation. His writing conveys moods and irony and a whole range of emotions, while at the same time leaving so much room for interpretation that each individual hears their own story in his writing. We may make a Dylan fan out of me yet!”
Ben Lassiter (dobro and vocals): “‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ is my favorite Dylan song. I’ve played this tune what feels like a thousand times, and it’s just as exciting as the first. It’s not complicated; it’s not fancy; it doesn’t have any metaphorical storyline. It’s simply a damn good song. What I love about it is its space. There’s room to breathe, and if you wanna take a solo, the melody is so catchy, it screams to be played on guitar.”
Wes Russow (washboard, drums and emphatic “woos”): “‘Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love).’ Nobody does a song of pain, loss and heartache quite like Dylan. Taking lines from famous Humphrey Bogart pictures and turning them into a poppy blues tale of mystery and redemption, Dylan eschews his folksy roots and deeply introverted musings for a more modern approach to storytelling. What’s left is less Great Plains drifter and more Memphis shaker—a bold move for a man so enshrined in the annals of the Americana tradition. In a very Dylan-esque fashion, Bob tells the story more with what isn’t said than with what is, leaving the listener to fill in the gaps of this big city, cinematic novel. With the lines, ‘What looks large from a distance / Close up ain’t never that big,’ Dylan is able to encapsulate both style of storytelling as well as the man behind the music. No wonder it peaked at No. 38 on the Belgian charts! … ‘Man Gave Names to All the Animals.’ With a jaunty beat and an unassuming demeanor, Dylan finally gives words to the process of man giving meaning to the world that surrounds him. In a way, one might struggle in describing a new concept or foreign entity, man once did not have the appropriate symbols to identify the beasts that provided the oh-so-necessary nourishment that he relied on. Dylan recounts this fleeting moment of human ingenuity with the honest simplicity of a child first discovering the Earth at his fingers. And in a move that can only be described as genius, Dylan ends the song on the third bar of a verse, before revealing the final creature man names. What could it be? Again, Dylan hooks the listener and reels them in, giving them soulful and heartfelt emotions that they themselves must process and come to understand. We know the man and we know the work, but now we must use that to understand the world around us. What is this final animal? Only one who truly understands the works of Bob Dylan can know.”
Taylor Vertrees (upright bass): “‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ for obvious reasons.”
Brackish Water Jamboree will host “A Night Of Bob Dylan” at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at O’Connor Brewing Co. in Norfolk. The event is free, but donations to the Norfolk Folk Festival will be welcome. For more information, visit here.