Full Circle

Bobfest: A Celebration of All Things DYLAN

Bob Dylan in the early 1960s

Dylan receives the Nobel Peace Prize in literature, 2016

What is a Bobfest?
Someone once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. If so, designing a celebration of Bob Dylan must be like constructing a building of rainbows. Ross Moore has stepped up to the challenge and assembled an all-day all-Dylan extravaganza, recognizing the artist’s contributions to poetry, literature, the visual arts, and music, despite the fact that Dylan is perhaps the most prolific and yet enigmatic artist to make his mark on the nation’s consciousness. The event happens November 17 at the Encinitas Branch of the San Diego County Library.

The title of the event succinctly captures its scope–the entire artistic output of Bob Dylan. (We have to guess that Bob would appreciate the ambiguity in the event being variously advertised as “Bobfest,” “BobFest,” and “Bob Fest.”) The multiple facets of Dylan’s creative output are presented in stand-alone segments of the event, shown in the sidebar.

Why at the library?
The idea for the show arose from Dylan’s 2016 award of the Nobel Prize in literature–the first time the prize was earned by a songwriter. This literary tie-in and the fact that Dylan remains relevant in popular culture were enough to ensure the embrace of the San Diego County Library. The library’s mission is “To Inform, Educate, Inspire, and Entertain,” all of which are encompassed in the event’s agenda. Bobfest is free to the public (though seating is limited for the concert segment) and sponsored by the Friends of the Encinitas Library.

Organizer Ross Moore is an employee at the library, and is well known in the music community for hosting the long-running (but no longer active) San Diego County Library Acoustic Showcase. Ross is also a seasoned performer himself and a published author. Ross says, “Since I had created and coordinated the music series for many years I was friends with several of San Diego’s best singer/songwriters. I knew I wanted Peter Bolland to both perform and be on the panel, and I even changed the date to accommodate his schedule. Then I started reaching out to folks, and everyone really wanted to play. So within a day or two we pretty much had all the folks we could accommodate. I’m sure there are so many others, maybe we’ll have to do it again.”

Jayne Henn, the dynamic manager of the Encinitas branch, is enthusiastic. “In my mind, Dylan is much like the library itself–bursting with information and talent. When people discover what Dylan has contributed to the American story, how he has influenced our culture, and what he offers to our community today, it is much like when they walk into our library for the first time… It is my hope that this event is the first in a series of celebrations to Americans who embody this spirit and influence who we are as a nation.” In addition to Bobfest, the Encinitas library hosts a weekly concert series, and two signature events: the San Diego Storytelling Festival in March, and the Japan Festival in August.

Dylan as literature
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” In 2017, Dylan delivered a deeply thoughtful lecture in response. (Though only after allowing controversy to build over his delayed response to the award!)

In his lecture, Dylan pays tribute, first, to the musical heroes of his youth, notably Buddy Holly and Leadbelly, and then to the whole catalog of American folk songs. “By listening to all the early folk artists and singing the songs yourself, you pick up the vernacular…, and you learn the details. You know that Stagger Lee was a bad man and that Frankie was a good girl. You know that Washington is a bourgeois town and you’ve heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek. And you’re pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy. You heard the muffled drums and the fifes that played lowly. You’ve seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen.”

More surprisingly, Dylan spends most of his lecture dissecting three classic works of literature: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front (which he relates to old time banjo guy Charlie Poole) and The Odyssey (which he relates to his own life, “… you too have rambled this country all around. And you’ve also felt that ill wind, the one that blows you no good.”) Dylan wraps up his lecture noting that the big themes of literature also apply to songs, but in neither case is it necessary for the writer to consciously comprehend the meaning of the text. “I don’t know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.” A great relief for anyone who might have felt insecure for not “getting” a song, book, or picture!
Dylan as a storyteller

Unlike many songwriters who enjoy telling tales between their song performances, on stage Dylan lets the songs speak for themselves. Many of those songs tell gripping stories in the tradition of the old folk songs he referenced in his Nobel award. Dylan’s story songs range from the angry narrative of “Hurricane” through the impressionistic “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” to the surrealism of “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.”

Several of Dylan’s songs have been illustrated and published as children’s storybooks, including “If Dogs Run Free” and “Forever Young.” Cici Artemisia will host a family storytime at Bobfest, featuring Dylan’s “If Not for You.”

Dylan as a songwriter
The pinnacle of Bobfest will be a concert featuring the cream of San Diego’s rich acoustic music scene, performing selections of Dylan’s catalog. Readers of the Troubadour will recognize the performers, many of whom have earned cover stories here over the years. It will be a great treat to see and hear this talent playing off and with each other over the course of a single concert. Given the limited performance time, you know each artist will be bringing their very best. And given that any one of these artists could fill the beautiful sea-view library concert room, you should plan to get there early; the fire marshal has set a strict capacity limit.

Dylan as a visual artist
Dylan’s paintings and sculptures have gotten a lot of attention in recent years. His never-ending tour bus is known to stop at junkyards along the way to gather miscellaneous metal pieces for Dylan to weld into giant creations. At Bobfest, celebrity artist Patrick Carney will give a talk on Dylan’s art. Patrick says, “I think when he started to draw and paint extensively after his motorcycle accident he was returning to his days of honoring Woody Guthrie, one of his first heroes. The hobo philosopher traveling around America and capturing the American landscape and allowing us to feel what he saw through his songs. Dylan is doing the same with his art; he’s giving us a gift of how he sees America.”

Dylan as an institution
Bobfest will include a panel discussion on Dylan’s life and work. Expected panelists include George Varga (San Diego Union Tribune Pop Music Critic), Peter Bolland (award-winning musician, writer, and teacher), and free-range Dylan expert Marty Katz, whose personal library includes dozens of Dylan books (most of which he’s actually read). Also included is a talk by Ross Moore on Dylan in the context of his formative years, as an acolyte of Woody Guthrie and member of the Greenwich Village folk scene. In addition, Bob Ballentine will perform street-corner busker-style folk music in the courtyard. Ross is adding more content to the program as this issue goes to press!

See you there!
Ross has confirmed that Bob Dylan is booked on the East Coast on November 17, so a surprise visit from the honoree himself is very unlikely. Except for that, pretty much everything Dylan-related will be free and on tap at the Encinitas library at the inaugural Bobfest. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful tradition.

Family Story Time: Cici Artemisia (10:30-11am); Awaken the Poet Within: poetry writing workshop (11am-1pm); Dylan, the Visual Artist: Patrick Carney (11:45am-12:15pm); Early Influences: Ross Moore (12:30-1pm); Panel Discussion: George Varga, Peter Bolland, Marty Katz (1:15-2:15); Concert: Cici Artemisia, Peter Bolland, Peggy Watson, Joe Rathburn, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Bob Ballentine, Ross Moore & Kevin Moraine, Marty Katz (2:30-4:40pm); Courtyard Busker: Bob Ballentine (10:15am-ongoing); Taco Picasso: Food truck, D Street (11am-2pm); Visual Art Video: Teen Area monitor (continuous)

And more to be announced!

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