Dylan brings it back home in tonight’s Duluth show

A collection of Dylan books. We get a half dozen authors of Dylan books or documentaries
visiting Hibbing every year. Martin Pulaski, Creative Commons license

Tonight Bob Dylan and his band, along with Wilco, My Morning Jacket and the Richard Thompson Trio, will perform at the Bayfront Festival Park on the waterfront of Dylan’s birthplace, Duluth, Minnesota.

We decided not to make the trip down to Duluth for this one. You may recall that I’m a big fan of Dylan’s, and have become something of a cultural interpreter of his childhood in Hibbing through my coordination of Dylan Days in his Iron Range hometown. Christina and I attended his first Duluth shows in 1999 and 2000 back when I was still in college. We have kids now.

I’m sure this concert will hold lots of appeal, but for me Dylan’s tour sound has been in a bit of a holding pattern for several years. He’s done some great songwriting recently, particularly on his last album “Tempest.” His grizzled voice sounds good in certain context but in a long set it just doesn’t do it for me any more. His band keeps getting louder. I think there’s a reason for that.

That said, I still might have gone if this thing weren’t held in the Bayfront mud pit with several thousand baby boomers. I get enough of that working on the Iron Range. No disrespect.

I’ll probably regret it if something unusual occurs, like a long monologue about the meaning of northern Minnesota to his music, but frankly I don’t expect anything like that. They’re predicting thunderstorms. I expect a simple, albeit very wet, affair.

All this being said, it’s about time to acknowledge that northern Minnesota and Dylan don’t have the adversarial relationship rumored by two generations of music writers and locals. Dylan’s recent comments about Hibbing and Duluth in his writings and interviews have been nostalgic and respectful. More locals are willing to accept the fact that even though Bob Dylan is not Alan Jackson or REO Speedwagon his music has been pretty dang influential and popular all over the world. This Amalia Spagnolo story in Sunday’s Hibbing Daily Tribune shows how some younger Iron Range residents hold Dylan in a completely different, more positive light.

Duluth writer Craig Grau has made several connections between Dylan’s music and Hibbing, most recently “Scarlet Town” from the “Tempest” album. To Grau, Dylan’s ‘Scarlet Town’ sounds like he is making positive references to the region where he was born and raised as well as affectionate references to his family. One could argue that songs throughout his recording career have hearkened aspects of northern Minnesota, even if they weren’t named explicitly.

Fact is, Dylan is just not the kind of cat to do a goodwill hug-fest with his hometowns. He has visited Hibbing quietly, privately, a number of times. He’ll do a public show if it fits the tour, though, and he’s doing one tonight in Duluth.

Good for Bob. Good for northern Minnesota.


  1. Gerry Mantel says

    I hope Wilco, Richard Thompson et. al. played a few tunes from “Planet Waves.”
    The reason being that I personally asked Bob about the album (right after it came out in 1973), and he said he didn’t know anything about it.

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