Times a’ Changin’ in Bob Dylan’s hometown

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

When Robert Zimmerman left Hibbing in 1959, it’s unlikely he or his hometown would predict these facts:

  1. That a “space theatre” named for a prominent local grocer would be constructed a few blocks from the Zimmerman home … because, you know, men walked on the moon;
  2. That the Zimmerman home would one day be on “Bob Dylan Drive;” and,
  3. That the aforementioned Paulucci Space Theatre would be the site of a world renowned Bob Dylan photography exhibit from the GRAMMY Museum opening May 23, 2014.

I sure couldn’t have predicted what would have happened when I was invited by the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce to join in a citywide effort to plan Dylan Days in 2001.

Together, with many community partners, we built a new event attracting people from all over the world, including songwriting, art and writing contests and live music on or around Dylan’s May 24 birthday. We fought the notion that Dylan and Hibbing were enemies, a myth stemming from misunderstanding, and revealed that the stories of this great performer and great town were intertwined threads of American history. We spun the successful Dylan Days event into a successful independent not-for-profit association. All told, I and others were privileged to meet people from all over the world without strolling too far from my native Iron Range.

But as both Bob Dylan and Hibbing have shown over the years, things have changed. Today, some of the most exciting opportunities for arts and tourism on the Iron Range grow big on the horizon. At the same time, this has been one of the most difficult years of planning for us at Dylan Days, which has been co-organized recently by Linda Stroback and Bob Hocking, Joe and Mary Keyes and myself. Our lives have changed, for me a young family and new radio show. And, significantly, Zimmy’s closed, removing the tourism mecca so many Dylan fans grew to love, that housed most of the Dylan Days events. The reality is, for Dylan Days to go on beyond 2014, it will need some new people with new ideas.

Fortunately, losing Zimmy’s won’t disrupt Dylan Days 2014, which starts next weekend, and won’t diminish the significance of the GRAMMY Museum traveling exhibit “Daniel Kramer: Photographs of Bob Dylan,” which opens Friday, May 23 at 5 p.m. with a reception to follow, and runs through Aug. 23. In fact, this is going to be a summer of amazing arts and culture opportunity here on the central Mesabi Iron Range.

The Kramer exhibit, organized by several partners including the city of Hibbing and Hibbing Foundation, is the single biggest Dylan tourism event ever scheduled in Hibbing; arguably one of the great traveling events the city has seen. Not only that, we have many facilities and businesses around town capable of welcoming Dylan fans with special events, including live original music and exhibitions.

Hibbing and the Iron Range should pay close attention to the potential this summer provides. With the remodeling of the planetarium to accommodate this amazing exhibit, we will have the possibility of a space that can be used not just as a planetarium, but as a gallery and event venue — a small concert hall or place to show off the work of area artists and students in a professional setting. We also have the chance to convey a new message to the people who visit; shake off the dust of the past and show a town capable of moving into a new era.

With the opportunities awaiting Hibbing, I have a personal plea for those reading this today. Please consider getting involved, not just in what’s been done before, but in what YOU think should be done. Dylan Days can and should live beyond 2014, but it will need new blood and new ideas to thrive. Join us May 23 and 24, and please encourage everyone you know to check out the Daniel Kramer exhibit this summer.

Music, art and culture are among the top considerations of young people looking for a place to settle. Bob Dylan is among the most influential musicians in the world, relevant to at least three generations and more to come. It’s not just about honoring Dylan, it’s about celebrating the community that helped inform Dylan’s artistic sense, and that of so many others: People like you and me.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 18, 2014 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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