Northern Minnesota prepares for Bob Dylan homecoming concert

Published 7:30 am Tuesday, July 9, 2013

HIBBING — Robert Zimmerman was born in Duluth and grew up in Hibbing.

And now Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, after a lifetime of changing music and influencing creativity all over the world, is set to return, 19 years since his last Northland performance.

His family, friends and Dylan enthusiasts from Northern Minnesota now look forward to heading to Duluth to celebrate the hometown boy “who made good.”

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Bob Dylan and his band are the headline act at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth.

His Americanarama Festival of Music tour includes performances by Wilco, My Morning Jacket and the Richard Thompson Trio.

Among those who will be driving from Hibbing is Erynne Johnson and her sister, Brianna Enemark. A Hibbing resident and Chisholm High School graduate, Johnson estimated that she’s been a Dylan fan since her very early childhood.

“Let’s just say that I was raised right,” she laughed.

She grew up on Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan.

Though Johnson notes that she’s “only 25 years old,” she points to her interest in “all that old, good rock ‘n’ roll because it cannot be repeated.”

She said that as often as some artists try to re-do rock ‘n’ roll and try to change it, “it’s just not the same.”

A self-declared “hard-core Aerosmith fan,” Johnson is pleased that her favorite band’s lead singer, Steven Tyler, points to Dylan among his greatest influences.

“I read him saying that without Bob Dylan there would be no Aerosmith,” she said. “And any song nowadays being redone, he probably had his fingers in the pot with what’s going on.”

Both sisters, who are employed as servers at Zimmy’s in Hibbing, are thrilled for the chance to see their tribute restaurant’s namesake for the first time.

Describing herself and Enemark as “super-stoked” about attending Dylan’s Duluth concert, Johnson said, “For sure, I want to see the legend. I want to see him, live, so that I can tell my son, ‘Hey, guess what? I saw him. You hear that song? You love it? Guess who wrote it.’”

Former Hibbing resident and native Duluthian John Bushey considers all matters Dylan as one of his obsessions. For the last 21-plus years, Bushey has hosted public radio station KUMD’s Dylan-focused program “Highway 61 Revisited.” Going into its third decade, his show claims a worldwide audience courtesy of Internet live-stream broadcasting.

Bushey marvels at “this young kid then, writing really mature material” and developing over the years.

“I got into Dylan and the Beatles in college,” he said. “I went through high school, mostly listening to jazz and stuff like that. Somebody said this guy was from Duluth, Minn., … born in Duluth, raised in Hibbing. It kind of intrigued me — the fact that he was from the Northland.”

“Blood on the Tracks” was the first Dylan album Bushey heard. He fully admits to his intense tendency to “go overboard with anything I’ve gotten into in my life.”

Bushey began acquiring Dylan albums, books and unique collectibles. His experience of Dylan’s presence in his life became personal.

He even lived on Howard Street in Hibbing for about two years when he was a student geologist working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“I’d walked out of my way — past Dylan’s boyhood home — all the way around on my way to work every day,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to live near the old places.”

Besides his radio show, Bushey counts himself among those who wish to recognize Dylan’s accomplishments and contributions.

“Whether you like him or don’t, he’s from this area and he’s been a gigantic influence on the direction music took in the ‘60s,” he said. “And everything in civil rights and the influence on musicians still today.”

Fellow Duluthian Zane Bail is a great Dylan fan. She listened to Dylan’s music with her father. It wasn’t until Bail became a young adult that she and Dylan had something in common.

“Growing up, I didn’t even realize Bob Dylan was from Duluth and I’m also from Duluth,” she said. “It’s amazing that someone like him — who I think is really a literary and musical genius — came from here.”

Bail started volunteering in 2006, when the City of Duluth approved creating the cultural pathway “Bob Dylan Way.” She assisted in fund raising.

In 2007, the volunteers celebrated and began the new tradition of the annual Bob Dylan Way birthday party. During the festivities, Bail met Linda and Bob Hocking, owners of Zimmy’s.

“Some of us started to go up to Hibbing Dylan Days,” noted Bail.

The Hockings and the other Hibbingites involved in initiating Dylan Days shared their experiences with the Duluth group.

“We strengthened our familial collaboration over the years, supporting each other’s events,” said Bail.

The celebration grew larger and stronger.

“This year we really formalized our relationship with Hibbing and created and claimed everything as the North Country Dylan Celebration — produced by the Duluth Dylan Fest and the Hibbing Dylan Days,” said Bail. “It’s a format we’re going to continue. This past year we learned a lot, and we really took it to a new level. We hope to continue that well into the future.”

She said she’s looking forward to Dylan’s upcoming performance.

“All of us have always hoped that Bob Dylan would come back to play in his hometown of Duluth,” she said. “We’re about celebrating Bob Dylan and the fact that he’s from Northeastern Minnesota, that he’s contributed to in art, music, poetry — and we’re celebrating the artists, poets and musicians who make this region today a vibrant place to live and just to appreciate the arts.”