A very Bob year – ’66 in spotlight at Dylan birthday bash


This story also appears in the 19 May 2016 edition of Hippo Press

Bob Dylan turned 25 on May 24, 1966 while sitting atop a creative peak. He’d released rock’s first studio double LP, Blonde On Blonde, the week before, which capped an 18-month fury of output that included Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. “Like A Rolling Stone” was still on the air, AM radio’s longest ever song. Tours across the U.S. and Europe were media events, as seeing the folksinger turned rocker plug in at concerts might produce riots or rapture.

Alongside Dylan’s lightning rod act, a musical revolution was taking place. The Beatles pushed forward with Rubber Soul and Revolver, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys served up Pet Sounds. The Fillmore opened in San Francisco, and bands like Buffalo Springfield, Love and Jefferson Airplane were introduced to the world.

Since Blonde On Blonde turns 50 this year, it’s fitting that an event to mark the legendary songwriter’s 75th birthday will focus on 1966. On May 24, an array of regional performers will gather at Tupelo Music Hall to play music from Dylan and other artists that made an impact during that seminal year. The show is dubbed Absolutely 1966 Revisited, and it’s New Hampshire’s seventh annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash.

The concert is the brainchild of Bobby Livingston, who for a long time fronted a band with the Dylan-centric name Napoleon In Rags. Livingston lived in Texas for a decade, where he organized a few Dylan tribute nights. When he later moved north, he found nothing similar in the Granite State, and decided to change that. He had another reason for launching the event here – to raise awareness of his favorite artist among his musician friends.

“I made them all learn Dylan songs, kind of a sneaky way to get them into Bob,” Livingston said in a recent phone interview.  “A lot of the bands here grew up with Aerosmith and Boston; for whatever reason they were never into Dylan … but they are all accomplished musicians and once I turned them on they were like, ‘awesome.’”

After six years of covering the master’s songs at the annual event, he decided to “open up the stream a little bit” – hence the night of ’66.

Livingston will host and perform with his band. The evening’s lineup includes Mike Girard fronting The Burning Sensations, which features members of Danny Klein’s Full House, Girard’s band The Fools, and Beatle Juice.  Woody Giessmann of the Del Fuegos, Boston legend Charlie Farren and rising Americana band Russell Hill also appear, along with Bob Jennings and Julie Foster, The Boneshakerz and Amy Fairchild.

Napoleon in Rags became the Bobby Livingston Band a while back – a change born of frustration. When formed, the band focused on Dylan’s music. The effort evolved into a vehicle for Livingston’s original material; but misperceptions stuck. “Because I used that name, it was very easy for people in the press to say it was a Bob Dylan tribute band, and that’s not the case.”

Livingston recently completed a new EP called Crossroads of the World, with a release show happening June 2 at Milford’s Pasta Loft.

The Bob Dylan Birthday Bash is a fundraiser for the Brad Delp Foundation, named after the Boston lead singer who committed suicide in 2007. The charity is focused on music education, awarding grants and funding for school programs and children’s music therapy efforts. Though Livingston didn’t know Delp while he was alive, tying the show to his legacy made sense.

“So many of these guys I knew had worked with Brad, and were deeply affected by his music and the loss of his friendship – a terrible tragedy,” he said. “It just kind of fit, and I’ve been partnering with them all these seven years.”

The show’s final set list is still being worked out. Livingston said “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde on Blonde “is resonating with me now” and added that one song is a definite – “Ballad of a Thin Man,” from Highway 61 Revisited. “I’m excited to be doing that … it’s haunting, a great song,” he said, quoting the lyrics: “Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is.”


Good Good – Michael Bernier stays upbeat, busy

FREEVOLT Band Promo Image MARCH 2016 KM 3

This story appeared in the 19 May 2016 edition of Seacoast Scene


The logo for Evolvement Radio is a signal tower equipped with massive wings – an appropriate metaphor for founder Michael Bernier. With dreadlocks, ever present smile and boundless energy, his feet don’t seem to touch the ground. Settling in for a Sunday afternoon phone interview, Bernier recounted the previous 48 hours, which included traveling from his Newburyport home base to Burlington, Vermont to play with his band Freevolt, then racing back to emcee an early morning 5K race in Gloucester – a feat he repeated the next day in Amesbury.

“You’d expect me to be partying and staying at a hotel, but truth is I get back in the van at midnight,” Bernier said. “People are always saying to me, ‘Man, your life is so good; I would love to be you.’ I love it; but I am hustling hard; it’s a heavy grind, not a go to work for 40 hours then not think about gig.”

Along with work as a bandleader, motivational speaker and radio host, Bernier is a seasoned show promoter. This summer he’s behind the original music 5PM Sessions every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at NBPT Brew Co. in Newburyport. He also organizes long form festivals at the brewpub, including a reggae fest in July and the Funk n’ Jam Out in September, with Entrain, Freevolt and Das Pintos, a band fronted by brewery owners Chris Webb and Bill Fisher.

Bernier’s band will also perform ahead of top-billed Soul Monde at the upcoming 252/3 Festival on Saturday, May 21. The headliner features Ray Paczkowski and Russ Lawton of the Trey Anastasio Band. Gretchen & the Pickpockets open the show; Bernier met the New Hampshire band when they were guests on his EvoRad show. “They are wonderful people, working hard and super friendly,” Bernier said.

Though the show is being held at a beer making facility, it’s decidedly family friendly, with a noon start and lots of kids’ activities. “It’s all ages; I expect to see nine months to five years old there.” Bernier said, adding that this spirit is reflected in the music. “The festival crowd is full of upbeat, fun, positive happy people and these bands represent that.”

There’s a reason for him to dwell on youngsters: Bernier is an expectant father. His wife Kristin is due in early August. With uncontained giddiness, the couple went public with the news April 9 at the New England Music Awards, hosted by the EvoRad team. Given his own life choices – Bernier’s been a working musician for close to two decades – does he envision his child traveling the same path?

“I expect to raise a child that knows it can go forth and be fully supported in whatever he or she wants to do and love the fact that you’re alive,” he said. “ But I expect there will be some music going on because there is music at every turn of my life.”

Freevolt trickled out tracks from its most recent recording, Once You Say over the last half of 2015 before releasing the full CD in January. “Stretching it out got a lot of positive feedback,” Bernier said. “It gave people a chance to digest one song at a time but still keep the excitement up for the new album and new music, and lasted a few months instead of one day dropping it.”

The band is back in the studio and expects to put out a new single later this summer.

Along with venue shows, the intimate in-studio concert at Evolvement Radio’s Newburyport facility will continue. With less than two dozen audience members, each show is a special experience. The next one happens June 13, when Americana duo Muddy Ruckus performs “Marina Evans is coming at some point when she’s back from Italy,” Bernier said. “Elijah Ford (son of former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford) came through – he’s very talented.” Seacoast native, artist and troubadour Dan Blakeslee also played a well-received session.

With a growing list of affiliates – Internet and terrestrial – his broadcast endeavor is thriving. “Evolvement is growing as fast as I can handle it,” Bernier said. “The radio show is getting guests from all over the country now, people on the national touring circuit. There’s new people every week that are like-minded, open minded, unique and super wonderful.”

252/3 Festival featuring Soul Monde, Freevolt and Gretchen & the Pickpockets
When: Saturday, May 21, Noon to 6 p.m.
Where: NBPT Brew Co., 4 New Pasture Road, Newburyport
Tickets: $10 (21+, under 21 free)