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.”