In the spring of 2005, Steve Horton called up some of the friends he’d played music with in the 1970s and ’80s and put together a concert to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 64th birthday. (Dylan was born on May 24, 1941.) Horton hoped the concert would be an annual event, but he had no real expectation that, 10 years later, the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash would not only still be around but would be a major fundraiser for WDVX.
“The Dylan Birthday Bash was started mainly as an excuse to get together with friends and play music,” Horton, a founding member of the maverick Knoxville country-rock band the Lonesome Coyotes and part of the irreverent jazz/folk band Y’uns, writes in a recent email interview. “It was also, for me, an opportunity to connect with other/younger players on the local music scene. I had been raising kids and not been active in music for 15-20 years.”
One of the kids whose upbringing Horton had been occupied with was his son, Will Horton, who is now the frontman for local Southern/alt-rock band the Black Cadillacs. Will, who played the second Dylan birthday concert in 2006, when he was still in high school, is making his fourth or fifth appearance next weekend at the 11th version of the event, scheduled for Market Square on Friday, June 5, at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. (“Like so many musical endeavors, our main function is to sell beer!” Steve Horton writes.)
The lineup for this year’s Bash includes singer/songwriter Maggie Longmire, Will Horton, the local Celtic band Four Leaf Peat, the Will Boyd Group, Exit 65, Dixieghost, and a trio composed of Steve Horton, Hector Qirko, and Dana Paul. Longmire and Qirko are also members of the Lonesome Coyotes; Paul was a member of Rich Mountain Tower, a pioneering local country-rock group from the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Now that the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash is an official WDVX fundraiser, Horton has passed some of the logistical details, like publicity and sponsorship, to the radio station staff. “My part is primarily getting other musicians involved. Sometimes players would rather not learn new material or material that they’re not likely to use again. On the other hand, some bands take the challenge and run with it,” he writes. “I get to do the fun part—putting musicians together, bringing in old friends, finding new musical connections.”
The cross-generational lineup of the concert fits with Horton’s conception of Dylan’s legacy.
“I was in high school when Dylan went from folk to electric,” he writes. “And those albums, particularly Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing It All Back Home, were mind-blowing. The imagery, the intelligence, combined with a biting sense of humor really caught my imagination. And his entire effect was to break down the expectations, the walls, of music we were listening to at the time. … You could do an event like this with quite a few songwriters and it would be interesting. But not many have the depth and breadth of Dylan’s catalog. He appeals across age groups, so many different styles, that it makes it entertaining to hear what each group comes up with for the event. This year, the show encompasses jazz, folk, folk rock, trop-rock, rock, and bluegrass. Next year maybe we’ll add a gospel choir.”
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