Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hard Rain In Duluth Kicks Off 2013 North Country Dylan Celebration with Zeal

Gene LaFond and Scarlet Rivera start cookin'.
If last year's concert brought the crowd to its feet last year, then last night's concert Hard Rain In Duluth left us floating off into the ether. What a great sequel to last year's visit featuring violinist Scarlet Rivera accompanied by Gene LaFond and the Wild Unknown, with special attraction and warm up performer Courtney Yasmineh (yazz-min-ay). Thank you all for a great evening of music and more.

The "more" was an afterparty at Tycoon's Alehouse & Eatery in Downtown Duluth, where Geno and team showed what they're really about... a band that can make you move your feet.

Scarlet, Geno and Courtney Bring It Home

The event was not without drama. Less than an hour before showtime Courtney and Scarlet were on their way to change into their costumes when they made a wrong turn to go the wrong way on one of Duluth's sometimes confusing one-way streets. Yasmineh intended to rectify the situation with a quick turn and was struck by another car. The accident was severe enough to deploy a side airbag. They immediately notified Nelson French, the master of ceremonies for the evening, which created a small buzz behind the scenes as everyone was concerned for their safety.

Ironically, the day before, in an impish moment Scarlet texted Nelson to say she had injured her wrist and would not be able to play violin the following evening. It was a joke. This accident was not a joke. Fortunately, the women made their appearance in a timely fashion and the concert was underway.

As last year, Nelson French opened the evening by welcoming us and noted that the concert is a fund raiser for the Armory Music and Arts Center. With funding for music and art being cut from public education, providing support and spaces for youth to develop is a valuable contribution to the community.

French then introduced Darin Bergsven of the Sacred Heart Music Resource Center (MRC) where the jazz guitarist of Tangier 51 serves. Bergsven shared a brief video detailing the activities of the Music Resource Center and its mission "to educate and inspire young people and through music equip them with life skills for the future." It must have been inspiring to have had Scarlet Rivera, Courtney Yasmineh and Gene LaFond visit the Center yesterday afternoon and share time with them.

The concert began with songs by three students from the MRC. Jack Campbell, a senior at Duluth East who is attending DePaul University this fall, opened the evening with a song. He had great poise and a beautiful guitar... and could he ever play. Jake Vainio, who was one of the accompanying musicians at Al Hunter's poetry reading earlier this year, performed next. That Steinway makes an impressive sound, but his finger and sustains were especially rich. A sophomore named Melita then performed a song she'd written, accompanied by Vainio.

After thanking a long list of people who made this event possible, Nelson French introduced Courtney Yamineh, who normally would have brought her band along but this night wove herself into the Wild Unknown. Yasmineh was born in Chicago. At age 17 she left home to headed for the Iron Range where she moved into a cabin on Lake Vermillion previously owned by her grandfather. It was a cold winter of a kind she was unaccustomed to. Despite frozen pipes and bitter winds, she sustained herself by putting logs on the fire and listening to tapes of Bob Dylan that she acquired there.

More than a sexy guitarist, Yasmineh displays confidence and command with vocal variety and complex lyrics that carry messages from various spaces in her life journey. You can check out her YouTube vids or try to find her new album This Is Manifesto when it comes out. After a relatively short set there was an intermission. Fortunately she would return later to add her embellishments to Scarlet and Gene's portion of the program.

A nice surprise after the intermission was a brief magical interlude by John Bushey, professional magician and host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited. Bushey, who likely has the largest collection of Houdini handcuffs and memorabilia in the country, cited an interview with Dylan in which the North Country native was asked, "If you could go back in time and see any event in history, what would it be?" Dylan said, without hesitation, that he would like to go back and see Houdini's famous escape from the East River in New York. Bushey confided that he has a film of that escape and Mr. Dylan would be welcome to come over to his house and view it sometime.

Bushey proceeded to do a little bit of magic for us, a trick with ropes and knots that Harry Houdini himself had invented. A perfect way to start the second portion of our concert... magically.

Gene LaFond introduced his band who proceeded to perform three of his own songs, some of them new. He said it has been a long winter, and writing songs helps you get through. Courtney came aboard as the group offered up a dynamic rendition of Dylan's Shot of Love. At this point we were all aboard, Yasmineh's vocal harmonies taking us to higher ground. Then Scarlet joined the set, and things began to soar.

The obligatory Hurricane kicked it off. I use the word "obligatory" because these were the first notes by which Scarlet Rivera's sizzling violin accompaniment struck the world with a new kind of electicity. Besides, it's just a sentimental favorite when you gather a room full of older Dylan fans.

The playlist unfolded in this manner, with numerous high points along the way. The set began with the full troupe and these four Dylan classics:

Oh Sister (Desire)
Hard Rain (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You (Nashville Skyline)
One More Cup of Coffee (Desire)

The band withdrew and Scarlet then played Chopin's Farewell, accompanied by Geno. All returned and Geno led the next section with one of his favorite Dylan songs, Most of the Time. (Oh Mercy)

Geno gave us one of his own tunes again, Jake and Jenny, followed by one of my favorites, Born In Time. (Under the Red Sky version.) 

The rest of the set included:
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (Highway 61 Revisited)
You Gotta Serve Somebody, in which Scarlet provided some potent vocals in tandem with Courtney. (Slow Train Coming)
Love Minus Zero, No Limit (Bringing It All Back Home)
Tangled Up In Blue (Blood on the Tracks)
You're a Big Girl Now (Blood on the Tracks)

After this culmination and a standing ovation as the performers retreated backstage. Geno alone returned for the encore, presenting us another new tune, a song about his funeral, with measured levity. Finally the whole crew returned to sing Watching the River Flow.... The enthusiasm flowed as well. A friend who was with me leaned over and said, "They really love her, don't they?" No question about it.

Everyone was invited to Tycoon's to continue celebrating. Gene, along with band mates Brian, Dean and Steve, showed that they still know how to make our feet move. I myself even did a little shuffle-foot myself.

Thank you, Nelson French and the Armory board members whose passion and commitment are apparent to all. Courtney, good luck finishing the book you're working on. Scarlet, thank you for your generosity. It was nice dancing with you. I should have been wearing my bellbottoms.

Today, the celebrations continue with Poets from the North Country @ Arts Atrium. 3:00 p.m., a poetry reading hosted by past poet laureate Sheila Packa. Then it's back to Tycoons for Duluth Does Dylan featuring Marc Gartman with Tim Saxhaug and Dave Carroll.

Gene and the team making music you can move to.

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