Saturday, May 28, 2016

Eli Hebl Nails It. Winner of 2016 Duluth Dylan Fest Singer/Songwriter Competition

Dylan Days in Hibbing had many highlights, but one of the most talked about and anticipated was the Singer/Songwriter contest. When Dylan Days in Hibbing passed, the Duluth Dylan Fest Committee sought to fill in the void. Though last year's effort at the Red Herring was a good first effort, this year's competition at Clyde Iron Works had just the right ambience. The room was packed and the performers were seriously prepared.

John Bushey of KUMD welcomed everyone and thanked Zimmy's for having started this event years ago. He then turned the program over to our hosts Pat and Karen. Pat is a singer songwriter himself and Karen, originally from California, hails from the Iron Range. The judges this year would be Karen Sunderman of the Playlist, musician Jim Hall, Chris Harwood, a TV guy who is also a musician, and Christa Lawler, who covers the arts and entertainment scene for the DNT.

Time does not permit a full replay here, so we'll just share a few highlights. One limitation that I've become painfully aware of is that attempting to write about music has a massive limitation. Music is its own language. To fully appreciate the songs and sounds, you really do have to be there. I can show photos but there's no real correlation.

Daniel Botkin, the artist from Illinois, took the first slot on the slate. Botkin introduced his song by stating that he has six daughters and this was written for them, with accompanying picture cards that he drew. Someone assisted him and held the cards in the manner of Dylan's famous Subterranean Homesick Blues video. "The Ballad of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Priest" was a clever take-off on Dylan's song of similar name, and it made for a memorable opening number last night.

Troy Atkin, wearing a Minnestoa Twins ball cap, took the stage with a guitar and a trombone. He used the brass instrument for the introductory licks of Rain Day Women, and brought smiles with his two songs. John Adler and Iris Kolodji followed and it became apparent that there was a lot of talent in the room.

A young man wearing a blue and white mesh baseball cap took the stage and explained that he grew up about 30 miles North of Duluth in the small town of Two Harbors. His song was written after something of an epiphany in which he realized that if he "didn't do something" this would be his whole life. He sang, "In the morning when you cry beneath the family tree, the fallen leaves and twisted branches, loss will set you free."

This fellow was followed by a singer who said his optometrist is Bob Dylan's cousin. He lives in a town on Highway 61, and the connections were vividly being laid out. A fellow named Terry had a conversational style of singing. Kim Naglin and Joel Wyblode of Hibbing shared how it was fun to play music on the same stage that Dylan played on half a century ago. They did a song from Time Out Of Mind, and the evening was just so perfect for its mix of Dylan and the inventiveness being displayed.

A number of performers clearly have fans here. Dan Lang and Joe Hauge play for a band called Minnesota Buick. Gene LaFond and Amy Grillo have been strengthening their fan base, having moved this past year to the North Shore. Brian Stelmaszewski, better known as the right hand member of the team "Lefty & Stel", was another of the many familiar faces -- and voices -- here.

When all was said and done Eli Hebl, that young man from Two Harbors, was voted the winner. Dan Lang garnered second place and Iris Kolodji third. Congratulations all around and thank you to everyone who came and shared.

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Just a reminder. Today and tomorrow there are still more events. A U.S. Postal Clerk will be at the Armory Annex this morning from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with an official Duluth Dylan Fest cancellation stamp. Bring your letters to be mailed and have your stamps "cancelled" here today. Or buy our post cards and stamps on the spot. Afterwards, grab a bite to eat across the street at Valentini's and enjoy the music of Marc Gartman, another talented transplant to the Northland.

Tonight it the Armory Benefit Concert featuring music from the Baement Tapes. You can purchase tickets here, or pay a little extra at the door. It promises to be another great evening of music, all for a good cause. To learn more about the basement tapes, check out my blog post Story of the Great White Wonder -- the Original Basement Tapes Bootleg. There's always more to discover.

Tomorrow we'll do a Sunday morning coming down kind of thing at Zeitgeist Cafe downtown, and exchange farewells with friends old and new. Thank you to everyone who has been so faithful in making this another great week.

Meantime, life goes on all around you... Embrace it.

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