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A concert to remember

A celebration of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez showcases northern Tasmania’s hidden musical talent

Wow! What can I say? Other than I was elated, exalted and exhilerated. 2021’s Bob Dylan-Joan Baez Tribute Concert was far, far more than a nostalgia trip for people who grew up listening to those two. It demonstrated the deep well of musical talent that lies not far beneath the surface of this island state.

Picture this. The days are getting shorter as we move into autumn. As evening comes to this northern Tasmanian city on the Tamar, we walk towards the Workers Club along a dim laneway whose shadows make it seem darker than it already is. Tucked away on the edge of Launceston CBD, the Club is easy to miss. Like the music we are here to listen to, it is the product of an earlier time. Walk in, and we enter a place whose 1970s decor seems unchanged. Dart boards. Fake wood panelling. Dim lighting. Like the music we are about to hear, the Club itself is an artefact of times past, the sort of place regulars go for a quiet drink and a friendly chat with the bar staff.

Now, imagine what happens when the Tasmanian Poetry Festival crew organise an event here. The quietness is shattered as performance poets do their sometime rowdy thing. The Club has become a favoured venue for this rambunctious crew, and no more so than on this mid-March night when The Times They Are A-Changing, the Bob Dylan-Joan Baez Tribute Concert, takes over the back room.

It’s a sold-out event. The last tickets went the week before. People start coming as soon as the doors open at six. They grab a drink from the bar staff who are soon to find themselves far busier than they usually are on a Friday night. By the start of the concert the room is full.

Who are these people drawn out of the city’s sprawling suburbs and, for a few, from as far away as the north-west coast, the East Tamar and down towards Hobart? Who could have guessed that so many would be attracted to the music? A glance around the room reveals that for the most part they are people for whom Dylan and Baez were part of the soundtrack of their lives. There are some younger, too, because like all good music, Dylan and Baez’s transcends time.

A different sort of welcome to country is offered by Terrill Riley-Gibson, whose Tasmanian Aboriginal family comes from their North East Tebrikunna homeland. Dani Streets follows her as MC.

Like some in the audience, Lasca Dry has dressed in the style of the 60s (there is a prize for the best dressed). A tall young woman with long, free-flowing hair from Ulverstone, along Tasmania’s Bass Strait coast , Lasca starts the night’s music, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar.

Local blues and folk performer with 20 years in the music industry, Neil Gibson, follows with an uptempo version of Dylan’s 1964 classic, Mr Tambourine Man, which appeared the following year on his 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home. Neil follows with Masters of War, a reflection on the Cold War that was released on the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album in 1963. His musical professionalism was all-too-evident.

How do I describe Edwina Blush? There she was, veteran jazz and cabaret performer, loose black shirt and velvety maroon-coloured dress, her long hair styled in thin dreadlocks and tied back with a red rose, long strand of green beads loose around her neck. She is a dominating presence on stage, a presence reinforced by a voice that articulates the emotion of a song by transforming from loud to soft and back again.

Edwina’s rendition of Dylan’s relationship-farewell lament, It’s All Oven Now Baby Blue, which appeared on his 1965 album Subterranean Homesick Blues, the same album on which the superb Love Minus Zero/No Limit made its appearance, carries the appropriate emotion. That and Edwina’s version of Joan Beaz’s 1974 tribute to Dylan on his reappearance in public, Diamonds and Rust, were accompanied by Daniel Brauchli on one of the acoustic guitars he made. Performer and instrument maker Daniel and partner Kate Case, who live on a farm at Underwood, near Launceston, and Edwina, who moved to the city some years ago, are just two of those who make up the cultural wealth of this northern Tasmanian city.

So flowed the night, alternately moving into and out of Dylan’s and Baez’s musical repertoire. Traditional Scottish folk song, The Water Is wide, and Dylan’s All I Really Want To Do from his 1964 album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, were performed by Queenstown-based folksinger-guitarist Terri Young. Dylan’s classic, Don’t Think Twice, was performed by Daniel Brauchli and Kate Case’s folk and blues duo, Americana. Tangled Up In Blue was musically untangled by Wendy Moles. Launceston-based Sheyana gave us a rendition of the Dylan’s 1973 classic, Forever Young.

One of the organisers of the event, local performance poet Yvonne Gluyas, told me that she was unfamiliar with the work of young Launceston singer-songwriter Scott Haigh. She needn’t have been concerned. When he got up on stage with his guitar and Bob Dylan Tshirt and launched into Just Like a Woman from Dylan’s 1966 double album, Blonde on Blonde, followed by It Ain’t Me Babe, any concern she might have had was instantly dispelled. Scott has a vibrant stage presence and delivers his songs with energy and emotion.

What I found special was Scott’s version of Like A Rolling Stone, the song placed at number one best song of all time in December 2004/2010 by Rolling Stonemagazine. A 1965 song from the album Highway 61 Revisited, about a woman fallen onto hard times, the six-minute length of the heavily-electric piece rocketed it to popularity.

The evening went in a wave of musical nostalgia around two singer-songwriters who continued to release and perform music that can only be considered as classic. Earlier, audience participation generated an inclusive vibe to the evening with the singing of the US civil rights anthem, We Shall Overcome, a song with its roots firmly anchored in that earlier struggle for equality and opportunity. But it was the final song which fittingly ended the event, a piece which included all of the performers and the audience who performed the tribute concert’s namesake, The Times They Are A-Changing. It was an emotional moment, for Dylan’s prophetic song had indeed presaged the change in Western societies that many in the audience had experienced.

The concert was the initiative of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival. It’s a valid question, that of why an organisation specialising in performance poetry puts on a musical concert. Poetry is recited — or sometimes performed dramatically in the case of performance poetry — isn’t it? But it is an easy question to answer. The poetry of Dylan, Baez as well as others is performed by singing, to music. This was acknowledged when in 2016 Dylan was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

Nostalgia and emotion are all-too-often put down by unknowing and unappreciative critics. Yet, they are part of the human condition and they wouldn’t be there if they have no practical value. Someone said that the music brought tears to the eyes of some of the audience. I never noticed that but then I was darting here and there making photos, so maybe I missed them. I’m not surprised, though, because the music played a part in the lives of many there. Music is more than notes on a page and the sound of voice and instrument. It embodies personal experience and emotion, association and memory. Music encapsulates the spirit of a time, as was so evident this night. It is the music more than other things that we often remember.

The event was more than a concert. It was a signifier of the musical talent that flows below the surface of this small city of 80,000 and along Tasmania’s northern coast. Small town, for sure, but a small town with a wealth of cultural life.

Thanks go to organisers Yvonne Gluyas, Joy Elizabeth and the rest of the crew. They go to the Tasmanian Poetry Festival and the Workers Club too. Most of all they go to the performers and the audience who together made the event so memorable.

The Times They Are A-Changing went so well that there is now a persistent rumour that in 2022 the Tasmanian Poetry Festival will put on a Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell tribute concert. I can’t wait.

Photos: Russ Grayson

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Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.