Joan Osborne Performs Dylan Faves for Packed House @ Sacred Heart

Bringing fresh interpretations to Dylan’s amazing catalog.

At its essence, what is a music concert? What is the common denominator between the Rolling Stones, McCartney, Roger Waters, the Blind Boys of Alabama and last night’s Joan Osborne concert in Duluth Central Hillside during Dylan Fest 2019?

The answer, my friend, is a capitalist transaction. An audience makes a trade with the performers, money for a satisfying evening of entertainment, whether a $500 Rolling Stones transaction, a $200 Roger Waters Wall or ten dollars for an unknown from Wabasha. Even a free concert is a form of barter: my time for your performance. It’s always nice when we receive more than we expected.

Last night at the Sacred Heart Music Center Joan Osborne and her accompanying musicians delivered the goods. I don’t think anyone had expectations below the value of the ticket. I mean, this is a national recording artist doing Dylan tunes in Dylan town, with an audience primed. The context is Duluth Dylan Fest, the evening of this town’s hometown boy turning 78.

This year’s 8-Day Dylan Fest has already featured an art event, and a poetry event. Today there will be a cutting of the cake on the front lawn of his first home (where he lived till age six) and tomorrow is a talk by author David Gaines as part of the John Bushey Lecture Series.

Most of all, though, it is a week of music. What’s astonishing is discovering how many different ways Bob Dylan’s songs can be served up, and remain continuously fresh and satisfying. This week alone — and it’s not yet over — we’ve been treated to:
Cowboy Angel Blue (Sunday at Cedar Lounge)
Tom O’Keefe and Friends (Monday at the Zeitgeist)
Leslie Black and Friends (Monday at Carmody’s Irish Pub)
Greg Tiburzi & Steve Johnson (Tuesday, Sir Ben’s)
Kyla Ollah (Wednesday at Teatro Zuccone, accompanying the poetry event)
Rich Mattson and the Northstars (Poetry afterparty at Cedar Lounge)
And then, Joan Osborne, last night in this former Catholic church on Duluth’s Central Hillside.

For the record, additional music to be performed will include tonight’s Singer/Songwriter contest in which each musician will play a Dylan song and one of their own, an afterparty for that at Bent Paddle Taproom with the Basement Tapes Band, another Sacred Heart show Saturday featuring the Bob Dylan Revue, and Sunday’s brunch accompanied by Jim Hall.

So now that you have context, let’s consider the concert itself. A local trio called Coyote opened, featuring and Matt Mobley. Mobley’s a versatile stand-up bass player who we routinely run into in local jazz venues such as .

Coyote’s set featured original tunes and gentle harmonies. The quiet acoustics were beautifully amplified by the sensational sound properties of the Sacred Heart sanctuary. Gartman and other performers from Duluth who have played here, including myself, all appreciate this quality of this special place.

Before closing out their set of original material Gartman said, “We’re going to do a Dylan song. Dylan Thomas.” They closed with a very fine “I’ll Keep It With Mine.”

A short intermission for a set change — removing Coyote’s equipment from the lower tier of the stage — and we were soon back. “How about a warm Dylan Fest welcome for Joan Osborne.”

Osborne plucked songs from all portions of the Dylan catalog, giving each an infusion of her own flavor. From start to finish her fresh takes serve to show how remarkable Dylan’s work really is.

But it was the backing band that gave this concert its special lift. Jack Petrocelli on guitars and Pete Cotton on keyboards were criminally tight. From the opening number, “Quinn the Eskimo,” they were given opportunities to show their chops. The accompanists were also producers of her 2017 Songs of Bob Dylan release. (Still fact checking on that.)

From here she moved into an intense rendition of “High Water (For Cherley Patton)” from Love & Theft. Then we slid back to “Spanish Harlem Incident,” and its delicious ontological earnestness from Another Side of Bob Dylan.

I am homeless, come and take me
Into the reach of your rattling drums
Let me know, babe, all about my fortune
Down along my restless palms

…and its heartfelt closing appeal…

I got to know, babe, will you surround me?
So I can tell if I’m really real

I’d be curious what the process consists of for selecting songs for an album of covers, especially Dylan covers. It would have to in part be selections meaningful to the artist. It was apparent during certain moments that the lyrics she sang were especially heartfelt.

The rest of her playlist included:
Don’t Think Twice (Freewhelin’ Bob Dylan)
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (Blonde on Blonde)
Trying to Get to Heaven (Time Out Of Mind)
Masters of War (Freewheelin’)
Buckets of Rain (Blood on the Tracks)
Highway 61 Revisited (Highway 61 Revisited)
Tangled Up In Blue (Blood on the Tracks)
An original song about our need for hope.
Gotta Serve Somebody (Slow Train Coming)

By the time this set was complete everyone in the room was on their feet, clapping, banging things to get an encore. After a two minute reset, the team emerged for a pair of songs that served as exclamation point and summation for the night, the first being Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, at which time keyboard player Pete Cotton left the stage and disappeared in the back. Few in the audience knew how to interpret this, so that when the pipe organ in the back of the sanctuary roared to life in the middle of the song it sent chills up many a-spine.

Her final number, One Of Us, is the song that put her on the map career-wise, got her nominated for Grammy awards for best song, best female vocalist and more… and a very satisfying conclusion to the evening.

* * * *
For a listing of upcoming events for the rest of this week visit BobDylanWay.com
Of Note: Joan Osborne is a really good whistler!

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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