Music-Based Tourism and Placemaking in Dylan’s Northland

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Bob Dylan @ The Beacon Theater, Nov. 2018. Photo courtesy Nelson French

Yesterday’s Duluth News Tribune featured an update on the state of tourism here by Visit Duluth president & CEO Anna Tanski. I found this particular passage in the article uplifting:

Bob Dylan and outdoor adventure remain the two top draws for international media and visitors. In recent months, Visit Duluth has hosted travel writers, influencers and media/TV from Australia, China, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. Stories have started running and will continue well into 2019, shining the international spotlight on our city, hopefully spurring travelers to experience Duluth for themselves.

As a member of the Duluth Dylan Fest committee it has been gratifying to welcome some of these journalists and media folk. The list of visitors goes further than the nations cited in Anna Tanski’s column. Duluth warmly welcomed a pair of Pakistani journalists this fall, one who called Duluth the Best Place for Meditation. In 2017 we had a visit from a Rolling Stone journalist from France. who greatly enjoyed standing before the stage where a young Robert Zimmerman stood when Buddy Holly performed here.

This past October it was a treat to meet a team from the BBC who flew to Minnesota to cover the upcoming election. They were torn between Rochester and Duluth, but descended upon our city because one of the men was a Dylan fan. In covering the Northland they visited the John Bushey Studio at KUMD to interview Miriam, host of the Highway 61 Revisited program. From there they caught a few of us at Carmody’s Irish Pub where the Duluth Dylan Fest team was finishing up a planning meeting. You can catch the dialogue here, approximately 40 minutes in.

I mention all these things because reading yesterday’s article seemed to be a much needed public acknowledgement that Dylan’s ties to the Northland have real value for the community, something that has not always been recognized.

When I first moved to Duluth in 1986, efforts to create a Bob Dylan Way had been continuously thwarted. For decades. It wasn’t until May 2006 that the City of Duluth designated a cultural pathway to honor Duluth’s native son, Bob Dylan, and to commemorate his 65th birthday. It still required a group of citizens to raise private dollars to create and install 30 street signs that mark this pathway.


There is much that has been written about music-based tourism. One of the foremost scholars on this subject is David Leaver of Manchester, England, who twice visited the Northland as part of his research endeavors. Here are links to abstracts for a few of his papers.

Before They Were Famous: Music-Based Tourism and a Musicians Hometown Roots

Together Through Life — an exploration of popular music heritage and the quest for re-enchantment
Premise: Set against the backdrop of the historical shift from modernity into postmodernity, this article explores the growing importance of music destination tourism for the baby boomer generation in their quest for personal and social meaning.

‘Tangled up in Bob’: An ethnographic case study of the impact of local Bob Dylan heritage on place branding in Hibbing, Minnesota.
Abstract: This case study explores avenues for symbiotic co-branding of local music heritage sites in Hibbing, Minnesota, an isolated mining town with a strong local culture, where Bob Dylan grew up and lived from 1947 to 1959. Music heritage based tourism focusing on sites of biographical significance is a growth sector in countries with mature tourism and music industries, such as the US and the UK. Based on two field visits and correspondence, this ethnographic study applies ethnographic aims to generate an understanding of the perspectives and orientations of key Hibbing stakeholders. Issues of access to the field and the negotiation of multiple roles of the researcher as fan, observer and participator are discussed. Findings provide a holistic image of events, drivers and barriers and ‘tell the story’ of the contribution of Hibbing’s Bob Dylan heritage towards a local sense of place. Building on the conceptualization of ‘place brand’ as a relational network which emerges as an ongoing interactive process between ‘place’ and all its stakeholders, the paper suggests ways in which Dylan’s Hibbing heritage can both further attract and inform his fan base while recognizing local sensitivities and resources. * * * *

London, England, 2009. Courtesy William Pagel Archives. Writing for World Archaeology, Timothy Darvill’s Rock and soul: humanizing heritage, memorializing music and producing places offers these additional insights about music and place.
Place production through the formal process of ‘place-making’ and the more informal evolutionary expediency of ‘place-marking’ has become a major theme of sustainable development, conservation and regeneration in recent decades. Popular music heritage has played a part in this, and has great potential to contribute more. This article explores the ways in which tangible and intangible heritage combine to underpin place-production linked to popular music. Examples of the achievements of popular musical heritage in relation to three discernible kinds of place-production are explored: linear places epitomized by roads and routes such as Highway 61 and Route 66; dispersed places represented by memorial plaques and statues on buildings and in open spaces; and concentrations of connected elements such as can be found in Liverpool (UK) and Memphis (USA). It is concluded that popular music culture continues to have an important role to play in the creation of powerful places and that social conventions and commercial interests now contribute to the perpetuation of interest in these places and the traditions they represent.

Of course the references to Route 66 and Highway 61 especially jump out, having travelled portions of both, each laced with nostalgia dripping with Americana. It was a privilege to welcome a caravan of Airstreamers to Duluth this past September who had come to begin their own trek from the Northland here to New Orleans. (See: Airstreamers Arrive in Dylan Country.)

It is exciting to see the progress being made in Hibbing and here in Duluth. There’s more to be said, but this is enough for now. The links below will take you further.

Originally published at on January 2, 2019.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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