Starting off as a small gathering of friends paying tribute to their favorite artists at a tiny bar in New York City’s Lower East Side, ten years later, The Best Fests––which encompass Dylan Fest, Petty Fest and Stones Fest––have grown to become a coast-to-coast rock and roll tradition.
A few nights ago I had the pleasure of attending Dylan Fest in San Francisco, and while the free whisky from Jameson (VIP status over here) certainly helped to lift my mood, I really only have good things to say about the event. The Great American Music Hall provided a magnificent backdrop, and both the performers and audience equally paid their respects to their hero as the evening unfolded into more of a celebration than a concert.
The show ran sort of like The Last Waltz, where the backing band––lead by Best Fest founders guitarist Alex Levy, bassist Austin Scaggs and drummer Matt Romano––called out songs and introduced guest singers. The band was spot-on, complete with pedal steel and B3 organ, plus a horn section featuring former Sly and the Family Stone members Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini.
I don’t consider myself the world’s biggest Bob Dylan enthusiast, but I’m certainly a fan, and Dylan Fest was a reminder of the unbelievable weight and scope of his work. San Francisco’s Chuck Prophet gave one of the best performances of the night with “Everybody Must Get Stoned,” a number that featured some ripping guitar between Prophet and Levy, and the searing brass section rocked equally as hard.
Laura Johnston’s vocals shined in her performance of “Make You Feel My Love,” while Rayland Baxter’s rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” inspired some of the audience into an arm-in-arm singalong. Later into the night, after my fair share of Jameson and gingers, I started to lose track of the songs which left me pondering how on earth these guys managed to memorize all of these verses in the first place.
One of the coolest aspects of Dylan Fest is the charity tie-in. 100% of all ticket proceeds went directly to Sweet Relief, aiding the organization in providing financial assistance to career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. If that’s not a good reason to get together and celebrate one of rock and roll’s greatest legacies, then I don’t know what is.
Tom Gilbert is a guitarist (and aspiring pedal steel player) living in the San Francisco Bay Area. When he’s not blogging for Acoustic Nation, eating Thai food or being obsessed with his dog, Tom does marketing and PR for music and audio companies with Mad Sun Marketing.