No one seems to agree on precisely which day it was in May of 1966 that Bob Dylan’s artistic triumph, his double-album set “Blonde on Blonde,” hit the shelves of record shops. But we know for certain that it was on Valentine’s Day of that year that Bob Dylan’s affection for Nashville officially began. It was on Feb. 14 of that year that Dylan took up residence in Columbia Studio A, where―with the help of first-call session players―he would succeed in overcoming the obstacles that had deterred the completion of “Blonde,” his seventh long player.
Had this event not taken place, it’s quite possible that the Country Music Hall of Fame might now be featuring something other than the currently running Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City exhibit, which heralds the sea change set into motion by Dylan’s discovery of the magic Nashville’s best musicians could conjure.
One of the culture’s most scrutinized and influential artists, Dylan’s tacit approval of the Nashville system brought an influx of pop, rock and folk artists whose presence here transformed Music Row’s landscape. The artifact-packed exhibit gives much-deserved props to notable pickers of that transitional mid-’60s and mid-’70s period. Similarly, had it not been these critical events centering around Dylan, Nashvillians likely wouldn’t be just a matter of days away from not one, but two May events celebrating rock’s poet laureate and perhaps its most enigmatic character.
On May 12th and 13th, acclaimed Americana string band Old Crow Medicine Show will perform “Blonde on Blonde’s” 14 tracks at the Hall of Fame, while later in the month on May 23rd and 24th, a one-of-a-kind lineup of special guests will join forces at the Ryman Auditorium to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday with a musical tribute. The two Old Crow Medicine Show performances, set to take place at 8:00 p.m. at the Hall of Fame’s CMA Theater, will find the band of Dylan diehards translating his landmark 1966 album through their own particular musical filters. That’s not sacrilege; that’s in the spirit of the album’s Nashville sessions, which themselves were marathons of creative boundary stretching. The Medicine Show’s deep knowledge of Dylan’s discography and history will also inform the concerts, with alternate live versions of some of “Blonde’s” songs being drawn from later Dylan performances such as his appearance at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh.
The spirit of that pioneering fundraising event, in fact, will be a facet of the Dylan Fest at the Ryman, partial proceeds from which will go to Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based charity that supports a community of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Headlined by Emmylou Harris and featuring an eye-crossing cross-section of artists from Kacey Musgraves and Heart’s Ann Wilson to Boz Scaggs, Wynonna and, fittingly, Dhani Harrison, and many more. Harrison’s world-famous father, George, would also help put Nashville on the global map by whisking pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake to England, where he participated in Harrison’s hugely successful post-Beatles solo debut, 1970’s “All Things Must Pass.”
Harrison hired Nashville-based Drake, in fact, at the recommendation of a much-respected friend and collaborator. Who, you ask? Um, some guy named Bob Dylan.
Tickets for both events are now on sale. Old Crow Medicine Show tickets are available through the official Country Music Hall of Fame website and tickets for Dylan Fest at the Ryman are available here.