Since the dawn of rock and roll in the early 1950’s, few songwriters have had the cultural impact as Bob Dylan. Over the course of the last six decades, the Nobel Prize-winning laureate has penned some of the most stirring lyrics to ever be put to music.
In honour of Dylan’s 76th birthday this week, a group of Saint John area musicians – Brent Mason, Jessica Rhaye, and Bonnett House among them – will tip their hat to the legendary Dylan at the city’s Pub Down Under on Friday evening the best way they know how: Through song.
“I was 14 years old, growing up in Bellisle Creek, and I came across a Bob Dylan 8-track in a bargain bin for 99 cents,” Mason recalls. “From the moment the music started to play, it just hit me like a brick, that there was more going on in the world than anyone in Bellisle Creek was talking about.”
Discovering the works of Dylan was a significant revelation in Mason’s life, undeniably influencing not only his work as a singer-songwriter, but literally thousands of others from all corners of the globe. Mason doesn’t hesitate to compare Dylan’s keen sense of observation and way with words to one of literary’s greatest names – Shakespeare.
“I was reading a biography of Shakespeare and couldn’t help but noticed a lot of parallels between his life and Dylan’s. They both relentlessly absorbed the world around them and turned those observations into a whole new language that would come to define generations after them. In Dylan’s case, he completely redefined how music could be communicated in a way that nobody before him had really done.”
Asked why he believes Dylan’s work continues to resonate with generation after generation of music fans, Mason believes that good, authentic music is something that will forever stand the test of time.
“You don’t win a Nobel Prize for Literature for nothing,” Mason notes, referring to Dylan’s historic win last year when he became the first songwriter to receive the honour.
“That being said, I’m always anxiously looking towards the next generation, curious if they will or won’t get weaned on some of the greatest musicians of our time, like Dylan. It would just be such a shame if his music was overlooked by future generations. There’s a lot to be taken from it, even more than 50 years later.”
Mason says that while previous iterations of the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash have been centered on a particular theme or album, this year’s event is a free-for-all of sorts, that will allow each of the performers to pick and choose the Dylan songs that mean most to them.
“Dylan himself liberally re-arranges his material these days, but it’s how each of the artists chooses to interpret the material that always proves to be one of the most interesting aspects of the show to me,” he says. “I expect nothing less this time around.”
For Hampton’s Jessica Rhaye, who released her latest album The Song In Me this past September, the influence of Bob Dylan dates back to her childhood.
“My parents were always big fans of his work and always had his music playing on the stereo in our house while I was growing up,” she recalls. “Listening to and singing his music takes me back to that time in my life when I was free as a bird, with no worries or cares in the world. I just love how timeless his songs are, and how poetic, rough, raw, beautiful and real they sound.”
What: The 8th Annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash featuring Brent Mason, Jessica Rhaye, Grant Heckman, Bonnett House, Adam Washburn, Mike Peters, Sadie Ann Donahue and The Resonant
When: Friday May 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Pub Down Under, 400 Main St., Saint John
Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door.