Ballad of a Dylan worshipper

The 400 Bar’s annual Dylan Sound-Alike draws many a fan

Jay Boller

Bob Dylan Sound-Alike Contest WHEN: May 23 WHERE: The 400 Bar As a casual Bob Dylan fan and cover song enthusiast, I decided it might be worth a go to visit the 400 Bar’s annual Bob Dylan Sound-Alike contest. As a means to make up for impossible drink revenue, the 400 Bar required all persons under the age of 21 to pay a $5 cover. Being a man of limited means, I was upset, but would later (post-malt liquor consumption) oblige.

My friend and I agreed that a Bob Dylan cover show would be best attended after a few drinks, but with beer in our backpacks and no place in the immediate area to imbibe them, we had ourselves a problem. Because of my general craftiness and Augsburg College’s West Bank locale, the hour before the show logically consisted of us pounding 40s in the third-floor bathroom of the chemistry building (take that, campus security!). After our 40-pounding, it was off to see the cavalcade of Dylan impersonators.

As the show began, I chatted with a number of the participants about the three core questions that surround any Bob Dylan impersonator: What it takes to impersonate Dylan, why they’re worthy to impersonate Dylan and what their favorite era of Dylan’s music is.

One factor that kept coming up was whether or not mimicry of Zimmerman’s distinctive (and of debatable quality) nasal voice was of much importance. Answers were decidedly varied. “I think just the pitch of his voice is probably the key. You kinda gotta get that nasally sound. And then his accent that he does, would probably be a big part of it too,” offered Chris Osmiss, a 16-year-old who bore a striking resemblance to a very young 1962 “Bob Dylan (S/T)” era Dylan, who turned out to be a worthy sound-a-like.

Ben, an affable contestant who appeared a bit “spirited,” said, “I don’t know what the key is. I didn’t memorize the words so Ö I’m probably not very worthy myself.”

Ben went on to be a crowd favorite as he read the music and words for “When the Ship Comes In” from a book in his lap and sang incoherently into his guitar’s mic. The applause for alcohol consumption and its effects/Ben was thunderous.

Two of the more poignant moments came in the form of a pair of old friends and one young superfan. The two old gents in question, who I would later learn are named Jimmy and Kip, played laid-back and somber renditions, most notably of “The Times They Are a’ Changin.”

For the past six or seven years, they’d entered the contest but couldn’t remember the exact number because they’d “been drunk the other times.” It was sweet to see two old pals play the music they love and Jimmy, proud in his wheelchair, beamed as the two mimicked Dylan with great reverence and passion.

The other star of the night came in the form of 12-year-old Max, a babyfaced and adorable guitarist, who has seen Dylan perform live in five of those 12 years. At first Max struggled with his chord progressions, but he quickly gained confidence and won over the crowd.

Throughout the night there were good, bad, sober, drunk, impassioned and passive participants. One man, visually impaired and possessing the look of a balding burnout, lashed out at the crowd saying, “All you people without guitars, you suck! I lost the contest.” Burnouts aren’t right about much in this world, but he did – in fact – lose the contest. They can’t all be Bens.

State pride seemed a major theme for the night. Almost half of the people I spoke with mentioned Dylan being a Minnesota native as one of the reasons for their love of the legendary songwriter.

Jeremy Bishop, the 400 Bar’s likeable Emcee for the night, summed it up with, “It’s always been fun. It gives fans who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to get up on stage.”

One day before his 67th birthday, the infamous native from Hibbing, where he was still known as “Robert Zimmerman,” would have smiled upon the folk community coming out to honor one of their own (Newport Folk Festival and following electric endeavors notwithstanding).