Birthday fest for 70-year old Dylan turns 39 in Northeast


Guwahati too joins tribute brigade along with Lou’s annual fest in Shillong


Unless he has a fascination for travel to lesser known destinations or has heard about the north-eastern corner of India, Robert Zimmerman, in all probability, has not even heard about Shillong. Or Guwahati for that matter. And if he has, or the day he comes to know about the existence of this remote corner on the world map, he surely will be in for one of the biggest surprises of his life. I am talking about the tribute fest dedicated to this man and which has carried on in Shillong for almost four decades now.

A first-timer might call it strange. Maybe even crazy. But whatever he decides on in the end, the fact remains that one cannot ignore the intensity of the tributes being paid in Shillong to this man who continues to occupy centre-stage in the global music map for half a century now under the adopted name of Bob Dylan. Led by Khasi guitarist-singer Lou Majaw, the Bob Dylan tribute fest in Shillong has carried on without interruption ever since it started, irrespective of whether it rains or whether there is a crowd, attaining national and global popularity as a one-of-its-kind festival.

One-of-a-kind, this festival surely is. After all, how often is it that you get to hear about a musician organizing a tribute festival for the greater part of his whole life simply as a mark of respect for his idol – a person whom he has never seen perform and whom he had heard only on the radio. The Bob Dylan tribute fest in Shillong is the perfect example of how one man’s respect for his favourite musician has slowly engulfed the hearts and minds of all the people in the city and State he lives in. The fest traces its humble beginnings to the Assam Club of Shillong where it was first held on May 24, 1972.

Bob Dylan is no stranger to fame. In a life spanning the trademark rollercoaster rise of a true artist, he has attained legendary status for the lyrical content of his songs and his firebrand form of protest, accentuated by the nasal twinge in his voice. His six-minute single ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ in 1965 had revolutionised popular music by altering popular attitudes regarding pop. Winner of numerous awards including Grammy, Golden Globe, and the Academy Award, he also has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

But more than his induction into any hall of fame, the rich legacy and fan base that Dylan has created along his journey to give voice to protest through words and music should be seen to be believed. And what better example can anybody find than the celebrations in Shillong?

Every year, hundreds of his fans in the Northeast and other parts of the country join Lou as he and other musicians celebrate the poet-troubadour’s birthday by singing his songs. The celebration is nothing elaborate and usually has Lou and other musicians singing popular Dylan songs and cutting a birthday cake, besides performances in schools and on the streets of the hill station. The only defining factor being the unfailing regularity with which the celebration is held.

Classic rock n roll band STAGS


Yet Lou, when asked about his yearly tribute, always has a single word for all the queries. Respect. “It’s just cos of the respect I have for Dylan. I respect him as a lyricist, as a writer of songs and poetry. His songs lit up my life and gave it a lot of meaning,” says the 64-year old, who is always found dressed in his trademark shorts and colourful socks, and who is also popularly referred to as Shillong’s own Dylan.

The Dylan celebration in Shillong this year was billed to be corporatised. This would have been a far cry from the impromptu sessions that usually marks the Dylan tribute. But unfortunately, the plan did not work out and the fest was held at the usual sports club.

Despite the hiccups in the corporatization of the Dylan dest, Lou’s devotion towards his idol however did inspire the birth of another round of celebrations, albeit this time in Guwahati. Some die-hard Dylan fans and regular visitors to the yearly celebration in Shillong got together to form the Guwahati chapter of the Great Dylan society in a bid to make up for their inability to go to Shillong on May 24. Led by Dr. Nandan Phukan, Navajeet Das, Sanjeev Gogoi and Mrityunjoi Borkotoki, a number of musicians and artists participated in the celebrations held at Cafe Hendrix.

“Shillong, which used to be just a couple of hours away earlier, seems to be very far these days on account of the ongoing road expansion. So we thought it would be much more easier for us fans if we started a simultaneous celebration in Guwahati as well,” says Dr. Nandan Phukan. A number of prominent musicians landed up in the evening at the cafe to jam along with city-based classic rock ‘n’ roll band Stags. Comprising Abhijit Das on drums, Jagadish on lead guitar, Peter Alex on rhythm and Katan on vocals, the group ensured that the merriment quotient was kept high throughout the evening.

Bob Dylan should certainly be proud to see his legacy in the Northeast. And to finish off, just like the fests here did, Happy Birthday Dylan, wherever you are!

Aiyushman Dutta
aiyushmandutta@gmail.com

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Posted on June 7, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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