Le­gends close out Sum­mer­fest

Bob Dy­lan and Wil­lie Nel­son brought icon­o­clas­tic spirit to Amer­ica’s big­gest mu­sic fes­ti­val.

Star Tribune - - MOVIE GUIDE - JON BREAM jon.bream@star­tri­bune.com 612-673-1719 Twit­ter: @jon­bream

MIL­WAU­KEE – The mas­sive AFI Am­phithe­ater was dark Sun­day save for seven dimly lit movie-set spot­lights on­stage and the faint dark blue of the sky in the hori­zon as night­fall ar­rived. Amid the vague am­ber glow of those lights, Bob Dy­lan was croon­ing “Once Upon a Time” like time had for­got­ten who he was.

Be­fore too long, he tore into “Bal­lad of a Thin Man,” one of his scorchers from the 1960s. And then the 20,000-some con­cert­go­ers here ap­pre­ci­ated the sig­nif­i­cance of Sum­mer­fest, on the fi­nal night of its 50th an­niver­sary as Amer­ica’s big­gest mu­sic fes­ti­val, book­ing two Amer­i­can mu­sic in­sti­tu­tions — Dy­lan and Wil­lie Nel­son.

Ac­tu­ally, the pro­gram was billed as the Out­law Fes­ti­val, or­ga­nized by Nel­son, with ap­pear­ances by Ja­son Is­bell, Sh­eryl Crow, Nathaniel Rateliff, Margo Price, Lukas Nel­son and, of course, Dy­lan and Nel­son. Not that any of them are truly out­laws. Icon­o­clasts, though, def­i­nitely.

Even though Dy­lan opened with his Oscar-win­ning “Things Have Changed,” the more apt theme was the stan­dard “Why Try to Change Me Now?” “Why can’t I be more con­ven­tional?” Dy­lan, 76, asked with the Cy Cole­man lyric.

Be­cause you’re Bob Dy­lan and you do things your way. The No­bel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture hasn’t changed him or the way he ap­proaches con­certs. Per­haps the flow from his own clas­sics to stan­dards seems more seam­less — or maybe we’re more ac­cus­tomed to him do­ing stan­dards af­ter five al­bums’ worth.

On Sun­day, Dy­lan, who hasn’t per­formed in the Twin Cities since 2014, trans­formed the gui­tar show­case “High­way 61 Re­vis­ited” into a piano boogie, heated up “Sum­mer Days” into a rock ’n’ roll romp and reengi­neered “Duquesne Whis­tle” into a jump blues com­plete with swingin’ gui­tar by Char­lie Sex­ton.

How­ever, “Stormy Weather” threat­ened to be for­get­table, and “Des­o­la­tion Row” lacked its usual po­tency. But then Dy­lan ended the 15-song, 75-minute set with the al­ways pow­er­ful “Bal­lad of a Thin Man” and nary a word, just a bow, with his hand touch­ing his heart.

If Dy­lan looked natty in his white sport coat, black shirt and bolo tie, two-tone cow­boy boots and black pants with a white stripe, with curly, bed­head hair, then Nel­son was Mr. Ca­sual. He had his usual jeans, T-shirt, ban­danna, braids and weath­ered acous­tic gui­tar.

Un­like at his re­cent ap­pear­ance at Trea­sure Is­land Casino in Red Wing, Nel­son, 84, was in good spir­its and voice; he was fo­cused and per­son­able. He also played lots of gui­tar, in­clud­ing the gor­geous Django Rein­hardt in­stru­men­tal “Nuages” and a splen­did jazzy coun­try pas­sage dur­ing “Bloody Mary Morn­ing.” His band also in­cluded his son, gui­tarist Lukas Nel­son, who did not ap­pear at Red Wing.

Lukas Nel­son added a bluesy bite, es­pe­cially on a crowd-thrilling ver­sion of Ste­vie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.” Crow, Price and Amanda Shires from Is­bell’s band joined Wil­lie Nel­son on “Still Not Dead,” “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and “I’ll Fly Away,” which made a fes­tive fi­nale for the nine-hour pro­gram.

Ear­lier in the evening, Is­bell de­liv­ered a ter­rific, com­pact set of Amer­i­cana. He brought ur­gency and mu­si­cal va­ri­ety in a quick hour, in­clud­ing a rip-roar­ing trib­ute to the late Gregg All­man, the All­man Broth­ers’ clas­sic “Whip­ping Post,” end­ing with Is­bell’s trippy gui­tar work.

Crow also saluted All­man with “Mid­night Rider,” a duet with Lukas Nel­son at the end of her set. Her per­for­mance re­minded fest-go­ers what a deep skill set she has (singer, per­former, bassist, gui­tarist, song­writer). How­ever, her new song “Be My­self” is not strong enough to be a hit.

Rateliff, a hard­work­ing, Van Mor­ri­son-in­spired R&B shouter from Colorado, proved his bona fides with the tight, al­ways en­ter­tain­ing Night Sweats, who weren’t daunted by per­form­ing in broad day­light. They clearly have more ex­pe­ri­ence than Lukas Nel­son, whose song­writ­ing didn’t mea­sure up to his con­sid­er­able gui­tar skills.

As for Price, she may not be ready for big am­phithe­aters, but she has an affin­ity for word­play and old-school coun­try that will serve her well in honky-tonks.

This is the sec­ond year Nel­son has taken the Out­law Fes­ti­val on tour. The artists vary from city to city. Among the oth­ers on tour this year are Van Mor­ri­son, Eric Church, My Morn­ing Jacket, the Avett Broth­ers and Black­berry Smoke. But for its big Sum­mer­fest an­niver­sary, Mil­wau­kee landed a spe­cial lineup.

CHRIS PIZZELLO • As­so­ci­ated Press file

Bob Dy­lan’s No­bel Prize hasn’t changed him or his ap­proach to con­certs.

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