On Nov. 9, 2014 the Alumni Recital Hall was flooded with the songs of Bob Dylan and The Band from the previously unreleased Basement Tapes.
A performance of the previously unreleased songs was put on by Howard Fishman and his band at the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College. According to his website, howardfishman.com, The Basement Tapes Project has been an ongoing project which debuted in May 2006 in New York City as, “A three-night marathon performance of the complete ‘Basement Tapes.’” Onstage, Fishman explained how he was inspired by a book entitled “The Old, Weird America” by Greil Marcus, which explores the world of Bob Dylans’ Basement Tapes.
Since its debut, this marathon performance has now been condensed into a musically powerful, hour-and-a-half jam session between the performers. Fishman and his band performed about 12 songs plus an encore, as requested by the crowd. Not all of the songs were Dylan and The Band originals though — one of the last songs of the night was an American-murder ballad called “Pretty Polly.”
According to pigeonsandplanes.com, murder ballads were not unique to America but were “First found in Europe a few hundred years ago, these poems and songs have since become heavily associated with traditional American music from the South.” Fishman had some personal commentary on why he performed this murder ballad.
“[I am] not necessarily proud to be an American these days, but [I am] always proud of the music,” Fishman explained. The rest of the songs were Dylan and The Band originals, which neither the audience or the band members had heard before the performance. KSC Senior Brian Rogers explained his deep, personal connection with the performance and noted that he had never heard the songs previously.
“I honestly thought it was really, really incredible. I have never heard any of the songs that they played, but I personally have a pretty special connection with Levon Helm and The Band in general,” Rogers said, “I grew up ten minutes south of where he [Helm] finished out the rest of his days and The Band has been my favorite band since I was about twelve years old.”
Rogers went on to commend the artists on Fishman and his band’s portrayal of the musicians. “I really feel like they did a really incredible job of portraying the weirdness — portraying the absolute weirdness that they really embodied as a band in their earlier days,” Rogers said.
Another audience member had a strong connection with the music as well. Erik Labieniec said that growing up with the music of Bob Dylan was, “Super big in my house. My brothers were into him, so I was into him.” Of the performance itself, Labieniec said that he thought it was fantastic.
“I thought it was pretty fantastic — kinda blew me away. They really jammed. I just saw the posters around and me and my friends were like ‘Love folk, better come see it,’ you know?” Labieniec said. Although Fishman and his band were performing Dylan’s music, band member Skye Steele expressed that he hadn’t really started listening to Dylan until his early twenties, since his parents were not huge fans themselves. Steele went on to explain how the 1976 album Desire was his “gateway drug” into Bob Dylan’s music.
“When I found the Desire album, that was the first time I was really like ‘Oh, what is all this?’ and that was sorta the doorway into his stuff for me,” Steele explained, “Because there is a lot of very idiosyncratic fiddle playing on that record and it was sort of a gateway drug for me, but he’s since become a big influence on my songwriting.”
Emily Bouffard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org