It’s most appropriate that Family of Woodstock’s Crisis Hotline and John Herald Fund should be the beneficiaries of the Bob Dylan Birthday Celebration concert, to be hosted this Sunday evening by the Bearsville Theater – not only because the late John Herald went back a long ways with the birthday boy (who turns 74 on that very day), but also because it was sort of on account of Dylan that Family got founded in the first place.
Many of the young ragamuffins who stepped off the Trailways bus into the heart of Woodstock without a place to sleep or a penny in their pocket in the late ’60s and early ’70s were coming there on pilgrimage to the shrine of the great folk/rock poet. Dylan is said by some to have exaggerated the severity of his injuries from his 1966 motorcycle wreck in order to get off the road and spend some time cocooning with his young family at their Byrdcliffe home; but they were so persistently hounded by uninvited visitors that they ended up moving to New York City in search of greater privacy.
But the hippies kept on coming, older Woodstockers complained about people sleeping on their lawns, and the local police started harassing and jailing the new arrivals. So in 1970, Gail Varsi and some other compassionate residents of the community began offering temporary shelter, food and counseling to these refugees to Woodstock Nation, and let the police use her home phone number as an emergency referral for kids in need or legal trouble. That phone number, 679-2485, remains to this day Family’s Crisis Hotline number and the first point of contact for the now-veteran community organization’s Walk-in Center at 16 Rock City Road.
Nowadays Family of Woodstock’s clientele base leans more toward domestic violence victims and people with HIV/AIDS, mental illnesses and suicidal impulses than hairy young music fans living out of backpacks; but the organization still feeds the hungry, houses the homeless and provides refuge for runaways. “Any problem under the sun” is its motto. The John Herald Fund was set up in memory of the singer/guitarist to provide small lump sums of financial aid to people in need of a one-time boost like a prescription refill or an auto repair to help them climb out of adverse circumstances.
Guitarist and music teacher Happy Traum – who initially collaborated with Dylan in 1963, recorded the first-ever versions of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” with the New World Singers and performed on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 – has been organizing these annual birthday bashes for seven years now. As usual, he calls in a lineup that features old Woodstock hands from the Dylan days like Marc Black and Tim Moore, along with relative newcomers to the community.
This year’s list of musicians includes Traum, Black, Moore, Cindy Cashdollar, Jerry Marotta, Zach Djanikian, Pal Shazar with Josh Colow, John Ashton (formerly of the Psychedelic Furs), Sarah Fimm, the Stacks, Lindsey Webster, Eric Redd, Kyle Esposito, Robert Burke Warren, Sin City, the Saturday Night Bluegrass Band, Nick Spinetti and the Paul Green Rock Academy. Expect some “special guests” yet to be announced, and expect a hefty selection of material drawn from Dylan’s groundbreaking first electric album, Bringing It All Back Home, whose 50th anniversary is being celebrated this spring.
The Bob Dylan Birthday Celebration begins at 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 24. Seats sell out completely every year, so get your tickets now by calling (845) 679-4406 or visiting www.bearsvilletheater.com. Ticket prices are $100 for Golden Circle seating plus five raffle tickets, $65 and $45 for regular reserved seats and $25 for standing room. Raffle prizes will include a signed photograph of Dylan by Elliott Landy and a signed poster by Milton Glaser. The Bob Dylan Birthday Celebration is sponsored by WDST Radio Woodstock 100.1.
Bob Dylan Birthday Celebration to benefit Family of Woodstock, Sunday, May 24, 8 p.m., $100/$65/$45/$25, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, www.bearsvilletheater.com.