Bob Dylan has played thousands of concerts in his life, but it’s a sign of how prolific he is as a recording artist, as well, that there are still hundreds of songs he’s sung in a recording studio but never performed live.
Guy Davis sang three of these songs — “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” “Sweetheart Like You” and “Walkin’ Down the Line” — to a capacity crowd at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair on Saturday, in a deep dive of a Dylan birthday tribute (he turns 75 on May 24) titled “Million Dollar Bash.” Eighteen songs were sung, ranging from famous to obscure, and from more than half a century old to fairly recent. Lucy Kaplansky, The Kennedys and Rod MacDonald were also on the bill in a show that may have been the world’s first celebration of Dylan’s milestone, which is still more than two and a half months away.
All the artists stayed onstage throughout the evening and backed each other on many songs. Pete Kennedy was the designated lead guitarist, Maura Kennedy the busiest background vocalist; MacDonald and Davis added harmonica to other artists’ songs from time to time. Davis occasionally switched from guitar to mandolin, Kaplansky from guitar to piano. Mark Dann played bass throughout the evening.
The six musicians have been friends or at least acquaintances for a long time — Kaplansky said that she has known MacDonald, a fellow veteran of the Greenwich Village folk scene, for 38 years — and seemed utterly at home with the material.
Kaplansky seemed to dig the deepest, emotionally, on stunning versions of songs like “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Every Grain of Sand,” while Davis sang with conversational warmth on “Lay Lady Lay” and “Sweetheart Like You,” and offered both uplifting humor and expert folk-blues finger-picking on “Walkin’ Down the Line.” Maura Kennedy’s voice and Pete Kennedy’s guitar steered “Mr. Tambourine Man” toward Byrdsy folk-rock, even without drums, and Pete brought Hendrixian fire and dexterity to “All Along the Watchtower.”
MacDonald’s jaunty “Duquesne Whistle” was the most recently written song of the night, and the evening peaked with his intense, driving “Tangled Up in Blue,” featuring solos by Davis (harmonica), Kennedy (guitar) and Dann (bass). The song was introduced with a mention that it won the Outpost’s pre-show Facebook poll of listeners’ favorite Dylan songs; its album, Blood on the Tracks, finished first in a separate albums poll.
Best non-musical moment of the night: After Pete Kennedy talked about seeing Dylan perform “Chimes of Freedom” at the Lincoln Memorial, at the all-star 1993 Bill Clinton inauguration concert, Davis mentioned that his father, the late actor and activist Ossie Davis, introduced Dylan when Dylan performed at the same location in 1963, before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Here is the show’s setlist:
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Maura Kennedy, MacDonald and Kaplansky)
“Sweetheart Like You” (Davis)
“Duquesne Whistle” (MacDonald)
“It Ain’t Me Babe” (Kaplansky)
“Chimes of Freedom” (The Kennedys)
“Lay Lady Lay” (Davis)
“With God on Our Side” (MacDonald)
“Just Like a Woman” (Kaplansky)
“Mr. Tambourine Man” (Ensemble)
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (Kaplansky)
“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” (MacDonald)
“Walkin’ Down the Line” (Davis)
“The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” (The Kennedys)
“Every Grain of Sand” (Kaplansky)
“Tangled Up in Blue” (MacDonald)
“Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (Davis)
“All Along the Watchtower” (Pete Kennedy and MacDonald)
“Like a Rolling Stone” (Ensemble)