BobFest photo
Over the past dozen years, BobFest at the Spring Green General Store has grown so much that there is a waiting list of performers who want to play at the one-day event that will be held on Sunday. photo by Carissa Dixon

For years Don Greenwood carried around a cassette recording of a song that was never finished.

Most of the words were garbled nonsense that stood in place of actual lyrics.

The song was called "I'm not there," and it struck a nerve in Greenwood to the point he couldn't put it down.

It didn't matter he couldn't sing along or understand the words - that's never been a problem for Greenwood. He's been a fan of Bob Dylan for 45 years, and is still learning something each time he listens to his music.

"Anybody who claims they really understand Dylan's work are in some sort of fantasy (world), Greenwood said with a laugh.

It's the rare work, the snippets of music that Greenwood prides himself on finding, that makes him a Dylanologist.

But he realized one day that he needed to do something more to preserve Dylan's music.

In the early 1990s, Greenwood attended a Dylan concert at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee with his daughter and her boyfriend. After the concert, they went to a party where Greenwood saw about 20 people, all half his age, deeply into Bob Dylan.

There was a guy in one corner showing a video of a Dylan concert, and another person showing off his suitcase of Dylan music.

"I'm sitting there thinking, there's hope for this world," Greenwood said.

That's when it struck him that he needed to help bring Dylan's music to new generations.

After talking with fellow Spring Green resident Todd Miller, an event called BobFest was formed in the late '90s on the grounds of Miller's Spring Green General Store.

While Miller wasn't a Dylan fan at the time, he wanted to have an event over Memorial Day weekend for something to do in the area.

"This guy is the Shakespeare of our age," Greenwood said. "We need to do something to keep it in front of people."

BobFest, not to be confused with Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo, is now in its 13th year this Sunday. It attracts those who want to hear Dylan music and a growing bunch who want to sing it.

" We generally get 800 to 1,000 people coming back," Miller said. "It turned into kind of a big event."

Finding Dylan

Attending a Bob Dylan concert, you're never quite sure who will show up.

Will it be the Dylan whose songs are on albums worldwide? Or the Dylan who mumbles through sets?

When Don Greenwood first saw Dylan perform in 1965 in Chicago, he was a skeptic of his music, but walked away with a new appreciation.

Soon after, he and his friends started collecting and sharing Dylan's work, trying to understand what it all meant.

"He didn't seem to be really big on showbiz, or being really nice to the audience or anything," Greenwood said. "He seemed pretty much like he is now. I'm here to do what I like, if you like it, great, if you don't, tough luck."

Dylan's songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" became anthems in the 1960s for the Civil Rights and anti-war movements.

As Dylan's sound has changed over time, Greenwood has enjoyed the ride - and the concerts.

"Only on special occasions would you really call it singing," Greenwood laughed.

While he believes Dylan is the best songwriter ever, Greenwood also enjoys Dylan's voice.

"I think his singing is wonderful," he said.

Since BobFest was created, Miller has seen Dylan perform several times, and has become a fan. He said he's always surprised at what Dylan will do with his own songs.

"Sometimes (they're) almost unrecognizable," Miller said.

Greenwood's knowledge of Dylan's music is impressive. He rarely, if ever, comes across something he hasn't heard. But he's not the type of fan that collects things like concert ticket stubs or merchandise. He's in it for the music.

But if he wants to see stuff like that, he could visit one of his friends in Duluth, Minn., who went as far as buying the home that Bob Dylan was raised in

for his first five years. Back when his name was Robert Allen

Zimmerman.

The Wonder Boy

The first BobFest started at a time when Dylan's career was kind of at a low point. About 80 people attended the event, with most of the performers being solo acts with a few duos sprinkled in.

"No, we didn't think it would take off," Greenwood said.

Now, there are about 50 musicians who end up on stage during the event, touching on all periods of Dylan's career.

Marty L'Herault has performed at every BobFest except one and said it's a perfect event because of Dylan's large song catalog.

A Spring Green resident, L'Herault has spent this past week teaching freshman English and has talked with students about the meaning of songs.

"Some of the boys in the class are giving me a hard time about Bob Dylan," he said. "Just because the music has been around a long time doesn't mean it's not cool music."

L'Herault said that those attending BobFest will leave with an appreciation for Dylan's music, even if they came into it thinking he isn't much of a singer.

While it started out with just locals, Miller said there is now a backlog of people who would like to play at BobFest, which has remained a free, family-friendly event.

The only obstacle the event faces is rain. If showers move in, the event is moved inside the General Store, but there is only enough room for 150 people.

To keep the event fresh, Miller posts past song lists on the General Store's Web site so people can figure out what they want to perform.

"Locally, there is a lot of support for it," Miller said of the amount of performers who live close to the event.

Dylan's music has found a resurgence over the past decade, and he's taken home Grammys and even an Oscar for his song "Things Have Changed," which he wrote for the film "Wonder Boys."

The performers at BobFest bring their own sound and take on Dylan's songs, something that Dylan does himself.

"I don't know how anybody can try to sound like Bob Dylan. Every time he does (a song), they sound different than before," Greenwood said.

"Every once in awhile you will get someone who sounds like Dylan at a point in his career."

BobFest has been so popular that last year Miller decided to create another event for Labor Day weekend to act as a bookend to the summer.

In its first year, BeatleFest attracted about half the crowd BobFest does, but it is off to a strong start.

But for Greenwood, it's Dylan's music that captivates. He said he still is uncovering things each time he listens to his work, and that's what has kept him a fan all these years.

At BobFest, Greenwood may be the only person in the audience who has recognized every song performed over the past 12 years.

And this year he will be performing about three songs, which will include one "very obscure outtake."

"I just ask for 15 minutes," he said of performing at the event. "Andy Warhol said it was enough."

 If You Go

What: BobFest.

Where: Spring Green General Store.

When: Sunday, May 30.

Time: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Web: For a list of musicians, go to springgreengeneralstore.com.