The 19th annual Bob Fest concert at the Spring Green General Store is sometimes confused with the political event “Fighting Bob Fest,” named after the progressive governor of Wisconsin at the turn of the century.
Bob Fest organizer and General Store owner Karen Miller said Bob Fest has nothing to do with politics and instead, celebrates the music of folk legend Bob Dylan.
It’s a day when everyone’s name is Bob, and where men, women and even children wear an adhesive nametag that simply says “Bob” while musicians take over the General Store’s little back porch.
But music fans over 50 will equate many of Dylan’s tunes with political causes, especially the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s.
Dylan himself is notoriously ambiguous about his own politics, even though his music was anthemic to more than one generation that spoke out against war and injustice.
But this year, Miller said a little bit of politics may be blowin’ in the wind at Bob Fest on May 29 when U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold gives a short speech and works the crowd.
“I do have a policy that Bob Fest is politically neutral,” Miller said, “but it was Russ Feingold. He’s going to change his name to Bob that day.”
The idea of Bob Fest started about 20 years ago when Miller and some friends of hers, all Dylan fans, had a casual conversation about how nothing really happens in Spring Green on Memorial Day weekend.
Very close to that is Dylan’s birthday on May 24. He turned 75 this year.
In 19 years, however, those times were a-changin’ when the event grew from a small audience in the basement of the General Store to a full day and a crowd of more than 1,000 in the years when the weather has cooperated.
Miller said it’s the music that brings people back each year, rain or shine.
“Last year it was cold and rainy,” Miller said. “I’m still emotionally in recovery from it. What’s funny is that the people who hung out and stayed had raincoats and umbrellas, and I had more people come up to me and say it was their favorite Bob Fest ever because they had the place all to themselves. Every single musician showed up.”
In years past, the long lineup of musical acts coordinated who would play what Dylan song to avoid repeats.
This year it’s a free-for-all at which the repertoires consist of whatever songs the musicians want to do from the 50-plus years of Dylan’s catalog.
Trailer Kings guitarist Troye Shanks of Merrimac is among 18 musical groups or solo performers appearing at Bob Fest. Shanks is playing a 25-minute solo set at 3 p.m. It’s his sixth appearance at Bob Fest.
He said he might decide the night before what Dylan tunes he’ll do.
“I’ll listen to the groups before me and if they play a song I plan to play, I’ll change to something else,” Shanks said. “I probably won’t know until I plug my guitar in.”
Shanks said what started as a tiny music venue has grown to a well-known annual event in the area.
“I like the fact that everybody in the community supports it,” Shanks said. “They all come out — the old, the young, farmers and bikers. It doesn’t matter what kind of music is played, people just sit down and have a good time. Even in the rain people are still really into it.”