First, British rocker Ian Hunter did it, in June, 2009. Then Ringo Starr did it in July, 2010. Had John Lennon lived, he would have done it, too, last October. Now it’s Bob Dylan’s turn — to turn 70 years of age, that is.
As the big date arrives, there will be numerous tributes to the snarly voiced bard, including “Blondes on ‘Blonde on Blonde,’” a celebration of the 45th anniversary of Dylan’s classic album — and a salute to his 70th birthday — on Saturday, May 21, at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing in Titusville, presented by Concerts at the Crossing.
Featuring a quartet of charismatic women singer-songwriters, who all happen to have blonde or dirty blonde hair, the concert will showcase such classic songs as “Just Like a Woman,” “Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat,” and “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35.”
Singer-songwriter Danielle Miraglia, who lives in Cambridge, MA, will perform not only Dylan’s songs but some of her own, influenced by Dylan. “I’ll probably do my song ‘You Don’t Know Nothing’ because it was definitely born from reading Dylan’s biography (‘Positively Fourth Street’),” Miraglia says in a phone interview. “I wrote it around the time I was reading the book, and there’s a line in there about ‘getting to the truth of things.’ That line helped the song come together.
“Dylan is absolutely an influence on me, and I think anyone who is a songwriter has been somewhat influenced by him, any songs that have poetry to them,” she says. “He has such a wealth of songs, you could have a college degree in them. Dylan brought social commentary to rock and roll.”
Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941, in Duluth, MN, he was probably the most influential American pop musician in the 1960s and continues to inspire countless musicians and songwriters from all genres. He is still touring and recording, too. He performed in China in April. Some of Dylan’s more recent recordings have been praised as some of his best.
Many of his fans of a certain age might still remember him as the curly haired hipster, seen on the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” walking through Greenwich Village with a beautiful lady hipster on his arm. That woman, Suze Rotolo, who really was Dylan’s girlfriend and influenced some of his famous early songs, just died in March.
In addition to Miraglia, the May 21 Dylan tribute features Sloan Wainwright, and yes, she is part of “that clan.” She’s Loudon Wainwright III’s sister, and aunt to Rufus and Martha Wainwright. A compelling live performer who likes to take the concert audience on a full-tilt journey, Wainwright has an original style, a soulful hybrid somewhere between pop, folk, jazz, and blues.
Virtuoso guitarist, singer, and composer Vicki Genfan, also on the program, uses 29 different tunings on the acoustic guitar as well as a percussive technique she calls “slap-tap.” She is known for her warmth, humor, and storytelling, and putting her unmistakable imprint on familiar songs by Dylan and the Beatles.
Just 19 and balancing a musical career with her studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Brittany Ann Tranbaugh, the fourth blonde on the program, says her mother told her she could sing before she could talk. She was fortunate enough to study at the Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts in Bethlehem, PA, and her songwriting talents matured early. She recorded her first album last year. Her self-released “The Good in That” is a collaboration with Grammy-winning producer Glenn Barratt.
Miraglia grew up north of Boston, in the shore town of Revere. In a bit of “six degrees of separation,” she was stunned to read in Dylan’s biography that he and some friends hung out on Revere Beach long ago. “There’s a scene in the book where they’re on the beach,” she says. Her dad was a waiter and her mom was an office manager who was passionate about music, especially Motown.
“Motown was some of the first stuff I heard,” Miraglia says. “There was always music in the house. I always loved music and had a passion for it, and my grandfather was a musician, a trumpet player. But as far as getting into music and playing it, I was more influenced by my friends than family.”
In addition to Dylan, Miraglia says she was influenced by a mixture of musicians and styles, starting off with the classic rock her parents listened to, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.
“When I first started, it was rock music, but then I started to learn who had influenced those people, dug a little deeper, and found the blues,” she says. “So, yes, acoustic blues artists like Mississippi John Hurt influenced me. Also, great songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon — who is such a musical person, were big for me.” She graduated in 1998 from Emerson College in Boston and majored in creative writing.
Her career blossomed outside of Boston and especially in Cambridge, an especially supportive community for young talents. “This area is so fruitful for anyone who wants to play live,” Miraglia says. “There are open mic sessions any night of the week. It’s such a great scene. I thought I would move away after college, but when I started playing music, I decided to stay here. It’s like I went to my first open mic night and found my tribe.
“You can play as much as you want, there are so many artists, and we like to help each other out. That’s a huge part of growing as an artist,” she continues. “There’s a mutual love for music, and that’s why I love concerts like this one (on May 21). We’re sharing a mutual admiration for a writer who has influenced all of us.”
Miraglia had originally planned to be a novelist. As prose influences, she names John Irving, Lorrie Moore, and especially Tim O’Brien, whose short story collection “The Things They Carried,” inspired by the Vietnam War, greatly moved Miraglia. “It seems odd, because I wasn’t writing about war, but he was a big influence,” she says. “It’s fiction but also non-fiction at the same time. I read an interview with him, and he said that he had to elaborate on the details in order for the reader to understand the feeling of being there in Vietnam. With John Irving, I loved his writing, with all its depth and detail. You get to know the characters so deeply that you’re crying by the end of the novel.
“I’d been playing the guitar since I was 13, and music was always there, but when I graduated from Emerson, something changed,” she says. “I started writing more poetry than prose, and it just kind of merged with the music. Then it turned into everything I wanted to do. My writing changed through time because it’s a different thought process from writing novels.”
Her significant other, bassist, engineer, and producer Tom Bianchi, plays and tours with Miraglia sometimes. She is also a part-time mom to two stepsons, ages 9 and 13, and seems to be able to balance family life and a career in music. “I’m not constantly on the road, just mostly out on the weekends, and then I go on some longer tours a few times throughout the year, so Tom and I are together a lot; in fact we just did a little tour,” she says. “He has his own band, too, but when I do the band thing, he’s the bassist.”
The two musicians are putting the finishing touches on a new album together in their home studio, with Bianchi engineering and producing. (Miraglia previously released “Nothing Romantic” in 2005.) They hope to release it in June, but have one little problem. “We don’t a name for it yet,” Miraglia says. “In fact, we’re taking votes from our fans and friends for what it’s going to be called.”
Blondes on “Blonde on Blonde,” Concerts at the Crossing, Unitarian Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville. Saturday, May 21, 7:30 p.m. A 45th anniversary celebration of Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” and his 70th birthday, featuring four blonde women singer-songwriters: Danielle Miraglia, Sloan Wainwright, Vicki Genfan, and Brittany Ann Tranbaugh. $20; $5 age 14 and under. 609-510-6278 or www.concertsatthecrossing.com.