Those who consider Kesha’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” on Sunday’s (May 22) Billboard Music Awards a declaration of independence clearly missed her sing on night one of the Best Fest’s Dylan Fest on Monday (May 23) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Wearing a sparkling light blue western pantsuit and bare feet, Kesha captivated her hometown crowd with an empowering performance of “I Shall Be Released,” a Dylan song The Band recorded for Music From Big Pink. She blew everyone away as she threw her hands up in the air singing, “I see my light come shining/From the west unto the east/Any day now, any day now/I shall be released.” The performance received one of the night’s biggest standing ovations (despite the fact the Ryman requires patrons to wear shoes for entry).
The Cabin Down Below Band backed approximately 25 musicians representing country, Americana and rock at Monday’s (May 23) concert, kicking off the Best Fest’s two-night Dylan tribute for the music legend’s 75th birthday. Between songs, emcee, bassist and music critic Austin Skaggs entertained with a wealth of Dylan facts and trivia.
Emmylou Harris, Nikki Lane, Wynonna Judd and the Big Noise and Holly Williams delivered the night’s big country moments. Harris smooth voice never wavered when her acoustic guitar broke free from its strap on the Shot of Love track “Every Grain of Sand.” Then Judd and Heart’s Ann Wilson, joined Harris onstage for the Oh Mercy song “Ring Them Bells.” Introduced onstage as the Queen of Outlaw Country, Lane sang the Nashville Skyline’s “I Threw It All Away.” Blonde on Blonde session player Charlie McCoy joined Williams onstage for “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
Nashville singer Ruby Amanfu silenced the crowd in the pews with her moving version of “Not Dark Yet,” a song Dylan wrote for the late George Harrison while Harrison was sick with lung cancer. The song was recorded for Dylan’s Grammy-winning album Time Out of Mind, and Amanfu’s studio version is featured on her critically acclaimed 2015 collection Standing Still.
Harrison’s son Dhani made his Ryman debut with “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” from Dylan’s 1962 self-titled album. Dressed in a sequined champagne halter dress, model-musician Karen Elson transformed the Ryman stage into a jazz club with a “Cold Iron Bound” from Time Out of Mind.
The loudest standing ovation went to Nashville rockers Moon Taxi, who delivered an electrifying version “All Along the Watchtower.” The night ended with an all-star sing-a-long of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” from The Basement Tapes.
The Dylan shows continue tonight (May 24) with Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves. Proceeds will benefit the local non-profit, Thistle Farms, which supports women suffering from abuse, addiction, trafficking and prostitution.