Bob Dylan and Ozzy Osbourne don't have a whole lot in common. But one distinction the two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers do share is that they are each bigger than their respective genre. No folk, rock, country or, to use categorical parlance of the moment, Americana artist from the mid-'60s on could ever say they're not in Bob Dylan's debt — the singer's immeasurable influence is as integral to the craft of modern songwriting as wood is to carpentry. In a more parochial sense, when it comes to heavy metal, the same goes for Osbourne, who, starting in 1996, cashed in on his role as the genre's godfather, heading up the decade-plus-running, multi-metal-band-breaking Ozzfest tours — and he did so at a time when metal couldn't have been less cool.
If Dylan were to pull a page from Ozzy's playbook, the perennial journeyman troubadour — whose "Never Ending Tour" has been going strong since 1988 — would've called his current outing Bobfest. But he didn't. Instead, the jaunt — a summertime Rolling Thunder Revue of sorts, in the model of '90s touring festivals like Lollapalooza, Warped Tour and yes, Ozzfest, that features roots rockin' Dylan footstep-followers Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Never Ending Tour alum Bob Weir (of Grateful Dead fame) — is called AmericanaramA. The name is an obvious attempt to catch a wave on the burgeoning Americana boom.
As usual — albeit haphazardly — Dylan was ahead of the curve with his consistently constant touring model. As record sales have vanished as a reliable revenue stream for artists of all stripes (this side of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, anyhow), even internationally famous rock giants like Wilco and MMJ have relied on the road to make ends meet, logging heroic numbers of dates on grueling touring cycles that, for many active artists, are like Dylan's — never-ending. Wilco's latest LP, The Whole Love, came out in September 2011, and the band has played more than 150 shows since, including a 2011 two-night stand at the Ryman and a main-stage set at Bonnaroo just two weeks ago.
My Morning Jacket's latest, Circuital, also dropped in 2011. And even though Jacket frontman Jim James is in the midst of promoting his solo debut Regions of Light and Sound of God with club dates and daytime slots at festivals like Bonnaroo and Hangout, he's putting that on hold to rejoin his band for this AmericanaramA trek. This AmericanaramA appearance — which hits The Lawn at Riverfront Park, aka the spot where Lamar wants to build a baseball stadium on the Nashville series — is a de facto makeup gig for the Jacket, who were set to headline last year's ill-fated and ultimately canceled SoundLand Festival, originally slated for the same venue.
Likewise, Bob Weir is certainly no stranger to the road. The Grateful Dead co-founder and frontman has spent more of his 65 years on it than off it, in the process going from looking like a Vietnam Era hippie college dropout to looking like a bearded, bohemian college professor. The Dead made their career as road dogs for decades, never relying on record sales. Even when "Touch of Grey" became a fluke hit in 1987, the band merely used it to turn frat brothers and sorority sisters into Deadheads and make the jump to summer stadium tours to offset their annual winter arena residencies. Weir recently gave Heads concern when, at a Furthur gig in Port Chester, N.Y., in April, he collapsed onstage and subsequently canceled a string of gigs, citing an undisclosed health issue. That respite from the road was relatively brief, however, as Weir will appear, performing solo a acoustic set, on the first four AmericanaramA dates, including Nashville. Other cities will get either the Richard Thompson Electric Trio or Ryan Bingham in the opening slot.
Like Weir, Dylan — whose 35th studio LP The Tempest landed in September — has weathered considerably as he's traveled from stage to stage, year after year. These days The Bob — who, with tendonitis having forced him to give up the guitar, performs mostly while stationed at a keyboard — takes stages dressed like a Faulknerian Southern gentlemen and croons his classics — typically re-imagined in dirgy blues form by his top-notch loyal backing band — in a gravelly voice that's more Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade than Nashville Skyline or New Morning. He'll play staples along the lines of "Tangled up in Blue," "Blind Willie McTell," "Visions of Johanna" (with any luck, as a duet with Weir, who routinely covered the song in The Grateful Dead) and "All Along the Watchtower," though you may not recognize them until the first chorus. But for many Dylan die-hards, hearing the constant evolution of such classics keeps the Dylan concert experience vital.
It's hard to tell if Dylan still actually enjoys performing — it certainly doesn't always look like he does — but to this day the man is a master of disguise; at age 72, he probably wouldn't keep it up at a (relatively speaking) Black Flag-worthy pace if he didn't dig it. The man collects mailbox money on what is potentially one of the most valuable catalogs in music — he can certainly afford to stop touring, and yet he carries on.