RED BANK: KEEPING BOBFEST FRESH

Shore troubador Pat Guadagno returns to the Count Basie Theatre Thursday for the 2013 edition of the Bob Dylan birthday bash known as BOBFEST. (photo by John Posada)

By TOM CHESEK

Like the grandest and most history-steeped Chuck E. Cheese on the planet, the Count Basie Theatre has been the setting for some special birthday parties across the years — including crowdpleasing annual tributes to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Beginning in May 2012, the Basie boards have also played host to a homegrown event that honors a decidedly still-alive-and-kicking music icon: Bobfest, a salute to Bob Dylan‘s birthday created by and starring Monmouth County’s own Pat Guadagno.

It’s a logical progression for the springtime tradition that began life in 1999 as an impromptu birthday-boy toast to Dylan at the old Downtown Cafe — and evolved from a loose jam at various local taverns to a tightly constructed stage extravaganza that spent six years in residence at the Two River Theater.

Having attracted international attention from diehard Dylanites — and having outgrown the 350 seats of Two River’s mainstage Rechnitz Theater  — Guadagno moved Bobfest a couple of blocks east to the Count’s place last year. This Thursday night — on the eve of the 72nd birthday of the former Robert Zimmerman — the self-described “saloon singer” of 1,001 tap rooms and watering holes returns to Red Bank with his allstar combo Tired Horse, for the 15th edition of a project that he characterizes as “not a tribute — a celebration, and a really polished show.”

Pat Guadagno (left, with Richard Blackwell) brings an expanded lineup of his Bobfest backing band Tired Horses to the Basie boards on Thursday night. (photo by Suzy Graham)

Speaking to redbankgreen prior to his regular Monday night gig at Jamian’s — a transplanted tradition that he maintains even in the thick of rehearsals for the Bobfest program — Guadagno praises the former and current staff of the Basie for making his production feel at home inside a local landmark that’s “just the greatest room — a place that’s got a lot of memories for everyone who’s been there. I saw my first movie there!”

“It’s a little bit of a bigger production, light-wise and sound-wise, than we did over at Two River,” he observes. “It’s more of a rock show now, and there’s no limit to how many people we can fit on the stage.”

The brother-in-law of the Garden State’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, remains well connected in regional musical circles, and the yearly Dylan shows have historically allowed Guadagno (who performs as a solo act for a good portion of each year) to assemble a dreamteam of veteran Shore area talents that have included Mary McCrink, Rich Oddo, Andy McDonough, Phil “Red River” Rizzo, Yuri Turchin and Rene Woolley.

With a genial old Jersey Shore casual style, and a physical presence that evokes David Crosby more than it does the dour Dylan, Guadagno neither looks nor sounds the part of a “Legends In Concert” lounge-act impostor — a fact that’s allowed the seasoned interpreter of classic pop songwriters to put his own spin on the Bob songbook, snatching harmony and melody from the jaws of Dylan’s own sinusy sing-speak and raggedy arrangements.

With scores of Dylan compositions to choose from, the setlist is an ever-morphing thing that manages to  encompass such hardy perennials as “Like a Rolling Stone,” in addition to lesser-known numbers like “To Make You Feel My Love,” a song that vocalist McCrink has enchanted with her own special take.

“We keep things from the records that make the songs what they are, and we each bring things that come from us,” Guadagno explains. “We don’t just chop ‘em up and throw ‘em out there.”

Scheduled to join the Tired Horses band for the 8 pm performance are multi-instrumentalist  Marc Muller (of Shania Twain’s band), Steven Delopoulos (of Burlap to Cashmere), Hammond organist Jeff Levine, and veteran bluesman Rob Paparozzi (taking over harmonica detail from Guadagno’s late friend and colleague, Nashville songwriter and Red Bank area native Danny Petraitis).

Guadagno will honor the memory of another special person in his life when, for the tenth consecutive year, he’ll donate a portion of the Bobfest proceeds to the Anthony X. Guadagno Rock and Roll Music Fund, a scholarship named for his late brother and longtime bass player that allows young New Jersey musicians to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music. For the second consecutive year, former borough-based artist David Banegas will donate a painted portrait to raffle off, and Jersey 101.5’s Big Joe Henry returns  as emcee for the night.

Tickets for Bobfest 2013 are priced at $19.50 – $39.50 and can be reserved right here. Check Guadagno’s website as well for info on his typically busy performing schedule, as well as his CD release of Bob covers, That’s a Bob Dylan Song.