A SIMPLE TWIST OF PAT FOR BOBSDAY

patguadagnobobfestaStuck inside of Red Bank with those Bobfest blues again: Pat Guadagno, seen here in a previous Bobfest at Two River Theater, musters his Tired Horses for the 2010 edition of the annual tribute concert. (Photos by Scott D. Longfield)

By TOM CHESEK

Before he was picked up by a Long Branch cop on suspicion of snooping around people’s windows last summer, Bob Dylan was beginning to display a certain curiosity about the Jersey Shore and his loyal local fanbase.

With two Shore area concerts in as many summers (at Asbury’s Convention Hall and Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park), the old master also took part, in a remote way, in a local/national food drive promotion last December, through sales of his most recent disc (the epochal Christmas In The Heart).

But if Dylan’s presence seems to hover over our home turf almost as much as the Boss and the Bonj’, it’s due in large part to the efforts of another local musical linchpin —  Pat Guadagno — and a Red Bank-based tradition that practically begs for the Bard of Hibbing, MN to come peeping in.

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For a band of so-called “Tired Horses,” Guadagno and company exhibit remarkable stamina in their famous full-length shows.

Now marking its fifth consecutive year on the stage of Red Bank’s Two River Theater, Bobfest returns to Bridge Avenue Monday night for the twelfth annual birthday celebration of Dylan and his music (the man turns 69 years forever young that very day).

If you’ve been on board for Bobfest from the get-go, you probably know that this scrupulously organized tribute show by Guadagno and his contemporaries on the Shore music scene began life as a loose jam session at the late Pat Nulle’s Downtown Cafe on Front Street — with that first ‘fest little more than a spontaneous birthday toast delivered by a solo Guadagno.

But if you’re just arriving to this party, you should know that Bobfest has grown into such a highly anticipated concert event that, unfortunately for you, sold out quickly and handily — a regular occurrence that Guadagno has taken steps to address.

“You’re the first one to hear this, but next year — which will be Dylan’s 70th birthday — we have contracted to do two nights at Two River Theater,” Guadagno tells redbankgreen by phone.

“We’ll be doing 70 different Dylan songs in two nights — what was I thinking?” the Bobfest bandleader adds with a laugh.

Truth be told, the Bobfest program offers a distinctly different setlist every year, with Guadagno and his band, Tired Horses, combing the massive Dylan database for “four or five songs that we just have to do every time. Other than that, everything is completely new.”

Another element of the show that morphs from year to year is the set design, since the Bobfest crew shares the proscenium with whatever play happens to be the current mainstage offering from the Two River company. Thus has the band found itself saluting Dylan in an appropriately rustic barnyard (for Mark Twain’s A Murder, A Mystery and a Marriage), a hotel in 1929 Argentina (Private Lives), and, for 2010, the antique Paris tavern of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile — a scene in which, Guadagno explains, “we feel right at home.”

“Of course we felt right at home the first time, too,” the singer/guitarist adds — a reference to the mental-hospital setting of 2006’s What the Butler Saw.

One factor that remains reassuringly stable is Guadagno’s ability to summon a cohesive band from “all the old cronies,” a gang of friends that includes the great vocalist Mary McCrink (whose rendition of the relative obscurity “To Make You Feel My Love” is a Bobfest perennial), the amazing multi-instrumentalist Andy McDonough, plus solid stalwarts Rich Oddo, Yuri Turchin, Rene Woolley and Phil “Red River” Rizzo, with whom Guadagno has worked for  nearly 40 years. Also promised for Monday’s show are guest performers Marc Muller (of Shania Twain’s band) and Steven Delopoulos (of Burlap to Cashmere).

It’s all part of an extended family for Guadagno, whose sister-in-law Kim is the Garden State’s first-ever lieutenant governor (brother Michael is a Superior Court judge in Ocean County). And, for the seventh consecutive year, Guadagno will honor his late brother (and longtime bass player) Tony by donating a portion of the proceeds to the Rock and Roll Music Fund Anthony X. Guadagno Memorial Scholarship, allowing young New Jersey musicians to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

What Bobfest is NOT is a “Legends” sort of sound-alike salute. Guadagno (who, to his great credit, sounds nothing like the gruff but lovable Dylan) and cohorts put their own spin on the Bob songbook, snatching harmony and melody from the jaws of Dylan’s own sinusy sing-speak and raggedy arrangements.

“We put the emphasis on the lyrics of Dylan’s songs,” Guadagno has said of his approach to the material. “I’m a big fan of his lyrics, because I’m not a songwriter.”

He’s also gone on record as “not a worshipper,” a respectfully grounded attitude that’s allowed Guadagno and band to release an entire CD of their Bob excursions, entitled That’s a Bob Dylan Song.

“It’s a real labor of love, doing a disc with 30 songs by someone else,” says Guadagno of the royalty-heavy project. “But the band was really tight, and we got a lot of positive response from it.”

In addition to practicing his “saloon singer” craft at venues up and down the Shore (and performing the national anthem at major league ballparks with his occasional bandmates in The Candle Brothers), Guadagno still performs the odd intimate Dylan set at places like Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park — a spiffy and space-age setting where he’s also been known to pay tribute to Tom Waits and, on Friday, June 18, the late Nashville songwriter (and Red Bank area native) Danny Petraitis.

But the Two River Theater gig remains a high point for the road-tested veteran, who professes to “look forward to it every year; it’s such a comfortable venue, and the people there couldn’t be nicer — they don’t get to do many rock and roll events, so they always treat us special.”