RED BANK: ‘BOBFEST’ OF DYLAN, WAR & PEACE

A promo video recaps the history of the annual Bobfest salute to Bob Dylan, which returns to the Count Basie Theatre Thursday night.

When he first offered an impromptu birthday toast to Bob Dylan during a 1999 set at the old Downtown Café in Red Bank, Jersey Shore “saloon singer” supreme Pat Guadagno didn’t harbor any thoughts of making Bobfest an annual thing, let alone an ever-expanding phenomenon with a life and passionate following all its own.

“Saloon singer” supreme Pat Guadagno, originator and leader the Bobfest.

Even as the musical party evolved from a loose jam session at various Shore pubs to a well-organized special event at Two River Theater — and eventual graduation to the considerably larger auditorium of the Count Basie Theatre — the show remained at heart a hootenanny among friends, a tip of the harmonica holder from one veteran musician to the master songsmith who inspired a generation and then some.

When the 19th edition of Bobfest takes to the famous Basie stage Thursday night, one day after the 76th birthday of the “Forever Young” son of Hibbing, Minnesota, it will serve to honor not just a grizzled and well-traveled troubadour, but the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature — a selection that popped more than a few monocles. And rising to the challenge, Guadagno will be treating his faithful audience to a heaping helping of “War and Peace.”

No, there won’t be any readings from that epic-length Tolstoy text. But the set will include a carefully curated body of songs, drawn from over 50 years of Dylan recordings, a catalog that spans the defiant damnations of “Masters of War” to the hopeful hymn “Chimes of Freedom.” In between are inspirational folk anthems, story-songs of miscarried justice, declarations of spiritual awakening and examples of poetic wordplay that critics and scholars have been parsing for half a century. Some remain rooted to a particular time and place, many as relevant as ever, and all come from the pen of the man who once observed that “even the President of the United States/ sometimes must have to stand naked.”

While you mull over that image, consider that Thursday’s show also represents the annual roundup of the “Tired Horse” band, an all-Shore assemblage of talent that has historically included Marc Muller, Yuri Turchin, Mary McCrink, Rich Oddo, Steve Delopoulos, Joe D’Angelo, Andy McDonough and Phil “Red River” Rizzo, with whom the singer has worked for over 40 years. New Jersey 101.5’s Big Joe Henry returns once more to master the ceremonies — an event for which Jersey Mike’s Subs is offering to cover admission for U.S. military veterans and their families (go here for details).

At the center ring of the circus stands Guadagno, whose own personal neverending tour has seen him perform for ballpark throngs and barroom stragglers alike.

Opening the show will be Jackson Pines (featuring Joe Makoviecki and James Black of the acclaimed band Thomas Wesley Stern), and earlybird attendees can enjoy a 7 p.m. pre-show cocktail set by Frank Lombardi, out on the Count Basie’s patio. The theater’s lobby will host a display of Dylan-related artwork and memorabilia.

Tickets for Bobfest 2017: Songs of War and Peace ($20 – $39.50) can be reserved right here.