Dave Saperstein
Bob Fest emcee Dave Saperstein called Bob Dylan the greatest American songwriter in the last 69 years. Samara Kalk Derby

SPRING GREEN - How big has Bob Fest gotten?

It's gotten so big it has spawned a book-end Beatle Fest on Labor Day weekend.

Bob Fest - not to be confused with the political Fighting Bob Fest in September in Baraboo - is a celebration of the life and music of singer-songwriter-poet Bob Dylan, and has been going on here in the backyard of the Spring Green General Store and Cafe since 1998.

Started to commemorate Bob Dylan's May 24 birthday, the store's owners have held it the following weekend, the Sunday before Memorial Day, so more people turn out. Each year, for the past three years, the event has drawn close to 1,000 people throughout the day.

Dylan fans brought their own folding chairs and camp chairs, some brought children and dogs. A few women brought their knitting. Many congregated under large shade trees drinking local Furthermore Beer as temperatures reached the lower 90s. Lots of fans wore name tags that read, "Hello my name is: Bob."

Todd Miller, who owns the Spring Green General Store with his wife, Karin, said it's the perfect event during the tough economic times. "There is no charge. There's nine hours of free music. The musicians seem to love to do this."

Sixteen acts, including Miller, played the festival Sunday in mostly half-hour segments. Musicians submit the songs they're playing ahead of time to avoid duplication. Competition for slots is heavy, with most musicians contacting Miller early in the year. All of the performers volunteer their time.

Festival founder Don Greenwood, 61, of Spring Green, called Dylan's music an amazing use of the English language.

"He's our modern day equivalent of Shakespeare. My friends at APT don't always agree," he said, referencing the nearby American Players Theatre.

"People come to hear the songs. It's a nice way to start the summer off," Greenwood said.

Dave Saperstein, in his third year as emcee, told the crowd that the whole idea of the festival was to "celebrate the work and the life of the greatest American songwriter in the last 69 years," to which there was overwhelming applause. "We're celebrating him and all of his contributions. He's still making music, thank goodness."

Dylan has cast a shadow over American music and influenced anybody who's made popular or American music in the last 50 years, Saperstein said later. "You can't help but be influenced by him," he said.

Arvid Berge opened the festival with a six-member backup band called Street Legal, named for Dylan's 18th studio album, released by Columbia Records in 1978. Berge has played the festival three or four times, and noted that it was the first place he'd played in public.

"It's so much fun. Fun, fun, fun," he said. "It's an opportunity to get together with friends and rehearse songs everyone's fairly familiar with. And of course, it's a good way to honor Bob Dylan. I'm a lifelong fan."

Karin Miller, the store's co-owner, said it used to be you could roll a bowling ball through town and not hit anybody on Memorial Day weekend.

"Basically everybody left town," she said. So when Greenwood suggested a festival honoring Bob Dylan she and her husband held an open mike indoors in the cafe space.

In 13 years it's grown so big that last year when Todd turned 50, he marked the occasion with the first annual Beatle Fest.

"Around here, if you start something you make a lifetime commitment," Karin said. "It's all Beatle songs and it's hard to find anyone that doesn't like the Beatles."

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