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October 21, 2016

The business of being Bob Dylan

Courtesy / The Bob Band The Bob Band, from left: Mary Maravic, standup bass; Dennis Bailey, lead vocalist, guitar; Bryan Litchfield, former drummer; Roy Fox, lead guitar.

There’s a sense of giddiness in Dennis Bailey’s voice when he recalls the first time that the music of Bob Dylan resonated with him: “‘Nashville Skyline:’ And only because Johnny Cash was on it. He wrote the liner notes and played on some songs. And I was like ‘who’s this?’ And from that moment on, it was like unearthing a dinosaur.”

Little did Bailey know that decades later, he’d be on stage singing those same songs that connected with him so profoundly in high school to crowds all across Maine and New England.

Bailey is the founder and president of Savvy Inc., a Portland-based PR firm that’s worked with a roster of well-known clients including L.L.Bean, Apple and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. But when he’s not busy getting the word out about others, Bailey moonlights as the lead vocalist of The Bob Band, a four-piece crew of Dylan fanatics that spreads the gospel of the recent Nobel Prize recipient.

“When the news broke about the Nobel Prize, I woke up to Tweets and emails from all kinds of people that Bob had won the Nobel — it was kind of like I had won it or something,” Bailey told Mainebiz. “Someone tweeted at me that the first thing they thought was: is Dennis Bailey out of bed yet?”

Bailey and the rest of The Bob Band play at least twice a month as part of a residency at The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport. The band has also played at countless other bars, private events and restaurants in and outside of Maine, but he’s quick to point out the life of a troubadour isn’t always the most lucrative.

If The Bob Band lands the rare gig of playing at a wedding they can make up to $1,200, but for most shows Bailey says that he likes to make at least $400, which will be split four ways. There have even been occasions where the foursome only make whatever comes in at the door, which can be even less than they make from a tip jar on stage.

And then there is the annual Harvest Ball in Starks, which The Bob Band has played for at least the last three years. And yes, Bailey says they usually open or close with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

“We’re a niche band. We only get booked by people who like Bob Dylan,” said Bailey. “There have been clubs that have said ‘Bob Dylan? No thanks.’ But we’ve surprised clubs who were unsure who then asked us to come back. People are surprised, because they don’t know Dylan, they don’t know his catalog.”

Dedicated base brings business

One venue that does know Dylan well is One Longfellow Square in Portland. Several years ago The Bob Band rang in the 45th anniversary of Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding” by playing the album from front to back at the popular venue. 

Now each year, the venue hosts The THE BAND Band, a Stony Point, N.Y.-based act that covers the music of Dylan and his long-time collaborators The Band to a sold out crowd, much to the delight of several nearby businesses who welcome the 185 devoted fans.

“It has a lot of really positive impact on the corner where we are,” Liz Pettengill, the director of marketing, community outreach and rentals coordinator of the 181 State St. venue, told Mainebiz. “All of those restaurants, from Boda, to Local 188, to LFK, [benefit] because it’s an influx of 100 plus people on a weekend night. We don’t serve food, so people go to those restaurants.”

And it’s a reliable group of fans as well. Pettengill said that the venue regularly gets calls from people asking when The THE BAND Band will be playing again, and Bailey says that many of the same people follow The Bob Band from show to show.

“I think [Dylan] has inherited a lot of the Grateful Dead’s audience since Jerry died,” said Bailey. “We get people that come to every show, the same people. They just love Dylan. They love to talk about Dylan.”

But don’t expect Bailey to leave behind the world of PR for Triumph motorcycles and Ray Ban sunglasses.

“We’re not in it for the money,” said Bailey. “Some people have bowling: I have a rock and roll band.”

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