When pop music fans throughout the world simply use the name "Bob" -- as in "Bob is an icon" or "Bob is the greatest," they are most likely talking about Mr. Bob Dylan. But when local musicians and fans refer to "Bob" they are likely referring to Mr. Bob Cilman.
Cilman is a local icon that wears two huge hats. The first is director of The Northampton Arts Council since 1989, where among many duties, he organizes the Annual Transperformance, showcasing the area’s vast musical talent while raising money for artists and schools. He also directs The Young@Heart Chorus, the amazing group of senior citizens that tours the world singing rock songs to international acclaim.
Back in March, when Cilman announced that he was stepping down from the Arts Council to devote his energies to the more-popular-than-ever Young&Heart, local musicians stepped up to plan this year’s Transperfomance to be an homage to Cilman, calling it "Beyond Bob."
Happening this Tuesday, Aug. 27, the 23rd annual five-and-a half-hour extravaganza is sure to be as entertaining as ever -- with covers of Bob Marley, The Band (Robbie Robertson), the Grateful Dead (Bob Weir), Bob Seger, Roberta Flack and many others, including, of course Mr Dylan. It is likely to be its most emotional.
It will certainly be that way for Transperformance veteran F. Alex Johnson, best known for his fretwork with the now disbanded Drunk Stuntmen, who currently plays guitar for Young@Heart, as well as fronting his own rocking trio, Colorway. In the past he has transperformed heroes such as Jimi Hendrix, Willie Nelson, Trey Anastasio, Brian May, David Gilmour, Prince, Duane Allman and Mick Ronson. This year he will perform with all three of his bands, taking on Dylan with Young@Heart, Cheap Trick with Colorway, and he gets to be Jimmy Page when The Drunk Stuntment reform for the night to rock the crowd as Led Zeppelin.
In an e-mail exchange, Johnson discussed what this year’s "Transpo" means to him. "I’m so thrilled to take part in all three bands that have defined me and my residency in the Valley. ... It’s all right there. My whole career spanning 20 years of making music in one evening, outdoors, with my peers, my family, my friends, and my elders all around. My mom and aunt used to come to every year’s event. They’d bring their lawn chairs and Pepsis and hang out and cheer for their boy. They’ve both passed on now, but my girlfriend’s parents are picking up the torch, driving all the way from Buffalo, and will be there in their own lawn chairs keeping the tradition alive."
Another layer of emotion for Johnson is his connection to Cilman, who has served as a mentor and will continue to be his boss with Young@Heart. "Bob and I go back to about 1995 when we did our first Transperformance as Willie Nelson at ‘A Night at the Opry.’ I had only moved to the Valley a few years prior and was still learning the ropes of the scene here. He’s helped me and the groups I’ve been involved with in so many ways. Getting The Stuntmen involved with the Young at Heart and taking us to Europe back in 2004 certainly got things in place for my eventual involvement with the senior sensations full time. I certainly wouldn’t have seen as much of the world had it not been for him."
It is sure to be a nostalgic and emotional night for Cilman as he presides over his final Transperformance. In an e-mail, he recounted some of his fondest transpo memories.
"The Drunk Stuntmen absolutely killed it as Hank Williams. ... Lord Russ did an amazing Moody Blues, and his Iggy Pop running around the park slathered in peanut butter could have been the most amazing moment." Cilman went on to cite too many other memories to list.
But to quote the late George Harrison, all things must pass. And after 23 years at the helm, the 60-year-old Cilman is ready to pass the Transperformance torch.
"I hope it has a long and glorious future. ... When you turn 60 you like to think of yourself as still being progressive and forward thinking, but the truth is you can’t avoid the tendency to be stuck in the past. It is time to re-imagine this thing."
That may be true, but to quote Mr Dylan, "When the winds of changes shift/May your heart always be joyful/And may your song always be sung/May you stay forever young"
Transperformance XXIII Beyond Bob is Tuesday, Aug. 27, from 4 9:30 p.m., in Look Park in Florence, Mass. Tickets are $8, $10 at the door; Advance tickets are available at www.northamptonartscouncil.org.
Dave Madeloni writes a music column for the Arts & Entertainment section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.