Newest ‘King of the Bobs’ crowned Dylan contest

Montpelier’s fourth annual “Dylan Wannabe” contest has evolved from a sweaty, high-energy jam to a fundraiser in a formal setting with only a hint of the usual antics.

Two traditions – the music of Bob Dylan and the YMCA – were celebrated Saturday night in the City Hall Arts Center as 19 area musicians vied for the prize.

Gabe Halberg, 35, of Plainfield took first place and was dubbed “King of the Bobs” for his version of “Visions of Johanna.”

A professional tabla player with the world fusion music group 35th Parallel, Halberg pulled out his guitar for the second year in a row to become Bob. Last year Halberg took second place.

Event organizers sold 350 tickets to fill each chair in the vast room.

New this year was a $10 cover charge to benefit the creation of a central Vermont YMCA, refreshments for sale, and a long walk from the front row to the stage.

Contenders ranged in age from 15 to 65 and came from as far away as Newport and New York’s Hudson Valley.

Before the show, performers milled around the side of the stage waiting nervously for the playing to begin.

“If I can play half as good as I look, I think I’ll do OK,” said Mark Richards, 45, of Beacon, N.Y. “I’m gonna try and play ‘Tangled Up In Blue.'”

Richards explained the impact of Dylan: “If at least one or two of his songs don’t move you, then you must be dead.”

“I am a big fan,” Richards added. “He’s been a lyrical genius and during his time he wrote songs on target with the politics and culture.”

A returning contender, Anna Beerworth, 19, of Milton, wowed the crowd with her very own interpretation of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” while most of the contestants were men playing Dylan straight with drawl and harp-blowing intact.

Beerworth, a student at the University of Vermont, took second place for her performance.

Another returning contender, third-time “Bob Dylan” Charlie Barasch, 57, was a fan of the upscale venue for the contest.

“I think it’s great,” Barasch said. “It certainly is good for the audience.”

“King of the Bobs” Halberg agreed that the arts center was an improvement over the venue of the previous two years, the Unitarian Church basement.

“I liked the informal nature of last year’s, but I think everyone was more comfortable tonight,” he said. “It had a better sound system; it was just better all around.”

Bill Carroll, 48, of Newport, engaged the audience with his version of “Man Gave Names To All The Animals” and took third place for his performance.

The original creator of the event, Patrick Mullikin, passed the event on to friend and YMCA board member Michelle Leno of East Montpelier this year after he decided he wouldn’t do it a fourth year.

Four years ago Mullikin started the contest to get people into his record store, Riverwalk Records, then located next to the empty storefront where the contest was first held.

Mullikin no longer owns the store but kept up the event because of its popularity.

Leno is working to create a YMCA in the Montpelier area, “just to have a central Vermont community facility that would promote good health and activities,” and when she learned Mullikin wasn’t planning to organize the contest again, he encouraged her to take it on as a fundraiser, she said.

Six judges included 13-year-old Aaron Gould-Kavet, Barre’s Mayor Thom Lauzon and WGDR radio station manager, Greg Hooker.

One thing that did remain the same, each of the players was introduced as “Bob Dylan.”

“That’s amazing that people are willing to pay to come to this,” Mullikin said. “Last year it was free and packed. This year it’s packed and it costs $10. It made no sense to do it as a private citizen. I think the fact this is a fundraiser is 99 percent of why people showed up.”

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