Will Duluth get a Dylan Boulevard?

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan in a summer 2004 photo.
Photo by Getty Images

There's a story in Duluth about Bob Dylan and the city's old Armory. City councilor Don Ness says it's best told right here on London Road.

"In front of the old Armory, where Bob Dylan once saw Buddy Holly play, back when he was a high school student coming down from Hibbing," Ness says.

Just a few days later, Buddy Holly died in an airplane accident. Dylan has been quoted as saying the concert was a turning point in his young musical life.

A grass-roots group is working to restore the armory and turn it into a music center.

So City Councilor Don Ness says these few blocks of London Road in front of the Armory would be a great place to recognize Bob Dylan.

Don Ness
Duluth Councilor Don Ness wants to re-name, or perhaps just add signs, to part of London Road in honor of Bob Dylan.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

"It was 65 years ago that he was born in a Duluth hospital," he says. "And by honoring him I think we also honor ourselves as a cultural and arts center for this region."

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This has come up before. Twenty years ago there was a pitch to name a street after Dylan. But the city council rejected it.

People said Dylan had never done anything for Duluth. He'd never come back to play here.

But in the past eight years, he's performed two concerts here. One was on an outdoor stage, at Bayfront Park. Don Ness says Dylan seemed to be making a peace offering.

"He looked up in between songs, he looked up toward the hill, and said, 'Those are hills that I was born in, and it's good to see they're still there,'" Ness recalls. "That was a very small way for him to reach out to our community, and this street designation would be very small step for the community to reach back to him."

Even so, not all the city councilors are sold on the idea.

"I will say I'm not a huge Bob Dylan fan," says councilor Tim Little. But that's not why he's leaning against naming a street for Bob Dylan.

"I know if I were living on London Road, I certainly wouldn't want to rename the street, and have to change just about everything I have to reflect the name change," Little says.

But it wouldn't be like that, says Don Ness. He's not proposing to actually change the name of the street. He just wants to put up some signs to bring attention to the place.

Armory Sign
The sign outside the Duluth Armory where Bob Dylan saw Buddy Holly play one of his last concerts. Dylan has said that show inspired him to become a musician. Activists are working on converting the armory into an arts center.
MPR Photo/Cynthia Johnson

"The London Road signs will stay, and then below that we'll have 'Dylan Boulevard' or whatever the specific street designation would be," says Ness.

Or councilors could choose some other street to honor Dylan.

Duluth's Dylan fans are proud he was born here. But he only lived in the city for seven years. He spent the rest of his childhood, and graduated from high school, up the road in Hibbing. He was still Robert Zimmerman then. Last year Hibbing named several blocks of 7th Avenue, Dylan Drive.

Aaron Brown is co-chair of Dylan Days, the city's annual celebration of Bob Dylan and of the local arts scene. Brown says they named the street to honor Dylan, but it's turned out to be a bit of a tourist draw.

"People have snapped lot of pictures of those signs," he says. "So Duluth could stand to benefit from a street sign."

But Brown says Hibbing can take more credit for Bob Dylan than Duluth ever could.

"Hibbing is the place where he learned most of his musical abilities, and learned a lot of things about the blues, and life in general," says Brown. "We don't want to get into a fight with Duluth over it, but we certainly could understand them wanting put up a street sign."

After tonight, this road in Duluth could have several names. Outside of town, it's Highway 61. In town, it's London Road. And for a few blocks in front of the Armory, it could be Dylan Boulevard.