UNESCO City of Literature benefit to feature William Elliott Whitmore, Iris DeMent, the Recliners and more, all covering Bob Dylan

This Wheel’s on Fire 2018

Englert Theatre — Friday, May 11 at 7 p.m.

Folk singer Iris DeMent performs at the Robert A Lee Recreation center following Mazahir Salih’s announcing her bid for city council. Monday, March 6, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Update, May 10, 2018: This article describes the 2017 This Wheel’s on Fire event, the first of its kind, but featuring many of the same performers as the 2018 edition. For updated details, visit the Englert website.

This Wheel’s on Fire, a benefit concert for the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, will be at the Englert Theater this Friday, April 28. Keeping in tune with the legacy of Bob Dylan in both music and literature, southeastern Iowan musicians will be performing exclusively Dylan covers from all eras of his discography — with the players reinterpreting the flavors and inflections of the legendary folk artist. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Student prices are $10.

“So many musicians have covered Bob Dylan songs throughout the years,” says Kevin Hanick, a vocalist for the Recliners and one of the organizers of the evening through Urban Acres Real Estate. “This is a kind of formalized event for that.”

Dylan’s career has been marked by his intrepid songwriting: Over half a century of protest songs and ballads and electric rock, he’s touched just about everything in the wheelhouse of singer-songwriters. Known for his acerbic delivery, his lyrics grapple with various zeitgeists of the past 50-or-so-odd years. With this reputation it’s no surprise Bob Dylan is one of the most oft-covered musicians.

His lyricism is revered beyond the background of guitar chords, too. Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October 2016 for the incantatory power in his songs and writing. His blitheness towards the accolade ensnared him in a bit of a fracas with the Swedish Academy. But here, in Iowa City, Hanick and the Recliners held a celebration at the Java House by performing Dylan covers. The event was streamed by Iowa Public Radio.

Piggybacking off the Java House event, Hanick met with friends to coordinate a larger event in honor of Dylan, recognizing his literary accomplishment. That’s how John Kenyon, executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature nonprofit, linked up with Hanick, a long-time supporter of the organization, and began reaching out to local musicians.

William Elliott Whitmore performs to a sold out Englert Theatre. Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

“I was personally very excited about Dylan’s win,” said Kenyon. “Not only because I am a big fan, but because of the way it will hopefully expand people’s conception of what qualifies as literature.”

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization announced this week that Iowa City has been chosen to host the 2018 annual meeting, which will bring delegates from the 19 other UNESCO-designated Cities of Literature to town early next April. With new cities planned to be added to the network this November, that event could grow even bigger. Iowa City was chosen, in part, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its selection as UNESCO’s third City of Literature, in 2008.

Friday evening will feature veteran roots artists Iris DeMent, Jason T. Lewis, William Elliott Whitmore and David Zollo & the Body Electric. Prominent Iowa City blues strummer Kevin “B.F.” Burt — known for busking outside M.C. Ginsburg when the weather permits — will also take the Englert stage alongside Iowa City youngbloods Elizabeth Moen and Ingrid Streitz.