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Homesick Blues

Published: 21st September 2009

ROCK legend Bob Dylan’s hometown is getting a tourism make-over with a little help from Manchester Metropolitan researcher David Leaver.

Leaver, a marketing expert at MMU Business School, is studying the relationship between legend and place in the music industry.

His study includes Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley; Lubbock, Texas, the birthplace of Buddy Holly; Liverpool, the boyhood home of John Lennon and Paul McCartney; and Hibbing, Minnesota, the birthplace of Dylan.

Leaver says cities are finding success through musical tourism because ‘baby-boomers’ who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s are now affluent and able to travel to these destinations.

Popularity

He says events (tours, festivals) must be combined with direct marketing (websites, newsletters) in order to ensure that music tourism goes beyond just ‘hardcore fans’.

Despite Dylan’s worldwide fame, Hibbing (population 17,000), was among the towns yet to ‘cash in’ on its ‘rock ‘n’ roll goldmine’ potential, he noted.

"The boyhood homes of Lennon and McCartney are owned by the National Trust which opens them for tours. Tourists can also visit the shack where Presley lived and the Walmart that now stands where Holly once lived," says Leaver.

"By contrast, Bob Dylan’s home is a private house, and I was lucky to get to know the owner Gregg French who hosted me during my stay."

Social networking

Dylan Days (a three day festival in Hibbing) planners are now working to incorporate some of Leaver’s suggestions, including promoting the festival through social networking sites, using search-engine optimisation on the Internet and offering more tours.

The MMU academic has also helped town officials get in touch with tourism directors in Liverpool, and contacts in Tupelo who have found success in promoting music tourism.

They are even considering holding a special event to mark Dylan’s birthday in 2011 when he’s 70.

"Fans sense an emotional connection to as place through the artists that reference it. Therefore, things like anniversaries in the musicians’ lives and careers are key.

Stage show

"I remember the feeling I had when I got up on Dylans’ school stage and played a Little Richard tune. It was the same stage Dylan had had the curtain drawn on him as he was performing a Little Richard song."

Dylan, of course, has Manchester connections too: the folk-rock singer went ‘electric’ for the first time at a gig at the city’s Free Trade Hall, on Peter Street in 1965.