Scarlet Rivera Shares From the Heart

Ed Newman

Bob Dylan “brought out a higher part of myself that I didn’t know existed.”

In preparation for this year’s Dylan Fest, the Armory Arts & Music Center is presenting A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan. One of the highlights will be a return visit to the Northland by Scarlet Rivera, the violist who brought Dylan’s Desire album to life and provided an especially mesmerizing zest to Dylan’s road show, The Rolling Thunder Revue.  Scarlet Rivera is a world renowned violinist having performed with Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Indigo Girls, Keb Mo & many more.  

EN: What are your favorite Dylan albums and songs?

Scarlet Rivera: My favorite
Dylan albums / short list of songs.

Bringing it all Back Home
Shot of Love
Oh Mercy
Desire - gotta be one, too!

Love Minus Zero
You’re a Big Girl Now
Every Grain of Sand
Where Teardrops Fall
Series of Dreams
Gates of Eden

EN:  You keep coming back. What attracts you so strongly to our Northland?

Scarlet: I sense the deep history from the early immigrants and visionaries who built industries from the fur traders of the 1820’s, to commercial fishing, lumber, breweries grain and flour mills to steel companies and ship building.  Music and culture also flourished in Duluth in the many elegant old theater and opera houses. I read about the Spalding Hotel with stunning architecture and interior design, a dear friend of mine is from the Spalding  family...and how the Flame Restaurant with strolling musicians after being a fixture for 50 years was demolished and the same location is now the Great Lakes Aquarium which I visited.  I also love the people and the rugged natural beauty of the Northland, and finally will have a chance to greater see and experience this year... I plan to go to International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center, as I am a big animal advocate and environmentalist.  

EN: Did you meet Geno on the Rolling Thunder Revue? What was he like at that time?

Scarlet: Larry Kegan and Geno drove in Larry’s van with his helper to the Rolling Thunder Review.  After the afternoon rehearsal Bob found me and said, I have a friend I want you to meet. So he and I took a walk outside to a big van and hopped inside.  Bob introduced me to Larry Kegan as an old friend, and his friend Geno.  Larry was a paraplegic from a diving accident, but Bob did not prep me on his condition before we met, as I think he felt I would ‘see’ and understand Larry for the free spirit and great person he was, and not the condition.  We all talked for a while but the most animated talker was Larry... and Bob let him take center stage.  Geno was not as gregarious, a bit more shy, but so was I.  From that day onward, Larry, Geno and I remained the best of friends, and I went to visit and perform with them whenever they invited me.  

EN: How was your life changed by Bob Dylan?

Scarlet: To properly understand the answer I would need to give you the context surrounding my life at the time we met. Although what I seemed to project on stage was this powerful commanding persona, off stage I was beyond painfully the point of clinically withdrawn.  A raven with a broken wing, remote like a lone wolf...a bit of a tortured soul... in many ways a broken little girl shattered into a million pieces (which would take years to put together.) I believe he saw right through me, troubles and all, which is probably why he embraced me more, knowing this kind of pain may bring something unique to my playing... and I guess the consensus from listeners says that it did.  

There was a silent understanding between us. His deep understanding and acceptance was like an anchor that comforted me amidst a raging sea.

Travelling and performing Bob Dylan’s music live with him lifted me to a place that brought out a higher part of myself I didn’t know existed, but that would be a part of me that I would carry into everything I have done since. In fact, what I gained from Bob has grown greater and deeper with the passing years.  I have been deeply grateful for how much he lifted me up and embraced not only my playing but me personally....and I say it’s effect is growing with time because while it would still take many more years to put the shattered pieces together again, it was Bob’s kindness and appreciation that eventually helped me fix that broken wing and put the pieces together.  When I listen back and see photos and videos of what we did together, it is undeniable how powerful and magical it was.

I’ve gone on to work with many different songwriters and artists over the years, and I feel I bring a piece of what I created on Desire and the Rolling Thunder Review to each situation.  It is the wellspring that I perpetually draw new inspiration from. While I work with musicians of all ages, it seems many young musicians have sought me out.  An example is I was hired by a young rock group in Japan to be on their record and when I played live with them in Tokyo to thousands of their fans, we performed Hurricane together!  I felt Bob would be pleased to see me perform Hurricane to a new young audience in Japan.

In short, although there will never be an end to this question, is that nearly every musical situation or relationship I’ve had leads back home to Bob Dylan as the source.  It is an endless wellspring of inspiration, warmest feelings and a gratitude I repay in my way by continuing to be the truest musician and artist I can be.