The music communities of Columbia and Boonville are mourning the loss of Bob Dyer, a folk musician, poet and historian known as the “Bard of Boonville” for his historical tales of his hometown.
Mr. Dyer, also a co-organizer of this weekend’s Big Muddy Folk Festival in Boonville, died Wednesday, April 11, 2007. He was 67.
Mr. Dyer was known locally for his involvement in the Discovery String Band, a five-member folk band known for traditional and period music.
On his Web site, bigcanoerecords.com, Mr. Dyer described his profession as “songtelling,” which involves the sharing of history through a combination of poetry, folk music and storytelling. His historical tales of mid-Missouri cover topics such as Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, a flood of the Missouri River and the Osage and Missouri American Indians.
“His songs often had simple words but very deep meanings,” said Doug Elley, a friend of Mr. Dyer for more than 30 years. “Anyone who came from this part of the world could identify with his music.”
Mr. Dyer was born in Boonville on May 22, 1939. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in English from MU and taught classes in English and film there. Mr. Dyer left MU after about 15 years to pursue his passion for sharing history and tradition through folk music and books, according to his Web site.
“He just became less interested in academia and more interested in the community,” said musician Lee Ruth, a friend who met Mr. Dyer through his music. “He (had) always been involved in a number of educational enterprises but in different ways.”
At the time of his death, Mr. Dyer was a resident of Boonville, but he had spent many years living in Columbia and actively contributing to its musical culture.
Ruth said his friend’s death is more than a personal loss; it’s a loss for Columbia’s music community as well.
“All of (his) music is already out there, still alive and well,” Ruth said. “But there was a project, a tribute album under way, that people hoped he would live to oversee. We’re just going to have to make do with what we’ve already got (from him).”
Mr. Dyer helped oversee the Big Muddy Folk Festival, an annual folk music festival in Boonville. The 16th annual festival, scheduled to take place this Friday through Sunday, will run as planned.
“Bob was there from the very beginning, the very first festival,” said Dave Para, who also helps organize the festival. “He helped plan the artistic line-up, he sometimes helped with T-shirt logos. (He) went to committee meetings ... and he always emceed with me and performed in the festival every night.
“He actually came up with part of the title of the festival,” Para said. “His idea had the ‘big muddy’ in it. The festival was as much him as it was everyone else.”
Para said that it is overwhelming to think about the event right now but preparations continue. “He would want us to keep on with it,” said Para’s wife, Cathy Barton, who is also helping plan the festival.
Mr. Dyer’s interest in storytelling and history led him to publish many books, including “Oracle of the Turtle,” a book of poetry based on the hexagrams of the “I Ching,” an ancient Chinese book; “Boonville: An Illustrated History,” which chronicles the history of his hometown; and “Rising Waters,” an anthology of poems and stories about the Missouri and Mississippi river floods of 1993.
He also released two collections of folk-style ballads and songs. “Songteller” was released in 1993, and “River Runs Outside my Door” was released in 2001. He was particularly proud of his work with John Neihardt, an American epic poet and Mr. Dyer’s friend and teacher. Neihardt is the subject of “Performing the Vision,” a film that Mr. Dyer wrote and co-directed.
Friends say Mr. Dyer had a knack for combining his passions to make one product. For example, his transformation of “Oracle of the Turtle” into a film animated with his own drawings combined his love of poetry and art with his passion for a historical topic.
“I don’t think he saw the historian thing and the poetry thing and singer and songwriter things alone,” said Ruth. “There’s everything — the outdoors thing, the Missouri River, the forests and valleys and woods and trees and the bluffs and caves and all of that. It was all just a part of his particular corner of creation. He was chronicling all of that stuff together.”
Mr. Dyer is survived by his wife, Sharon Dyer; a daughter, Amber Moodie-Dyer, of St. Paul, Minn.; two step-daughters, Holly Peterson, of Olathe, Kan., and Emily Burch, of New Franklin; two brothers, Bill Dyer, of Boonville, and Bates Dyer, of Leavenworth, Kan; and six grandchildren.
Sharon Dyer will host an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday for friends and family at 513 E. High St., Boonville. No funeral is planned, but Sharon Dyer said Para and Barton are putting together a CD of all of his friends singing various songs and there will likely be a memorial concert later this year.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Friends of Historic Boonville. An online guest book can be signed at thacherwood.com.
Mr. Dyer was a man of words. Friends and fellow musicians now say they are having a hard time finding the right thing to express their loss.
“We’re not going to hear his voice face-to-face anymore, so we’ll have to settle for his recordings,” Ruth said. “And those of us that remember, we always will remember how he sings them and the way he used his voice.”
— Missourian reporter Kaitlin Ballard contributed to this report.