We are sixth or so in line in front the imposing stadium security gate at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It is August 24, 2006 and it is early hours yet – only 2:30 – which leaves us with three hours before we can even enter the stadium where we will see Bob Dylan. If you count the warm-up acts as part of our wait, we have about six or so hours of waiting time before Bob Dylan comes on stage. So we wait.
Behind the gates, a flock of security guards in orange t-shirts mill importantly around as do a murder of policemen who look generally intimidating and eyeball the crowd, which is now beginning to grow quickly, beginning to disappear around the cement curve of the stadium wall.
The two women in front of us in line sit on the ground and smoke Marlboro Lights. One says she is dying to find a bathroom. I’m with her. There’s no way we’re getting into the stadium and there is nothing around that we can see. Cheryl (we exchange names, introductions) spots a fire-station just across the parking lot. “Do you think…” she asks. "Just smile a lot,” I tell her. So it is that approach, hips swinging, our faces beaming and smiling — two freckled blondes in desperate need. The firemen laugh, take mercy, and let us use their facilities, and thank god, because we have another two hours of waiting yet.
In a half hour, the crowd has grown considerably and wraps as far as my eyes can see. A mix of people stand or sit in line. Different age groups are represented, which for some reason surprises me. I expect most people to be my age and about a decade or so older. Nope. There are people of all ages.
Behind us, a group of young people, about 19 or so, sit in a circle with their legs crossed. One boy plays some Dylan riffs on his guitar; his girlfriend makes bracelets by carefully braiding various strands of colored strings and beads that she carefully winds together. Into her unkempt hair she has also woven some of the strands that run streak-like, a sort of rainbow of colors against her rich brown waves. All are dressed grunge style, which I thought had passed a while back, but what do I know? Maybe they are from Seattle, I think, then I wonder if I am up on the latest styles for that age group anyway. They make me think of Kurt Cobain.
Mixed in the crowd are those of age in the sixties who have come to revisit a time and the so-called poet of their generation, a title that Dylan has often shrugged off, depending on the day and the interview. The sixties crowd sport Tevas and flip-flops. The women have long, straight grey and brown hair, while the men all seem to have grey and brown unkempt beards. The women wear flowing and loosely cut dresses flecked with Indian print designs in muted colors. They wear silver ankle bracelets that tinkle when they walk.
I can’t reconcile this crowd with the teens just behind me. In fact, a quick scan of the crowd shows people of all ages and types, from preppy to hippie and back again to the utterly suburban. I wonder where we fit in in all of this, if we fit in at all or if we are simply misfits. I can’t place us anywhere in the group and begin to wonder if we are a complete anomaly, but then, surely there are other writers and editors in this crowd, there have to be, since I’m certain that my review will not be the only one. Maybe each sub-group represents a different decade and phase of Dylan’s career. I start matching the Blonde on Blonde people and then try picking out the John Wesley Harding crowd.
It’s a pleasant pastime. More, I’m also scanning the crowd for our cousin Evander and his friend Phil, who are supposed to arrive at about four o’ clock and meet us in line. Since we hold all four tickets (a mistake we now see in retrospect, wishing we had posted them) we have no choice but to wait for them to arrive before we can go into the stadium, but we calm ourselves with the knowledge that we still have an hour and a half to go before the black gates open.
By the time 5:30 rolls around, Evander and Phil have still not arrived. We exchange a flurry of cell calls, but they can’t seem to find a place to park and perhaps underestimated the time it would take to get to Pawtucket . Mark has no choice but to wait for them to arrive, while I, meanwhile, must make my way through a crush of people and secure four ‘good’ seats in the bleachers, which seems an impossibility given the push of the crowd and my size. Thankfully, Cheryl (remember Cheryl?) and her boyfriend Jimmy – a big and muscular guy with a beard and shaved head and multiple tattoos – tell me not to worry. They will help me get the seats. I worry anyway.
As I make my way in through the crowd, which is as I suspected a real push, Jimmy blocks for me. Cheryl finds a row of seats and waits for Jimmy and me. We all place something on the three unoccupied seats securing them for Mark, Evander, and Phil. Each thing (a jacket, a handbag and other objects) announce “This place is taken.” No matter, people keep asking if they can sit there. Jimmy tells them, “No.” After that, they don’t ask again and Cheryl shoots me a smile and a wink.
About ten minutes later my phone blasts "Highway 61" (which has been the ringtone of my cell for a while and seems perfectly at place at a Dylan show — nobody looks to see whose cell is ringing). Evander, Phil, and Mark have all found each other now, have made it into the stadium, but in the throng of thousands are having trouble finding me. I stand, my red cell in one hand, my other arm waving wildly. Evander spots me first, turns everyone’s head, and by some miracle we land in the same place. I admit I am miffed at having to perform what was no small feat – securing four (good) seats – but as the night wears on and as we get to talking, we come together. How can I possibly stay irritated? It seems stupid to be irritated over such a minor thing. Besides, I am handed a bottle of honey as a gift, hand over to my cousin my small offering and all is forgiven.
The warm-up acts are okay. Perhaps they are ‘okay’ compared to what I am waiting for. To me, they sound over-amplified and muddy. I can’t make out the words and the music just seems loud and lacking in any real melody. The first group is not so bad and I like the violin and cello and feel that I’m at a sort of hoe-down, but after their performance, I just can’t get into the next group.
The sky changes from pink to gray as dusk arrives, bringing with it clouds that streak across the sky in various hues of dark mauve and rose. On the field, a group of people stand in a block in the very front before the stage. Elsewhere on dark green grass, couples have blanketed the lawn and people lounge on the soft cloth, furtively smoking a cigarette here and there (it’s a no-smoking stadium) until a cop comes along and tells them to put it out. When he is out of sight, most light up again and dotted cigarette ends glow orange in the fading light. Other couples lie together and kiss as the light fades. I admit, I feel a pang of slight envy or want.
A young girl dressed in an orange t-shirt and shorts stands amidst all. She seems to be separate and alone. She dances for the entire evening. She’s a good dancer, moving in rhythm and I note that she is not the only person alone at this concert. There seem to be quite a few people who have come alone.
After these myriad ways of waiting, the clouds have dragged the indigo silk of night across the sky and it is fully dark now. The stage goes entirely black, but in the distance you can see things being moved about, instruments changed. A few stage lights come on. On the back wall of the stage hangs a picture of a giant, long-lashed eye with a crown on top. What follows is what has become the known Dylan intro music, which I find very odd since it seems to correlate to nothing of his music. It is, to my ear, an odd hybrid of Star Wars meets medieval – a sort of medieval space odyssey that announces, serves as a precursor – the horn before the hunt. It’s a long piece, about seven or ten minutes by my count, and with it, the crowd livens.
Then the man of the moment visibly at the keyboard, and looking better than I’ve seen in years. Five white halogen-like spotlights light the stage, unlike the other acts which were lit with lights that had a yellowish cast. In contrast, Dylan and his band appear silver-lit and flashing. He breaks into an energetic intro to "Cat’s In The Well".
Tonight, Dylan appears to be in a good mood and the crowd is receptive to this. The exchange between the crowd and Dylan is great – nothing like the odd tension that we witnessed at Campagnelli Stadium in Massachusetts two years ago when he toured with Willie Nelson. On that tour, there was a clear division between the Nelson fans and the Dylan fans; the tension was palpable. For this tour anyway, everyone is hear to see and hear Dylan and it is this that seems to make all the difference. As for my part, for the last tour we saw, I still can’t sort out why there was such a division between the Nelson and Dylan fans, since I like both. I guess not everybody at that show felt the same way.
For the next two hours we are treated to such a broad range of Dylan’s work. I confess, when he sings "Just Like a Woman" my heart still skips a beat – not idol worship, never that, but perhaps circumstance is more at play. A confluence of events and people coming together, the darkness falling, how we sit, how we listen, how he sings, what we are each thinking. No matter, it works and is a rendition of "Just Like a Woman" that I hope is preserved somewhere for it is languorous and sublime. Regardless, it is preserved in my mind and memory where it will stay.
Remarkably, this time, Dylan’s voice is clear and comprehensible. I can pretty much make out every word unlike last time, which was muddy and too loud and the music is on key. It is by far one of the best Dylan performances that I've seen in a while – or at least just as good as his earlier performances that we see in Don’t Look Back or Eat the Document. Yes, a different time and place and era, but it’s still Dylan and he still holds us in the palm of his hand with his talent and charm.
So far, everything has been flowing smoothly with the minor exception of Evander and Phil’s tardiness, which as I said, was really not entirely their fault and which was easily forgotten and forgiven (I couldn’t stay annoyed at either since both were sweet). But why is it that there must always be at least one idiot (who is always right behind me, no matter where I sit) and who feels the need to announce his presence in a rude and loud manner? This particular time, it’s some guy on a cell-phone trying to locate one of his friends who is apparently on the field. He shouts loudly into his phone. “Stella, I’m HERE… I’m WAVING MY ARMS!!!!” He stands, waving his arms wildly like some mouthing idiot before shouting at a screeching and ear-drum popping pitch, “STELLLLLLLAAAAAAA!!!!!!”
Whether or not they find each other is irrelevant to anyone about them. We all just want him to shut the fuck up before Dylan comes back on. To my great relief, he shuts up. I guess he found Stella.
I’m so glad.
Stella aside, the thousands present are incredibly well-behaved and respectful and quiet during Dylan’s performance. Speaking of Dylan’s performance, here is the set-list from the August 24, 2006 show at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island:
- Cat’s in the Well
- You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
- Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
- Just Like a Woman
- Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
- Masters of War
- Highway 61 Revisited
- Shelter From The Storm
- I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
- Tangled Up In Blue
- A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall
- Summer Days
- Like A Rolling Stone
- All Along The Watchtower
A good mix of songs, I thought. When he played "Highway 61 Revisited", we all looked to Mark, since he just finished a book on the album for the series 33 1/3, forthcoming from Continuum and where cousin Evander just happens to work as an editor (though not on that series, which is run by another editor who was not present at this show – no nepotism here.)
That Dylan belted out "Highway 61" was a nice coincidence. Even stranger and more coincidental, the ringtone on my cell has been set to "Highway 61 Revisited" for whenever Mark calls and "Like a Rolling Stone" (the first encore) is set so that when Evander calls I always know it is him, which makes it so that I always know when either calls – not that I had my cell phone on, it just struck me at the moment as rather amusing. I should note too, that no doubt, the crowd was full of Dylan fans and as I scanned, I wondered if any of them were as hardcore Dylanites as us four. For example, I run a Dylan site and review him often, Mark wrote the book Highway 61 Revisited and has one of the most extensive Dylan collections I’ve ever seen, Evander is our Dylanologist-in-Chief, and Phil, too, is a hardcore Dylan fan with his hands in all things Dylan.
Of course, everyone who waited in that hours long line are no doubt huge Dylan fans, but I wonder, are they as obsessive as us four? Perhaps… after all, who would wait so long for someone they did not truly love? What I will say though, is that those particular songs on the set-list made all four of us laugh. Pure coincidence. There is something here for everyone, I think.
The set list was not at all disappointing – not to this reviewer anyway – in fact, I found it rather energizing and I was glad to hear some of my favorites from the sixties. It’s always difficult to pick a favorite among Dylan songs since so many are so good that none of us can really choose a favorite song or album, and although we do try and make an effort to order them in sequence, I find the list to be always in flux, ever-changing, including my own list, which is currently Bringing It All Back Home or Blonde on Blonde, but again, I just can’t choose.
For example, for weeks I was stuck on the song "Apple Suckling Tree" from The Basement Tapes and from that song alone, I had clear visuals and was able to write a number of poems. In short, I find and found the song inspiring. Perhaps Dylan meant it in the way I saw it or perhaps not. Either way, I found that it moved me to create and at the end of the day, that’s what music is all about.
From this particular show, I can tell you the songs that hit me the most were "Shelter From the Storm", "A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall", "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight", and "Just Like a Woman". That said, I have to say that there was not a song that disappointed; my one disappointment, and this is purely me, is that I wanted to hear "It’s Not Dark Yet" which he did an amazing rendition of at Campagnelli Stadium two years prior. I’m selfish that way though – I always want more of Dylan and perhaps no matter what he played, it would leave me wanting.
That said, perhaps that is key to his talent – we are left wanting, yearning, and always we come back, always we wait, knowing that somewhere in list, there will be music that moves us but when all is said and done, we can never get enough – that may well be the best thing of all.