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Concert Review: Bob Dylan & Willie Nelson

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This show was a bit of a departure from my usual fare. Most people who know me, know me as a fan of metal and its related genres, so hearing that I was going to see Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson was a bit of a shock. But the opportunity to see these two men in concert was too good to pass up. Dylan and Nelson are musical legends who have had a great influence on their respective genres for decades, this had to be seen. Especially considering how close the tour was coming, if the show was any real distance, it would have been easy for me not to go, but the location was perfect.

About a month and a half ago, it was announced that the duo would be embarking on a tour of minor league ballparks throughout the month of August, with one of those spots being the Dutchess Stadium. This stadium is home to the Hudson Valley Renegades, the class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and is only about 15 minutes from where I live. At the news of the show, my Dad got excited, he was interested in seeing Dylan perform. AS soon as tickets became available, I purchased them, realizing how fast there likely to go. About a week later they arrived in my mailbox, now all we had to do was wait a month or so for August 10th to roll around.

I should state here that I am very unfamiliar with the work of these two. I know, inexcusable, but true. I am, of course, familiar with the more famous tracks like “On the Road Again,” “Lay Lady Lay,” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” but for the most part I am a rookie to their music. No better time than the present for my initiation.

Concert day arrives. It starts like any other, I get up and go to work. I figured I’d have plenty of time after getting out of work, at 3:30, to get ready and go to the show, which had a 6:00 start time, that was until my Dad turned on the radio. They were saying that the concert was sold out and also that the parking lot would be opening at noon and that it would probably be full by 3:00, others would have to take shuttle buses from a nearby mall. The last thing I wanted was to have to get on one of those buses, so I approached my manager about leaving early. Permission was granted and I was able to leave at 1:30. As I drove home, I could see the parking lot from the highway, didn’t look too bad at the moment, but that can change in a moment’s notice. I got home, changed, had a little something to eat and waited for my Dad. After he got home, we started our concert journey. We arrived at the stadium around 2:50, and there was still plenty of room. We got in line, which was pretty close to the gates, and watched the crowd lining up behind us grow and snake it’s way through the parking lot. While we waited, I took advantage of the souvenir stand, picking up a poster advertising the show and a CD of the opening act, which had a unique name. The gates were opened around 4:40, and we made our way towards the field. All of the tickets were general admission, so it was basically a race to get the best spots. We made our way onto the outfield grass going towards center field, where the stage had been erected. We were able to get an excellent spot that could equate to about 10-12 rows back from the center of the stage. We sat down on the plastic matting they had laid down over the grass and waited. The stadium had their food vendors in full swing, walking around with trays of soda and beer, stands erected around the perimeter with hot dogs and fried dough. The stadium filled rather quickly. Then at 6:00 the opening act hit the stage.

The first act was Hot Club of Cowtown. Strange name to say the least, and I had no idea what to expect. They are a three piece band from Texas with a violin, a guitar, and standing bass. They started playing and blew me away, it was quite unlike anything that I was used to. They were a combination of jazz, swing, country, bluegrass, all molded into one act. The music is bouncy, upbeat, and hard not to bob your head or tap your foot to, the style was rather infectious. I checked the CD of theirs that I had bought on the way in, and they describe themselves as hot jazz and western swing, sounds about right. The crowd loved it, cheering enthusiastically after each song, and applauding the musicians after their respective solo segments. There was a pretty even mix of instrumental and vocal segments, with lead singing split between the female violinist and male guitar player. I was mesmerized by the bass player, slapping at his bass at fierce pace. I was very surprised at how much I liked this act, it is at the far opposite end of the spectrum for me. They played for about thirty minutes before relinquishing the stage. I wished they had played for a bit longer. I kind of hope they make another journey to this neck of the woods, I would definitely like to see them again.

At about 6:50 Willie Nelson hit the stage with his nine piece band. They started off a bit off beat, it just sounded strange, none of the timing was down. It almost seemed like they were having problems with the stage monitors, I’ve seen this in the past and it can wreak havoc with timing. They quickly got on track during the second song, and once they were together, they were on. The music was great, atmosphere was fun, and the crowd was starting to liven up. By this time we were all standing and the space between us was starting to shrink. Willie was playing crowd, often pointing people out, asking how we’re doing, leading clap along, and the crowd responded expressing their collective love for the star. It was my first real experience with his music, and while I will still not be counted among his real fans, I still got into every note, bobbing my head with the rest of the crowd, cheering them on. One of the musicians turned out to be Willie’s son, who looked to still be a teenager. He was the sole electric guitar player, and he was pretty good, very bluesy sounding style. They played for about 75 minutes, leaving the stage shortly after 8:00 to a large round of applause.

The stage was then cleared and Dylan’s and his band members’ equipment was loaded onto the stage. By this time, the sun had set, and some of the stadium lights were turned on. The crowd was packing in closer together in anticipation of what was to happen next. With stage set, all we had to do was wait. And fortunately, the wait wasn’t long.

At 10:30 the stadium lights went out, the stage lights came up and Bob Dylan took to the stage with his bandmates. It was electric, the crowd was berserk. The band was as tight as could be, not a note was dropped, no string out of tune. Dylan sounded great, we actually able to understand a word or two here and there. I have noticed that Dylan detractors always go after his singing ability, and his voice his fantastic. It is not his actual singing voice, but his ability to use his voice as a tool, you do not have to be a great singer in order to express yourself. The way Dylan contorts his voice around his words is amazing, the control he has over what he wants to do with it is incredible. He was on stage in a black and read suit, sweating buckets, dancing around, smiling, it was truly a wonderful site to behold. One of his guitar players, I did not catch his name, was a site to watch, effortlessly switching guitars and styles. Acoustic, electric, slide, he played them all with equal ease. They were one of the tightest units I have ever witnessed on the stage. For as little as I know of Dylan’s work, I found it surprisingly easy to get into the groove. From the opening lines telling the crowd that “Everybody must get stoned” right on through t the finale, he sounded great. They played until about 9:50, then left the stage to the crowds cheers and applause. The applause did not stop until Dylan and crew returned to the stage a few short minutes later and launched into a 3 song encore starting with “Mr. Tambourine Man,” then moving to “Like a Rolling Stone,” and finally finishing off his set around 10:15 with “All Along the Watchtower.” This time they left the stage for good, briefly lining up together at the front of the stage, a show of respect to the crowd, and in one unified motion, turned to their rights and filed off stage. The crowd continued cheering until the stadium lights came back on and we all started filing out to the parking lot.

The crowd was great for the most part as well. Attendance was estimated at about 8500 people. The entire outfield and portions of the infield were field, right on up to the farthest reaches of the stands, just filled with people. People of all ages, young children right on up to the elderly, it was a show for everybody. Me and my Dad grooving to the beat clapping our hands, cheering on the bands. It is a night I will not soon forget, and am very glad for the opportunity to see these two greats on stage.

Finally for those interested, below is Bob Dylan’s set list for the evening:
Fishkill, NY Dutchess Stadium August 10, 2004
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Lonesome Day Blues
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Lay, Lady, Lay
Bye And Bye
Highway 61 Revisited
Not Dark Yet
Honest With Me
Masters Of War
Summer Days
Mr. Tambourine Man
Like A Rolling Stone
All Along The Watchtower
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