Upon arriving at the Jones Beach theatre in New York on an evening in August, I cannot say that I was lacking in anticipation. Bob Dylan was somebody I’d never imagined I would have a chance to see in concert. Perhaps the factor which prevented me from feeling the same excitement I experienced at each Peter, Paul and Mary concert was the prevailing critical opinion that Dylan was lacking as an on-stage performer.
The first thing I noticed was that everyone was extremely and unusually friendly. Scheduled to open was a new country music band, which received loud negative response from the crowd. The second warm-up was Ani DiFranco, to the visible joy of the majority. Judging from the number of teenaged girls singing along with her, many people came to see this concert expressly to see Ani. She played for over an hour, and as Dylan’s performance approached, her performance built a palpable excitement in the air.
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Clearly this was not the Bob Dylan I was used to. I was brought up singing along to such classics as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a Changing.” I was waiting to see the Bob Dylan I knew and loved, complete with harmonica, acoustic guitar, slightly scruffy voice and genuine concern for humanity. But Dylan, dressed in a cowboy hat and what seemed (from our nosebleed seats) to be a blue suit, opened up with something loud and electric. I knew I was in for a definite shock. People jumped up from their seats to dance, and some did not sit down again for the entire two hours.
As those surrounding me mouthed words to songs I’d never heard and wove their arms in snakelike movements, I found myself almost won over. True, Dylan played only five of his “old-fashioned,” early sixties folk selections, and uttered not a single word to the audience, this concert was nonetheless a phenomenal experience. Though approaching 60, Dylan still has the power to draw large crowds, and the energy to electrify them. I’ve attended dozens of concerts at which the performer far exceeded Dylan in efforts to make the audience feel welcome, but the indisputable reality is that I had the privilege to see the reigning king of the folk era, and I loved it