On August 19, 2006 the streets of Frederick, Maryland saw more traffic than ever before. Thousands gathered at Harry Grove Stadium to see music and writing legend Bob Dylan play the hits that have inspired and consoled generations since the 60’s. The baseball stadium tour began with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson in Cooperstown, New York-home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and has been lighting up small town stadiums for months now.
I arrived at Harry Grove Stadium at 7:00 p.m., surrounded by three or four generations of Dylan fans. Grandparents, parents, and children alike danced and anticipated that initial stage appearance of the prophetic poet in black, as the first of two opening bands played. A Dylan concert virgin, I was pleased to find that the atmosphere was laid back, like hangin’ out with a bunch of friends in your back yard.
The first opening band, which I didn’t catch the name of since I arrived a half hour late, was an Austin Texas group, playing country music with a Spanish flavor. Frederick’s country crowd seemed to be more aware of these tunes than I; they sang along, guzzling beers while I tapped my foot impatiently gazing at the stage that Dylan would soon walk onto.
The next band, Jimmie Vaughan with Lou Ann Barton was a real treat for a blues fanatic like myself. Vaughan even played a tune that he formerly performed with Double Trouble, younger brother Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band. Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton’s songs were soulful and in typical roadhouse blues style, a great preparation for what was soon to come.
Rain was forecasted for that evening but the most concern it provoked among Dylanites was an occasional glance at the grey, cloud smothered sky and assertions of where valuables could be placed to prevent soaking, because barring lightning, this crowd wasn’t going anywhere. The tie-dyed shirt and cowboy hat swathed crowd continued dancing, singing, and waiting.
The couple in front of me seemed less enthused about the opening acts as I watched them all but do it just a few feet away-this isn’t Woodstock guys. The opening bands were wonderful but after upwards of two hours I was ready for the man himself to walk on stage and strap on that guitar. Somewhere around 9:00 p.m. he did just that.
As soon as the classic Dylan graphic of the eye was displayed on stage the crowd fell silent and began moving from the stands up to the stage. After about 20 minutes of set-up the stage lights flared and Dylan began with Maggie’s Farm. My friend who had seen Dylan in the 90’s commented on how loud and forceful his sound was this particular evening. A few moments into the song I made my way up to the stage, all 5’3” of me, jumping up and down behind sweaty, dancing, 6’2” guys, for quick glimpses of Dylan and his band. I spotted four guitarists, not including Dylan.
I picked just the right time to get a close-up view because after Maggie’s Farm he sent the crowd screaming and singing The Times They Are ‘A Changin’. It took a few bars before the lyrics came in to know what he was playing. He seems to love throwing audiences off by changing musical timing, or whatever else he can to prevent monotony. His harmonica solo during this classic was a high point of the evening and to be 20 feet away watching him do it was even better.
The next song was altogether confusing for my friend and I to pick out. The set list for that evening says that he played Lonesome Day Blues but he actually played Ballad of a Thin Man. This may have been an on the fly change or a Dylan joke because my friend swore she heard the name Samantha Jones in Ballad of a Thin Man. The last line in the refrain of Ballad of a Thin Man goes, “Do you, Mister Jones?” but there are two repeated lines in Lonesome Day Blues that go, ” Samantha Brown lived in my house for about four or five months.” A last minute change must have been made and either he confused the names from the two songs or was getting a laugh out of it. Incidentally, Samantha Jones was a character on Sex and the City.
The next two songs were also oldies-Positively 4th Street and Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again, the latter a very appropriate song for small town audiences.
Dylan changed it up next with the song Till I Fell In Love With You from the 1997 release Time Out of Mind and then went to To Ramona from the 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Following that, he switched back to one of my favorite Time Out of Mind songs, Cold Irons Bound.
The next tune got applause and yells at the start and then silent appreciation for the beautifully sad melody and lyrics of Girl of the North Country. If you didn’t know that Dylan covered the Paul Simon hit The Boxer in 1970, you can catch his admiration for the songwriter in the lyrics of Girl of the North Country, which borrows two lines from Scarborough Fair.
Highway 61 Revisited followed and was the party song of the evening. The five guitars really blew the sound out of the park. I went up a bit closer to watch Dylan rock out on the guitar and got to talking with a guy who had seen Dylan several times. He was surprised by Dylan’s song choices. He said that Dylan was playing a lot of tunes he doesn’t usually play. I was glad to learn that my first live Dylan experience was a unique one.
The last two songs were Sugar Baby and Summer Days from 2001’s Love and Theft.
The stage lights went down, Dylan and the band walked off stage, and the crowd tested its lungs with shouts for an encore. Dylan didn’t disappoint his fans. He came back on stage and began a two song encore with Like A Rolling Stone. He kept the song true to the album version and right from the lead in you couldn’t shut the crowd up. Every word was known and sung, with loud shouting choruses of “how does it feel” resonating through the ball park mixed with the dancing bright spotlights.
Dylan then took a moment to introduce his band which consisted of:
Dylan on keyboard, harp, and guitar; Tony Garnier on bass guitar; George Recile on drums; Stu Kimball on rhythm guitar; Denny Freeman on lead guitar; and Donnie Herron on electric mandolin, pedal steel and lap steel guitar.
The last song in the encore is the one that probably every concert goer hopes to hear, All Along The Watchtower. Nothing could end a concert quite like Dylan playing this song with four guitars backing him up and one hell of a band. Dylan did a roughly six minute version of the song, and words can’t describe hearing it live.
After that Dylan and the band took a bow and walked off stage once again. The crowd kept screaming his name and shouting “more” hoping for possibly another encore. The best was a guy behind me who shouted, “Come on Bob, inspire a new generation Bob.” But alas, the house lights flickered and the show was over. Everyone began making their way out to their cars.
With or without even one encore Dylan inspired a new generation that night and his old devotees all over again. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of the fans I met at the show-it really doesn’t matter to us what he plays, just as long as he plays.
Bob Dylan hit it out of the park in Frederick, Maryland. If you have a chance to check out one of his shows on this baseball stadium tour-do it.