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Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue party at Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge

Sept. 1998 interview by

On November 7, 1975, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue spent the day at the Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge in Becket, MA. They had played two shows the day before at the Springfield Civic Center, with special guest and Berkshire county resident Arlo Guthrie, who turned Dylan on to his friend Mama Frasca’s lodge. (See related: Interview with Arlo Guthrie)

This interview is the account of a friend of Mama Frasca’s who asked us to refer to him as “A.I.I.” (Anonymous Indigeneous Individual). It was conducted by Dave Conlin Read in Lenox, MA in 1998 and was excerpted in Q magazine’s special edition Maximum Bob.

Rolling Thunder Revue tour poster
Rolling Thunder Revue tour poster

D.C.R.: How did you come to be involved with Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge?

A.I.I.: Just a Berkshire hillbilly, I was living up there on Becket mountain, and I used to visit the Lodge. It was my social milieu. And I used to help Mama Frasca; she was basically illiterate, and I used to write alot of postcards for her. I’d be sitting with her in the afternoon or evening and she’d tell me what she wanted to tell her friends. We were just good pals, myself and Mama.

(Sample photos from the party: Rolling Thunder: Photographs by Ken Regan. )

D.C.R.: You were invited to the Rolling Thunder Revue party?

A.I.I.: Yes, I was up there when there was a phone call and Mama got very excited. She kept saying, “Joan Baez is coming, Joan Baez is coming.” She didn’t say much about Bob Dylan. So, I was invited to the party the next day. I went up there early in the day, around noontime. A couple of guys from Shenandoah came up there shortly. Arlo Guthrie came up in his Ford pickup, I think it was a ’51 Ford – faded green pickup, maybe it was gray. I remember watching the hawks circling with one of the guys from Shenandoah, on the front steps of the Dreamaway.

And then, after a while, various people started arriving. I remember Dylan coming up in a Winnabago. He had a little sign in one of the side windows, it said “Kemp Fish Co.” I remember the cinematographers coming up in a big red Cadillac convertible. Then I was inside having a beer at the bar, and I guess Bob was having a brandy and talking with Mama. I remember introducing Bob to my friend Bob, saying “Bob, meet Bob”.

When Joan Baez got there, Mama swooped her right upstairs. Joan came in in dungarees, all denim. She went upstairs like that – she came down in a white dress with a white pearl necklass. She went right into the music room and Mama took her over to the big square piano. I think she sang – what’s that song – with a wretch like me? – she sang “Amazing Grace.”

Alot of people started crowding into the music room, and the photographers, the cinematographers, started taking alot of shots of Joan and Mama at the piano. Mama was coming out with these mountain-oracle words-of-wisdom and wit and everybody was sucking it up. Because that was about what she was – she was the Oracle.

Earlier, I remember Dylan leaning over the bar to listen to her – to one thing that she said to Dylan, and he was just hanging on every word she said. She had this big thing about love – “With love you’re like the egg – without love, you’re like the hollow egg, without yolk, all white”. Something like that, she had a way of saying things, you had to be there to hear her.

She was quite a character. She had a little guitar, it was painted lime-green, and she used to like to play when she sat in front of the fireplace. She used to call everybody children or sonny – she’d make you feel like you were a child and she was the adult.

They served the standard dinner – salad, chicken, spaghetti, and Mama’s famous hot potatoes, and coffee and Anisette after. Ginsberg was walkin around with Moby Dick, reading it, reading Moby Dick as he was walking around, because he knew of Melville’s stay in the Berkshires, writing Moby Dick in Pittsfield. And then Dylan was going in and out the window, of the freshly-painted north side of the Dreamaway.

D.C.R.: How did you know it was freshly-painted?

A.I.I.: Because my friend was painting it, who I had introduced to Bob – “Bob, this is Bob”, because Bob lived there. He was the caretaker of the place – the bartender, the dishwasher, and everything else. So the next day Bob, the other Bob, made a little sign that said, “Bob Dylan’s footprints”, with an arrow going to the window where he had been climbing in and out – to get away; to get a breath of fresh air from the packed place.

D.C.R.: How many times did Bob go in and out of the window?

A.I.I.: It was just a little prank – he may have done it only once. But I remeber we had the footprints, and they were there for a while, until it got painted again. I remember singing “Be bop a lula” at the piano – Arlo playing the piano.

Singing that song with Bob and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and the whole crew there. We all did a good rendition of “Be bop a lula.” I remember Joan seemed like a very genuine, sincere individual, interested in the people at large there – the natives. She just seemed genuinely friendly – just a regular person.

D.C.R.: Did Bob take the initiative with any of the music, did he take the lead?

A.I.I.: Not to my recollection. He was belting out the “Be bop a lula” lyrics, I was right there beside him, singing – he was getting into that. His wife was there, Sara, and she and Ginsberg seemed to be talking quite a bit, I don’t know how much weight that had. And Ronee Blakely was there. I had a nice conversation with her, down by the fish pond, feeding the catfish. They used to eat bread out of your hand. It was kind of like feeding piranas, because they’d all come to the surface as soon as you’d throw a little piece of bread in there – they would swarm around. That was another little gig that Mama had there for people – “Oh go down and feed the fish, here take some bread and feed the fish.”

D.C.R.: How did the party break up?

A.I.I.: I didn’t stay into the night time, I kind of drifted away, went home. I left before Bob and the crew. It was like a poetic moment – a happening – it was living poetry, very memorable.

D.C.R.: How did Mama feel about the party afterwards?

A.I.I.: Well Mama loved all kinds of people, but for some reason, she had a real affinity with Joan Baez. She really loved Joan Baez’ voice, essentially. She thought she had a wonderful, beautiful voice, and that it was a gift. So she was just very, very happy to be Joan Baez’ hostess that day.

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In re: Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize lecture

780 Holmes Road Revisited,* or, Where’s the Art, Bob?

Throughout his career, Bob Dylan has been an exponent of the “folk process,” wherein an artist appropriates an extant song, modifies it to the degree that now there are two songs, which may appear to be siblings, but not identical twins.

Blowin’ in the Wind is an example, adapted from the African-American spiritual No More Auction Block; no one would confuse the two, nor would anyone deny that the new song has it’s own merit.

Whether or not one improves the other or amounts to a meritorious extension of the other, is irrelevant – upon composition of the new work, a new discussion begins.

But Dylan also has simply appropriated the folk process product of others when it suited him, such as on his first album, when he recorded Dave Van Ronk’s adaptation of the traditional folk song House of the Rising Sun, depriving his mentor Van Ronk the full benefit of his own artful work.

Dave Van Ronk was a big man, got over it, and eventually was delighted to point out that Dylan eventually stopped performing the House of the Rising Sun after Eric Burdon and The Animals had a big hit with it, for fear of being dissed for ripping them off!

Now there’s news that Bob Dylan has taken the “folk process” to a whole new level, of particular interest to us in the Berkshires, because he’s playing fast and loose with Moby-Dick. In order to fulfil his obligation to the Swedish Academy, which blew the world’s mind last year when it awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, he delivered a lecture on June 4, just 2 days before the $923,000 cash part of the prize would have turned to dust.

In it, he said Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey “have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school…” and he wanted to tell us about them. Regardless of precisely when Bob Dylan attended “grammar school,” it’s clear he’s referencing a long-ago time, and so we wouldn’t begrudge him a little “googling” in preparing his remarks.

But, especially with a million bucks at stake, one would expect a little more “folk process” than what Mr. Dylan delivered. If you google “Moby-Dick,” the website SparkNotes appears – and if you read the Moby Dick section of Dylan’s lecture, you’ll see enough of SparkNotes to earn a grammar school kid a failing grade for plagiarism.

As reported by Andrea Pitzer in Slate:

“Across the 78 sentences in the lecture that Dylan spends describing Moby-Dick, even a cursory inspection reveals that more than a dozen of them appear to closely resemble lines from the SparkNotes site. And most of the key shared phrases in these passages (such as “Ahab’s lust for vengeance” in the above lines) do not appear in the novel Moby-Dick at all.”

I’ll bet there are a thousand MFA candidates in writing programs across America, and not a few tenured professors too, who would pay good money for a chance to help Bob Dylan edit his shopping list! Why, then, wouldn’t he reach out for help on a $923,000 speech – at least enough help that would merit a passing grade in grammar school?

*780 Holmes Road is the Pittsfield, MA address of Arrowhead, where Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick; Bob Dylan’s most famous album is called “Highway 61 Revisited.”

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Bob Dylan appears with Joan Baez at Boy’s Club Pittsfield, MA

May 11, 2016, 2013 article by

Bob Dylan first performed in the Berkshires on August 17, 1963 as Joan Baez’s unannounced guest at the Boy’s Club in Pittsfield, one of three Berkshire Music Barn concerts that were held in Pittsfield that year to accommodate a larger audience than the Music Barn’s Lenox facility could. (The others were Al Hirt and Ray Charles.) It came in the midst of a crucial time in the parturition of Bob Dylan, cultural icon.

Bob Dylan spring and summer 1963

  • May 27 – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (his second album) released, containing such masterpieces as:
    • “Blowin in the Wind,”
    • “Girl of the North Country,”
    • “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Allright,”
    • “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall;”
  • July 6 – Dylan performed at a Civil Rights Rally in Greenwood, MS (the movie “Don’t Look Back” includes his performance that day of “Only a Pawn in their Game”);
  • July 24, 25, 26 – he performed five times at the Newport Folk Festival;
  • first week of August – New York to begin recording The Time’s They Are A-Changing
  • August 28, 1963 – he sang 3 songs at the March on Washington, two with Joan Baez.

Joan Baez introduces Bob Dylan at Pittsfield Boy’s Club, August 14, 1963

1963 Berkshire Music barn concert program
1963 Berkshire Music barn concert program
Berkshire Music Barn 1963 program; compliments of Billy Weigand[/caption]After writing that the capacity crowd received more than the price of their admission entitled them to when Baez brought on “folk singer and composer Bob Dylan, the hottest young man in the business…” Berkshire Eagle entertainment editor Milton R. Bass went on to write a succinct critique of Dylan’s performance that includes a sentence deserving of a place in the canon of Dylanology.

“His voice is not a pretty one, his guitar playing is just plain old banging away, but there is an intensity about him, a dedication, that forces one’s attention where it belongs.” Milton R. Bass, Berkshire Eagle

The songs Dylan sang that night were “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” “Blowin in the Wind,” and “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall.” Baez had earlier sung “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Allright” and “With God on Our Side.” It would be a dozen years before Bob Dylan would return to the Berkshires, again unannounced, again with Joan Baez, but this time with the Rolling Thunder Revue, which descended upon Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge in Becket.

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Dave Van Ronk interview, Jan. 21, 1999

January 21, 1999 interview by

Dave Van Ronk Eighth Step Coffeehouse Jan. 1999
Dave Van Ronk Eighth Step Coffeehouse Jan. 1999
We spoke with Dave Van Ronk the day before he was to perform at the Eighth Step Coffeehouse in Albany, NY. After congratulating him on receiving ASCAP’S Lifetime Achievement Award, we mentioned that Ramblin’ Jack Elliott had been honored recently at the White House. Typically, Dave was ready with an anecdote:

“Yeah, at the reception he tried to convince Clinton to sneak off and come with him to a Dylan concert. Bobby was in DC giving a concert that night, and Jack was trying to get Clinton to ditch his secret service and come with him to the concert.”

the importance of teaching to Dave Van Ronk

You give the lie to the adage that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” You’ve been a teacher your entire career; how has teaching affected your career as an artist?

“You can’t teach without learning. The first thing you have to do when you start teaching is to organize what you know. In the course of organizing what you know into a coherent body, you discover that you know alot more than you thought you thought you did.

“Also, you discover gaps and holes which you can set about filling. So, in systematizing what you’ve picked up here and there and in fragmented ways – incorporating it into a coherent whole – you learn a great deal.

“And students are a stimulus. I’ve had students sort of gang up on me, and get me to work out this or that or the other piece, pieces I wouldn’t have done. And in one or two cases, things have subsequently become mainstays of my repertoire.

“For example, the Entertainer – the classic rag, which I was just reviewing with a student this week. Much more than just a useful performance piece, as it turned out, it became a seminal piece in learning more and more about how to play guitar in drop-D-tuning.

“In terms of spinoffs, that led to possibly ten or fifteen different arrangements. And that was because 2 or 3 of my students wanted to learn how to play the piece. Initially, I didn’t want to work that out – it seemed to me like a great deal of work for a very, very small gain. I was wrong. Things like that are constantly happening.”

Dave Van Ronk moved from jazz to blues

You began your career as a jazz musician; how did your move to the folk scene come about?

“My committment to jazz also led, on the side, to listen to country blues. And since I was already playin the guitar – I had a guitar in my hand – I wanted to figure out how people like john Hurt and Lemon Jefferson did what they did. To begin with, it was a side-line. Most of what I was actively performing was working in the rhythm section of a traditional jazz band.”

“As the folk music revival gained momentum in the mid-50s, my emphasis gradually shifted, so that by 54-55 or 55-56, I was primarily working as a solo entertainer.”
Dave’s musical education

Would you call yourself self-taught?

“To a certain extent. I studied jazz guitar with a man named Jack Norton in Queens in the early 50s. I learned a great deal from him. Then in the mid-50s I met Rev. Gary Davis, although at that point I had learned to finger-pick, sort-of, with an assist from Tom Paley. So I could do some finger-picking already when I met Gary Davis, and I learned a great deal from him, too.”

His brilliant songwriting in addition to his great muicianship?

“Very much so.”

Cocaine Blues, Rev. Gary Davis, Jackson Browne

At a recent Tanglewood concert, Jackson Browne talked about Rev. Gary Davis.

“Jackson recorded Cocaine Blues and he thought it was mine when he learned it. Eight months after he recorded it, he came down to catch me at aclub in Los Angeles. He came back to the dressing room and he said, “You know, I recorded that song of your’s “Cocaine Blues,” and I’d like to know where do I send the royalties?”

“So I said, ‘What you do, is you send them to Rev. Gary Davis’ estate and you get out of here, unless you want to see a grown man cry.'”

Dave Van Ronk’s advice to a young musician today

If you were to addressing the young up-and-coming singer/songwriter, What would you say to someone who wants to go on to have a 50 year career?

“The way you have a career is by doing it – you just have to keep on performing, any possible pretext. The main problem people have now is there are so many performers, and so few places to work it’s very hard to It takes a very long time for a performer to get enough stage experience to be knowledgeable about stagecraft.

“That’s the one thing you can’t practice at home; you can practice singing and you an practice the guitar all by yourself. But the only way you can practice stagecraft is on the stage witha n audience.

“It takes a long time the way things are set up currently for a young performer to get that experience. So the main thing that you have to do is to find every possible excuse to get on that stage.

Dave Van Ronk recommends the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music

What record would you recommend to someone wanting to learn folk music?

The Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music“The Harry Smith anthology, that’s where you start, there is no better collection of American traditional music anywhere. It cost a lot but there’s alot of music too – 80 or 90 cuts on that anthology. Familiarity with that will take you a long way.”

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Arlo Guthrie interviewed Nov. 1998 at The Guthrie Center

November 16, 1998 interview by

Arlo Guthrie first came to the Berkshires in the late ’50s to attend the former Indian Hill camp in Strockbridge, where his mother was the dance teacher. His Berkshire roots were further established while he was a student at The Stockbridge School and he became involved with the Berkshire Folk Music Society, then headed by the late Hank Grover, David’s father.

Guthrie recently bought the Kresge Building on North St. in Pittsfield. Besides moving Rising Son Records there, he is looking into the possibility of developing an entertainment center. We visited with Arlo on November 16, 1998 at The Guthrie Center, in the former Episcopal church that his friend Alice Brock used to live in, and where much of Alice’s Restaurant was filmed.

Arlo Guthrie interview with Dave Conlin Read at the Guthrie Center, Nov. 1998.
Arlo Guthrie interview with Dave Conlin Read at the Guthrie Center, Nov. 1998.

“I’ve been trying to get something going in downtown Pittsfield for 25 years. I was interested in the old Palace Theater, or even the Capitol before they turned it into the Senior Center. None of that ever panned out because nobody had a clue as to the value of live entertainment.”

Relating the results of a recent study, commissioned by the city of Pittsfield, that stresses how important providing live entertainment is to the revitalization of downtown, Guthrie continued,

“We want to see if we can be a part of that process. We bought the building and we’re hoping that we can make a go of it. I want to develop a nightclub facility, maybe with a little food, but not a big-time restaurant. What I really know is not the restaurant business, it’s the nightclub/theater business.”

After talking about the various “cultural centers” and “tourist destinations” of Berkshires, Arlo continued,

“I see no reason why Pittsfield can’t become a part of all that, even add something to it and tie together all the different crowds. This is a beautiful part of the world, every part of it. We’ve been let down by the major industries. The only big industry that keeps growing is our cultural industry, so I’m anxious to see if we can all benefit from that.”

The legacy of The Music Inn figures prominently in Guthrie’s motivation to extend his commitment to the Berkshires. His father Woody played the very first show there and Arlo played the last, exactly 25 years to the day later.

“The thing we do in Pittsfield will be the closest that we can get to re-doing the kind of music that we had at The Music Inn. It’ll be a big enough club to bring in some of the same kinds of people – maybe the same people. With the help of the City of Pittsfield, I think we can make that happen. We also want a place for young people to go; we’re thinking of establishing a kind of folklore center there.”

Arlo Guthrie photo proofs

“It’s not something I have to do business-wise; I’ve got enough going on to keep me busy for a long time. However, one of the things I’d like to do is spend less time on the road. I’m on the road ten months a year, and I miss the Berkshires. I love it here and I think that we have an obligation to try and retain the best part of who we are for future generations.”

Where did the name “Arlo” come from?

“When my mom was growing up, there was a series of children’s books, called “Arlo Books”, about a little Swiss kid named ‘Arlo’. They were in all the primary schools on the East coast, and she drew a picture for a class project of this kid. And my mom was one of these packrats who saved everything – every ticket stub of every place she had ever been to. She was incredibly organized.

“While she was pregnant with me, walking down the beach one day with my dad, she suddenly realized that the picture she had drawn of this kid ‘Arlo’, in the fifth or sixth grade, looked exactly like my father. He was wearing the same clothes, the same kind of striped shirt, walking on the same kind of beach. And so she went back and found this old picture, and sure enough, she had drawn my dad.

“So they decided that that was an auspicious sign, and that they were going to name me after the kid. But they didn’t know if I would go for a name as awkward as that, so they gave me the middle name ‘Davy’. So I was named after Davy Crockett. She figured he was a popular figure, sort of a rugged, mountain guy, and if I didn’t like the name ‘Arlo’ – which, she wasn’t sure what that was gonna do to me – that I could always call myself ‘Davy’. So I was named ‘Arlo Davy Guthrie.’

Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge

“I had been going to the Dream Away for years, I knew Mama Frasca real well – she was a terriffic, wonderful, crazy, wild woman. I really loved her and used to bring the kids up to her place every weekend. I actually did some recording with her at the old Shaggy Dog studio in Stockbridge. We did a great record there – all these great songs with this old gal. She made a single, and one song was called something like, “God and Mama”.

“So after we did the Rolling Thunder Revue in Springfield (November 6, 1975), I tought it would be fun to take everybody up there. We came up with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Bobby Neuwirth and Ramblin Jack Elliott. They just loved it there; we were fooling around with Mama Frasca, and it became a part of the film, “Renaldo And Clara”. (For details of the party: Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue party at Mama Frasca’s Dream Away Lodge

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Bob Dylan concert review, Newport Folk Festival, Aug. 3, 2002

Aug. 3, 2002; concert review by

With his highly anticipated return to the Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan presented his audience not with a musical masterpiece nor any acknowledgment that this was a special gig, but rather the silly sight of himself wearing a wig that could have been styled by ex-congressman Jim Traficant.

Was this an indication that Mr. Dylan has a new cause to champion, having found something redeeming about Traficant unseen by the public and the press? Or was it just a goof to see how much palaver the wig (and fake beard) will generate in the media and elsewhere, his Newport ’65 performance having established the gold standard for much ado about nothing much?

Bob Dylan at 2002 Newport Folk Festival concert review by Dave Conlin Read
Bob Dylan at 2002 Newport Folk Festival concert review by Dave Conlin Read

The setlist itself was a highlight, including “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Desolation Row,” “Positively 4th Street,” and “The Wicked Messenger;” plus two of the five songs he played here in 1965, “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Anyone looking for special significance could sift through those lyrics, playful, querulous, and redolent as they are, cut and paste a bit, and posit “Dylan’s nod to Newport.”

The Newport ’65 story percolated along through the decades without Dylan’s input, got a big boost after the recent death of Alan Lomax, and culminated Saturday on the op-ed page of the New York Times with a piece by festival founder George Wein. Our 2 cents worth: If Mr. Lomax and Pete Seeger had been more polite and composed that day, we probably would have been spared the hysterical story that wouldn’t die.

So unless there’s some significance to the applied hair, for Dylan it was just another gig on his “never-ending tour,” rather than his triumphal return to the Newport Folk Festival.

Indeed, his seemed to be an extra-festival set, as before he came onstage the Apple and Eve Newport Fok Festival backdrop was removed and the press area near the stage was evacuated.

Today’s was a typically generous 2 hour show of 19 songs, the second gig after a 12 week touring hiatus, which left an overall impression of being under-rehearsed. It lacked the seamless brilliance of last November’s tour finale in Boston, which was a masterpiece.

Bob Dylan at 2002 Newport Folk Festival concert review by Dave Conlin Read
Bob Dylan at 2002 Newport Folk Festival concert review by Dave Conlin Read

That his setlists are built around songs written decades ago is testament to the fact that what Dylan created then is as fresh and welcome today as a sea breeze. But over the past several years, he has displayed a genius for performance, adding to his own incomparable song catalogue the works of other artists, blending the old and the new, his songs and others,’ cool costumes, crazy choreography, grimaces and grins, to present concerts that amount to fresh pieces of art.

Today, however, there were only artful segments, such as the electric, rollicking “Summer Days,” which followed the acoustic “Mr. Tambourine Man.” On the latter, Dylan’s delivery seemed narrational, which may have seemed apt to him as his audience at that moment actually was “…Silhouetted by the sea” and if not exactly “…circled by the circus sands,” then surely circled by the carnival tents of falafel and t-shirt vendors.

After a swig of water and strapping on his Stratocaster, Dylan then cut loose on a searing rendition of “Summer Days,” nodding his head and looking quizzically at his flanking guitar mates, Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell. This is an infectiously swinging tune, with a wild pastiche of lyrics, including an excerpt from The Great Gatsby, “She says, “You can’t repeat the past.” I say, “You can’t? What do you mean, you can’t? Of course you can.””

Bob Dylan at 2002 Newport Folk Festival concert review by Dave Conlin Read
Bob Dylan at 2002 Newport Folk Festival concert review by Dave Conlin Read

Bob Dylan has never seemed interested in repeating the past; and it doesn’t seem likely there’ll be a repeat of all the Newport ’65 malarkey in the wake of Dylan Newport ’02. One thing for certain about it: there were no boos, but there were plenty of fruit juice.

Setlist (thanks to Bill Pagel at BobLinks):

1. Roving Gambler (acoustic)
2. The Times They Are A-Changin’ (acoustic) (Larry on cittern)
3. Desolation Row (acoustic)
4. Mama, You Been On My Mind (acoustic) (Bob on harp)
5. Down In The Flood
6. Positively 4th Street
7. Subterranean Homesick Blues (Larry on slide guitar)
8. Cry A While (Larry on slide guitar)
9. Girl Of The North Country (acoustic) (Bob on harp)
10. Tangled Up In Blue (acoustic) (Bob on harp)
11. Mr. Tambourine Man (acoustic)
12. Summer Days (Tony on standup bass)
13. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Larry on pedal steel)
14. The Wicked Messenger (Bob on harp)
15. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

(encore)
16. Not Fade Away
17. Like A Rolling Stone
18. Blowin’ In The Wind (acoustic)
19. All Along The Watchtower

the now-obsolete Trafficant reference

From Representative Traficant’s final speech in the House of Representatives. Shortly after this speech, the House voted 420 to 1 to expel Traficant. Congressional Record, 24 July 2002, pages H5385–H5392.

“Am I different? Yeah. Have I changed my pants? No. Deep down my colleagues know they want to wear wider bottoms; they are just not secure enough to do it. I do wear skinny ties. Yeah, wide ties make me look heavier than I am and I am heavy enough.

Do I do my hair with a weed whacker? I admit.” ^ return top.

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Bob Dylan concert review – Boston, Nov. 24, 2001

Nov. 24, 2001 concert review by

Decked out in a sparkling white suit, Bob Dylan took the stage of Boston’s Fleet Center at 8:15 on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, bounding up to the mic on the balls of his feet, and laid into Hank Williams’ Wait For the light to Shine, beginning a 2½ hour concert that closed the first “Love and Theft” leg of his never-ending tour.

Including six songs from the already-gold “Love and Theft” mixed in with “standards” that are older than many of the 14,000+ in attendance, it was a memorable performance – displaying many facets of Dylan’s genius: poet, composer, guitar slinger, talent scout, vocalist, and nimble-footed knee-waggler.

The opener had a playful feel to it and was followed by It Ain’t Me, Babe, begun a capella and then laid against the quiet sound of acoustic guitars and bass with rhythmic highlights from drummer David Kemper’s brushwork. Dylan delivered the verses without much variation, saving his emphasis for the refrains.

Coming to the end of the lyric, he fairly barked out a “babe” full of derision, but then repeated the last lines in a melodious fashion, tip-toed backwards to get his harmonica and light-footed it back to the mic where he delivered a coda almost on bended knee.

Next, on A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, the band provided an expansive musical meadow, flowered by Larry Campbell’s bouzouki, for Dylan to romp through giving voice to this lyric that is remarkable for so many reasons, not the least of which is that he wrote it when he was barely out of his teens.

The replies to “Oh, where have you been…?, Oh, what did you see…?, Oh, what did you hear…?, Oh, who did you meet…?,” were variously recited, chanted, and intoned. The song’s final question, “Oh, what’ll you do now…?” was answered in exhortation, Dylan adding a syllable-full of angst at the end – “yea-as, it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”

Another cover song, the plaintive Searching for a Soldier’s Grave, featuring vocal harmonies and Campbell’s mandolin playing, was followed by the first song from “Love and Theft,” Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, a hugely fun rollicking tune jammed full of little aural treats.

The band was back-lighted on this number and the lighting played a role on the next tune, too, helping to show that the essence of Just Like a Woman, which has no trouble standing alone on the printed page as an integral work of art, lays in just a few simple notes, which convey effortlessly all the bittersweet emotion that is spelled out in the lyric.

Focusing on the dozen or so notes of the jaunty, descending melodic hook (which follows “…But you break just like a little girl” on the original recording) – the stage lights went down while Dylan repeated the melody a few times, then back up for another run through, now augmented by Campbell’s pedal steel guitar.

It was on this number, too, that Dylan threw all his dance moves into the performance. Almost always facing the audience, he’d move up to and away from the mic, using little hopping steps on the balls of his feet – like he didn’t want his footsteps to be heard. Was he being furtive? Coming like a thief in the night?

Having the new Lonesome Day Blues follow that newly-revealed old chestnut was felicitous; it is straight forward and all-of-a-piece, driven by a hypnotic rhythm overlaid with some nifty guitar-slinging. The sound is very heavy and the lyric, which appears to be linear, contains this perplexing juxtaposition:

“Well, I’m forty miles from the mill I’m dropping it into overdrive,
I’m forty miles from the mill I’m dropping it into overdrive,
Set my dial on the radio I wish my mother was still alive.

I seen ya loverman coming, coming across the barren fields,
I see ya loverman coming, coming across the barren fields,
He’s not a gentleman at all, he’s rotten to the core, he’s a coward and he steals.”

Also new, Highwater (for Charley Patton) came next, begun with Dylan racing through the opening lines before the band joined in, led by Campbell on banjo. The music built up and around the lyric, which is full of direct references and a variety of allusions. The performance had something of a tribal feeling to it, and the ad hoc Fleet Center tribe responded with big hand-thunder.

Next, it was back into acoustic mode for Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, another gem mined decades ago, back during the Kennedy administration, three years before Bobby Orr became the darling of all Bostonians, and two years before the folk mafia wigged-out down the highway at the Newport Folk Festival. (review of Dylan at Newport, August 3, 2002)

Appearing like a youngster on stage tonight, like he’s having way more fun than anybody else in town, just how could Dylan have been so old so long ago that he knew so well how to handle heartbreak? Or did he just know how to write about it – writing a prescription and dosing himself with each performance?

To expand the medicinal metaphor, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, offers physical therapy too, by way of finger-picking, and Dylan, Campbell, and Charlie Sexton all cut loose for quite a display of acoustic wizardry, continuing to pluck away for a couple minutes after the song’s closing lines.

Next was John Brown from the MTV Unplugged record, with Campbell on bouzouki again, followed by a spirited acoustic Tangled Up in Blue, with royal red lights flooding the arena, then two more new songs, the jook-joint feeling Summer Days with Tony Garnier spinning his upright bass and then the lugubrious Sugar Baby. And before the set-ending Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, they played a southern-rock styled The Wicked Messenger, which Dylan wrapped up with a little harmonica riff.

Like a Rolling Stone came after Things Have Changed, and tonight’s performance was another sweet-hot rocker that flowed freely, dis-encumbered of the barnacles of a thousand trips. That party piece was followed by the psalm, Forever Young, tonight given a transcendent reading with beautiful vocal harmonies, and then the new Honest With Me, featuring Campbell’s slide guitar licks, a song that would’ve fit nicely on the 1965 album “Highway 61 Revisited.”

Then, after a disguised introduction, Blowin’ in the Wind got a spirited playing with the band adding vocal harmonies on the refrain. Dylan and his band plugged in again for All Along the Watchtower, invoking the spirit of Jimi Hendrix with plenty of stellar guitar riffs and runs. Roy Orbison was brought to mind too, when Dylan mimiced his Pretty Woman growl on the penultimate line “Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl…”

Before the stage went dark again, Dylan held his guitar up in front of his face and bowed slightly. A moment later, over the din in the dark arena, we heard the band humming the chorus of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, followed soon by the cleanly enunciated: “Mama, take this badge off of me/ I can’t use it anymore./It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see/I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”

And so, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2001, good ole’ Bob Dylan came to the Hub of the universe, acting like he’d copped more than just a moniker from Dylan Thomas, who wrote this Note to his “Collected Poems”:

“These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.”

Setlist (thanks to Bill Pagel at BobLinks):

1. Wait For The Light To Shine (acoustic) (Larry on mandolin) (song by Fred Rose)
2. It Ain’t Me, Babe (acoustic) (Bob on harp)
3. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (acoustic) (Larry on bouzouki)
4. Searching For A Soldier’s Grave (acoustic) (Larry on mandolin)
(song by Johnnie Wright, Jim Anglin and Jack Anglin)
5. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
6. Just Like A Woman (Larry on pedal steel)
7. Lonesome Day Blues
8. High Water (For Charley Patton) (Larry on banjo)
9. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (acoustic)
10. John Brown (acoustic) (Larry on bouzouki)
11. Tangled Up In Blue (acoustic)
12. Summer Days (Tony on standup bass)
13. Sugar Baby (Tony on standup bass)
14. The Wicked Messenger (Bob on harp)
15. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (Larry on steel guitar)

(encore)
16. Things Have Changed
17. Like A Rolling Stone
18. Forever Young (acoustic)
19. Honest With Me (Larry on slide guitar)
20. Blowin’ In The Wind (acoustic)
21. All Along The Watchtower
22. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (acoustic)

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Doc Watson at the Mahaiwe Theatre, Gt. Barrington, MA

March 30, 2002 concert review by

Doc Watson set up shop on the stage of the Mahaiwe Theatre the night before Easter and delivered a generous dose of good music, wry humor, and tender insight to a sell-out audience. It was a bravura performance by the 79 year old Hall of Famer, memorable almost as much for his talking as for his nonpareil flat-picking and singing.

Doc Watson does more than give a performance; he becomes your companion along the way, stepping aside for a moment during a song to alert you to what’s coming up in the next verse. And although much of the between-tunes patter has been been said a thousand times, some of it comes across with a freshness and intimacy that makes you feel as if he’s sharing an insight with you for the first time. Doc’s bag tonight contained the expected range of songs from Jimmy Rodgers, Merle Haggard, Homer and Jethro, Flatt and Scruggs, et al, but he also brought along a few single doses from an unusual mix of sources: Tim Hardin, George Gershwin, and the Moody Blues.

His introduction to a fresh and heartfelt rendition of Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter left off with the remark, “He must’ve really loved her.” Gershwin’s Summtime was given a jazzy reading and came just before Haggard’s Working Man Blues, which Doc introduced by talking about his blindness.

After averring that he had done work harder than “pickin this ole guitar,” he said that he had had “a persecution complex about my handicap for a long time,” but that he one day came to accept it – “the Lord said you need a handicap to calm you down.”

Doc’s introduction to the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin was as sweet and poignant as “patter” gets; addressing the “young gals and young fellas” in the audience, he talked about feeling so much in love with someone “you can’t hardly breathe” and knowing circumstances will keep you apart.

Doc Watson concert March 2002 Mahaiwe Theatre Gt. Barrington, MA; photo Dave Conlin Read
Doc Watson concert March 2002 Mahaiwe Theatre Gt. Barrington, MA; photo Dave Conlin Read

Treating songs like he does, selecting ones whose meanings set them apart and taking care to see that his audience is ready to hear them, shows Doc Watson to be more than merely a guitar virtuoso. He’s a remarkable man, a pretty energetic one to boot: he played two full hour-long sets, joined for half of each set by his grandson Richard (Merle’s son) and Jack Lawrence, alternately. They each took turns on the lead in their duets with Doc, and Lawrence featured a few numbers from his own CDs.

The Beartown Mountain Ramblers warmed up the capacity audience with an entertaining sampler of traditional Bluegrass. True to the essence of the genre, their performance was marked by crisp, restrained, brief solos that blended together seamlessly. They were dressed like New England gentlemen, and somehow managed to project a feeling that a bit of slapstick was imminent.