Best of “Bobfest”

Sometimes one beautiful thing leads to another. In my previous post, I wrote about Tom Petty’s affection for The Byrds and how he covered some of their tunes. One of the clips I included was a performance of Mr. Tambourine Man, the Bob Dylan tune popularized by The Byrds with their beautiful jingle-jangle version in the mid-’60s. The footage came from a concert that celebrated the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s eponymous debut album. This prompted me to further check out that tribute show and boy, do I love what I found!

The four-hour concert took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 16, 1992. Regardless of what you think of Dylan, the fact that he is revered by so many top-notch artists speaks for itself. It was certainly reflected in the concert’s line-up, which featured John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roger McGuinn, among others.

The house band for the show included Booker T. Jones (organ) and other former members of the MG’s Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Steve Cropper (guitar), along with Anton Fig and Jim Keltner (each on drums). And there were countless other musicians in different capacities I haven’t even mentioned. This was possibly a one-of-a-kind concert!

Let’s kick off the music with Like a Rolling Stone performed by John Mellencamp and special guest Al Kooper on the organ – great way to open the night! Dylan first recorded the classic tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited from August 1965.

Among the show’s true gems was Stevie Wonder’s performance of Blowin’ in the Wind. One of the defining protest songs of the ’60s, it was the opener to Dylan’s sophomore album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan released in May 1963. As Wonder eloquently said, it’s a tune that “will always be relevant to something that is going on in this world of ours.” I’m afraid his words still ring true today.

Next up: Tracy Chapman and her beautiful version of The Times They Are A-Changin’. Recently, I’ve gained new appreciation of the singer-songwriter thanks to badfinger20, who covered Chapman the other day on his great PowerPop blog. The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the title track of Dylan’s third studio album that appeared in January 1964.

Ready for some hardcore blues? Enter Johnny Winter and his scorching version of Highway 61 Revisited, the title track of the above-noted album from August 1965. Ohhh, wham bam thank you man, to borrow creatively from David Bowie. Unfortunately, I could only find the audio version, but I think you can still picture it.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues is yet another tune from the Highway 61 Revisited album. If I would have to name my favorite Dylan record, I think this would be it. Of course, the caveat is I haven’t listened to all of his records, not even close! The artist who got to perform the tune during the concert was Neil Young, who did a great job. BTW, he dubbed the concert “Bobfest,” according to Wikipedia.

Here’s a great cover of I Shall Be Released by Chrissie Hynde. The first officially released version of the song was on the July 1968 debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink. Dylan’s first recording occurred during the so-called Basement Tapes sessions with The Band in 1967, which was released on The Bootleg Series 1-3 in 1991. In 1971, Dylan recorded a second version that appeared on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II from November that year.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right is one of my favorite Dylan tunes, so I faithfully followed his advice and didn’t hesitate to call it out. It’s another song from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Eric Clapton did a beautiful job making it his own. Don’t think twice, check it out!

George Harrison’s appearance at the show was remarkable. It marked his first U.S. concert performance in 18 years. Sadly, it would also be his last time performing in public, as Rolling Stone noted in a January 2014 story previewing the March 2014 super deluxe reissue of the concert. Harrison covered Absolutely Sweet Marie, a tune from Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s seventh studio album from June 1966.

Of course, I couldn’t write about the bloody concert without including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who performed Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, another track from Blonde on Blonde. Love it!

For the final clip in this post, it’s about time to get to the man himself and My Back Pages. He first recorded the tune for his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan, which appeared in August 1964. For his rendition at the show, he got a little help from his friends Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. That’s what friends are for, and they did a great job!

The last word shall belong to guitarist and the show’s musical director G.E. Smith, who is quoted in the above Rolling Stone story: “That gig was one of the highlights of my career… There aren’t a lot of people that can attract a lineup like that, and everyone was on their best behavior. Lou Reed and Neil Young can be prickly, but not in the three days we were prepping that show. I also got to talk to Johnny Cash. What’s cooler than that?”

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

22 thoughts on “Best of “Bobfest””

  1. Thank you, Christian, for the link and compliment! There is so much to like from this marathon concert. Johnny Winter was great…heck everyone was great. It may be my favorite version of My Back Pages ever. Great write up…the artists were exceptional and they had the best material to work with… One of my favorites also is “Wanted Man” by George Thorogood and “Seven Days” by Ron Wood.

    I hurt thinking about this but my cousin had the satellite feed and got all of it on VHS and I lost the tape in moving after he gave it to me.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I could cry…I had the entire 4 hours on video. I’m sure it’s out somewhere by now. It was pure quality performances.

        It’s an amazing set of talent. That show made me fall in love with My Back Pages…I always liked the Byrds version but this one was great also.

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    1. Agree! In fact, I was inbetween that and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Ultimately, I decided to go with the latter.

      I think there were many outstanding performances during that concert, such as Stevie Wonder’s cover of “Blowin’ In the Wind” and Clapton’s take of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” And let’s not to forget Johnny Winter’s kickass version of “Highway 61 Revisited.”

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  2. Wow, you’re just hearing about this show? Dude, sometimes I think you’re actually not from this country! This was fucking classic and it’s criminal that I wasn’t there. I wrote about Clapton’s “Don’t Think Twice” once. It is easily one of his most amazing performances and for me the show-stopper of this whole thing. I wrote about Chapman once. She used to busk around Harvard Square back in the day. And for who else but Dylan would this be appropriate? (Well, maybe the Four Moptops).

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    1. Actually, Jim, you’re spot on – I’m not from this country, at least not originally. 🙂

      At the time this tribute show happened, I was still living in Germany. I also wasn’t following Dylan. After my disappointing experience with seeing him live in Germany, I pretty much lost interest in Mr. Zimmerman for many years.

      That being said, I’m glad to have finally closed a definte knowledge gap in music history. I’m not there will ever be another concert with that caliber of performing artists.

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      1. You know I’m just busting your balls and I know you’re from Germany. I thought we annexed that country. 🙂 No, that generation is gone. Many of them are still with us I think but I’m hard-pressed to think that this (or any other) generation will have artists of that caliber or anyone like Dylan to rally around.

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      2. No worries. Frankly, as somebody who digs many of the artists who performed there, you’d think I would have known about it. While it probably didn’t draw the same attention it did in the U.S., I have to believe it was reported somewhere in Germany like in music magazines. Of course, I’ve never been into reading these, which is perhaps another somewhat strange thing for a music fan.

        I think it’s fair to say when I was younger except for Elvis and The Beatles, I was mostly satisfied just listening to music I liked without spending much time to learn about the artists.

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      3. I don’t know exactly when I got into reading about rock music but probably my biggest influence (besides the liner notes on albums) was the rock press – Creem, Crawdaddy and especially Rolling Stone. I ate those up. Then I started reading the (few) articles in newspapers and then books. And then probably mostly books about the Beatles. I don’t know why I care what musicians think, or do or say or what their histories are but I do. I would say that most of my rock writing ability came from how they handled it at Rolling Stone although that didn’t occur to me till after I started blogging.

        I don’t know everything about every band. But I bet I know as much about the Beatles, Dylan, Allmans, Rolling Stones, Springsteen, Steely Dan and Led Zeppelin as just about anybody. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve read about each of those bands.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. While at the end of the day I mostly care about the music, I also find it interesting to learn about the artists behind it, especially for music I really like. I definitely have a good deal catching up to do in the reading department. In fact, I find writing the blog is a way that works well to tackle this while at the same time sharing stuff with other music fans.

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      5. I have to literally force myself to not constantly read rock books and magazines to make sure I’m reading other stuff. I like to read history quite a bit and also occasionally a novel.

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      6. In my case, the key challenge is to find enough time without antagonzing my family, especially now that I’m home 24/7. They’re probably already getting sick and tired of me! 🙂

        When I work from my office, I can take advantage and turn a long commute into me time.

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      7. Admittedly, I like driving and listening to music like “Highway Star”, “Route 66” and “Running On Empty” – and let’s not forget about “Radar Love” and “Highway to Hell”!😆

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