Bob Dylan and his Rough and Rowdy Ways Band played Grand Junction, of all places, on July 1. It was my first Dylan concert ever and I figured that he’s 80 and I’m well into my 7th decade on the planet so maybe I’d better get with it. Besides, the show was just a 90-minute drive away.
I say “of all places” because I’ve never thought of Grand Junction as a rocker hub, a place that inspires legends to perform. Dylan in the Junction would be like finding Rimbaud at Red Lobster® or Ginsburg at Cabela’s®. I didn’t consider that maybe Rimbaud, Ginsburg, and Mr. Dylan, all rolled into one, could transport me out of the shopping mall and across the Rubicon.
I’ve read Dylan lyrics and listened to his songs on records and radio for more than half a century. I’ve watched concert films like “The Last Waltz”. I am a fan but not obsessive. My favorite albums are “Blood on the Tracks” and “Desire”. But, nothing compares to Dylan’s deep, rough, gravely voice, live, surrounded by ringing guitars and jungle drums; his words lifted into the night by Calliope, Polyhymnia and Clio, Erato, Euterpe and Melpomene. Mount Garfield could have been Mount Parnassus.
I stood between heaven and earth and I crossed the Rubicon.*
If that all sounds dramatic, it’s only because it was. For me, anyway. There they stood — two guitarists, one bass player, the drummer and another guy whose role I couldn’t figure out — all dressed in black, on a dark stage, mostly backlit by various shades of orange and silver and rose gold coming from floor lights.
Dylan (should I call him Dylan? Bob? Bob Dylan? Mr. Dylan?) kind of hid out behind an upright piano for most of the phone-free show; his face obscured by two metal water bottles so those of us on the lawn in front of the amphitheater at Las Colonias Park couldn’t see him very well. But, I brought binoculars and my heart actually skipped a beat when I finally caught a glimpse of Mr. Dylan. He did manage to come out from behind the piano a few times to tell us what a delightful audience we were.
The music ranged from dark, bluesy, dangerous, exciting, like the Wild Hunt on a stormy Solstice night…
(Black Rider, Black Rider you been livin’ too hard…*)
…to melancholy and lovely enough to make my concert companion cry.
(No one ever told me, it’s just something I knew, I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you.*)
My favorite, though, I have to admit, was “Gotta Serve Somebody” like I’ve never heard it before. Smokin’ guitars that made me shout! (I was tempted to play air guitar but since I was in a crowd, I decided against that.)
You can find the complete set list at bobdylan.com but the show was really a journey through his — and everyone else’s — life. The band played songs from “Slow Train Coming”, “Blonde on Blonde”, “John Wesley Harding”, “Nashville Skyline” and more, including his newest, “Rough and Rowdy Ways”.
The audience of hundreds out on the lawn was just as varied — from a six-year-old girl, whose 35-year-old father fell asleep during the show, to older hipsters with walkers and oxygen tanks. Some had never seen a Dylan show. Others, like Karen from Texas, had been to 20 shows in just as many years. Maria, who grew up in Mexico City, saw Eric Clapton with Muddy Waters in Paris in 1978. “Bob Dylan is a part of our lives,” she told me. Debbie from Grand Junction first saw Bob in the late ’60s when she was 14. The 30-somethings sitting in front of me were at their first Dylan show and all agreed that it was too important to miss. “He’s a poet,” said Cloie. “You can’t pass up an opportunity to see a legend like this!” Indeed.
Someone I knew a long time ago would drink wine and listen to Bob Dylan records. At just the proper amount of wine, she would drop the needle on any one of his albums and go deep into memories and regrets. She would write poetry and letters. One knew to stay away when Dylan was on the stereo.
I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind…*
I think Bob Dylan’’s songs can put us all in a different place, one that we yearn for but can’t quite grasp, like a wondrous dream that we can’t return to, a land of myth made real for a moment… across the Rubicon.
*all lyrics by Bob Dylan ©Special Rider Music, available at bobdylan.com