Flashback to Jazzfest, New Orleans - 2003

Girlofthenorcalcountry's picture

In honor of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival taking place right now, I thought I'd post an excerpt from my book about seeing Bob at Jazzfest in 2003:

Next morning we arise early in the motel room of some people I’ve never seen before and head to the Fairgrounds to line up around 8:30 AM. They open the gates in stages here. First the main gate, from which we all stream in and divide up into about 10 new lines in corrals with turnstiles, so Kait and I are both at the front of one of these lines. Steve too, this is the first show he appears at. More than usual even, with everyone in their little corrals, it truly feels like we’re at the starting gate of a race. So when one of the security dudes gives the signal to go, my ticket’s ripped and I bound forward, only to have the guy then start yelling that no, no, not yet. False alarm. A few minutes later the signal is given again and I race in with a good head start. Someone screams for me to come back, perhaps thinking I didn’t give my ticket since it was already ripped during the previous false start…I keep going. The only person in front of me is Steve. It’s like a half-mile run to the fucking stage, dodging golf carts piled high with provisions for the food and drink tents, but I run it the whole way, with a pain in my hamstring and lungs that have smoked too many cigarettes…I flash back to my high school track days, running the 400… and when we round the final corner and can see the stage and am prepared to amp it up for the final sprint… what the FUCK! A sea of huge, blue tarps already laid out along the rail! My initial dismay is quickly replaced by defiance: screw this. I figure out a slight space in between the sea of blue tarps, enough for a couple of us who have been in line all morning, and throw myself down on the ground gasping for air with my back against the rail. I think my lungs might explode.

Where the hell is Kait? She finally makes it, being dragged along and half-carried by Robert because she pulled a muscle in her leg. The owner of one of the big blue tarps shows up. He’s a volunteer, we’re informed, so he got to lay his stuff out earlier. I sure don’t see him doing any volunteering. He makes some comment about how I squeezed myself and friends into a spot on the rail that wasn’t really there. I opine that it seems unnecessary not to mention obnoxious for someone to take up half the rail and several rows back with a 20 foot by 20 foot tarp for a few people. He gives me the I-go-to-Jazz-Fest-Every-Year-And-This-Is-How-We-Do-It speech that I’ve now heard several times already today. I give him my I-Go-To-Bob-Dylan-Concerts-Every-Day-And-This-Is-How-I-Do-It retort. We don’t hit it off and that’s pretty much the end of our conversation for the day.

It is hot, hot, hot and blazingly sunny. I rather like festivals though, the chance to sunbathe all day, drink some drinks and eat some good fried food while passing the day with friends and a string of bands that I later can never remember, all in preparation for our main man. One of the bands, New Birth, has potential until they sink into endless attempts at crowd participation. I mean, it’s really ridiculous. Fun at first. Who you rockin’ with? New Birth! Who you rollin’ with? New Birth! Clap your hands! Alright already, enough! You can’t have your entire act be crowd participation.

We spy Bob walking around back stage during Jo-ell, the last act before him. He’s wearing his hoodie in the 90 degree heat. We see them hug between songs, then Jo-ell comes back and says that Bob Dylan requested this next song and they play Jambalaya.
Then suddenly there’s nothing between us and Bob’s set. As the stage is changed over and equipment is rolled out the big backdrop that’s been there all day advertising Acura, the corporate sponsor of this stage, is rolled up and removed. Bob is cool, refusing to play in front of an advertisement. As various members of the crew come out from back stage, I see that we are making an impression in our bikini tops. Hutch comes out and snaps our photo.

And Bob, ah Bob is pleased. It’s still daytime so he has on his shades, but I can tell where he’s looking and smiling. And far be it from me to claim that ample boobs in clear view help add anything to a show but…Bob sure has a spring in his step and I’m sure, if we could see them, a twinkle in his eyes. It’s a really fun and rocking show that gives us a lot to bounce along with. To Be Alone With You is the opener for the first time of the tour and it’s a good one, boisterous and energetic. I love that opening riff that thumps along for the whole song, reminding me of something from Elvis or Chuck Berry. Larry and Freddie trade great solos with Bob pounding along on the keys like he might just pound them into the ground, and he ends it with a big piano flourish. Sheer fun and we’re hot and happy.

As I’m finding to be the case at most of these shows, Things Have Changed is a highlight. It is the song that lifts the show if it needs a lift and super-accelerates it if it’s already in high gear. Bob gives it his vocal all, really infusing the various comically dark lines with humorously dramatic flair. Then after the line, “I’m in love with a woman who don’t even appeal to me” he lets go an anguished exclamation – “AAAW!” It’s a spontaneous cry, as if in response to what he himself just said, that I will in fact hear him insert in the same spot at subsequent shows. And then he let’s us know, “I’m not that eager – NO! – to make a mistake.”

My show highlight, though, is Baby Blue, which begins with a heart-tuggingly sad harmonica intro accompanied by tasteful piano licks. Bob’s singing throughout sounds yearning and regretful and softly backed by Larry’s masterful yet understated pedal steel. It’s definitely the best treatment this song gets for the whole tour, and I am enraptured. Sometimes this song can have a derisive tone but today when Bob gives a barely perceptible scoff in the middle of the line, “The highway is for gamblers, hah, you better use your sense” it’s more compassionate than anything else.

Definitely the talk of the show afterward though is Hard Rain. Bob introduces his new “rap” version of this song here. While it is undeniably powerful and intense, and I especially love the way he gives dark emphasis to the line, “The executioner’s face is aaaaaaaawlways well hidden,” it really gives me a chill, I have to admit that overall I also find Bob’s treatment of this song really…funny. Funny because it’s so bizarre, funny because I feel like he’s playing around with caricaturing himself and just being weird, making himself laugh in the process. He gives it a spoken word kind of treatment, seeming to test it out for the first half of the song and then evidently liking it because he really works himself up into a frenzy until the last couple verses he’s shouting staccato-style while bobbing his head up and down like a rooster and drawling the chorus, “YEEEEEEEAAAS it’s HAAAAAAAARD rain’s gonna FAAAAAAAAWL!” It’s just quintessential weird Bob telling it and speaking it and thinking it and breathing it any damn way he sees fit to do.