Last night of our Bob Dylan vacation

Bob Dylan in concert 2005

It is with joy and sadness that we gave Bob Dylan and his band a standing ovation after the final song tonight in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. While the band will go on to other towns across America, our Bob Dylan Tour is over. We return home to PEI tomorrow.

To protest the bland drives along the Interstate, we drove small local roads from Mystic, CT this morning to Pittsfield, MA. By the direct route it takes 2.5 hours: however, it took us all day to drive through river valleys, gorges and up into the Berkshires. We followed a mountain stream for almost an hour in a pretty, dreamlike drive. I was slightly disappointed that the Berkshires didn’t look “dreamlike on account of the frosting” – eh? James Taylor, what gives?

We got here in time amazingly. The cops said we had to park at the hospital like blocks away– did I look sick? – and then relented at the last minute. My girlfriend says I have shit-house luck since I get to park right by the entrance no matter what. Same thing happened in Lancaster and Pittsfield – I can’t help it if I’m lucky.

This was the last show so we stocked up on Dylan and Willie swag: scarves, a Willie T-shirt, Dylan buttons, stickers, golf hat, baseball cap and the black gambler shirt. Wow will that look good on stage. Got a poster from each night and enough Dylan T-shirts to last for years.

My girlfriend said she only wanted to hear one song, It Ain’t Me Babe. She reminded me that it was the first song I sang when she met me at Baba’s in Charlottetown on our first date. Well, if you can call coming to a club to watch me perform a date. Ask Bob yourself, I offered lamely.

This is heaven: a warm summer night in the mountains, sitting in a small baseball park (seats like 3,000, 10,000 standing) eating hot dogs and Bud with my little lady by my side – all the while listening to Willie Nelson run through his fave’s and hits. Willie still sounds good but not as exciting as Lancaster. I am going to learn to play some of his delicious chords I promise myself again.

The Wahconah ballpark is right out of the 1920’s. So small and elemental one is surprised there are washrooms. The stands have wooden floors and wooden seats – cool. According to the proprietor of the White Horse Inn, some people proposed an upgrade and they were voted down by locals who wanted to keep it the way it was. Should have sent those people to Chicago before they tore down the gloriously small Comiskey Park. Comiskey was so small and old you could see the pitcher sweat from the stands.

I made my way down in front of the stage and where there were plenty of graying boomers but even more young people. Bob is enjoying a renaissance among a whole new generation and the music is why. He really rocks, plain and simple. He grabs the audience and holds onto it. The younger audience is less interested in the slow numbers but he perseveres and they applaud each song while really giving it up for the hard and fast numbers.

What stands out tonight? Down Along the Cove which cooked. I was almost ecstatic when Dylan blew the lid off the band for It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). We roared on cue at “Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.” Who would have thought that 60’s tune could be so current and hot. The crowd loved it: I felt like a head-banger. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues was fresh but familiar. The song can really drone – three chords and all – but tonight it was right on. Highway 61 was a screamer – we shouted out the last line for each verse. Blind Willie McTell – liked it but was more thrilled to hear a strong, fresh arrangement of Chimes of Freedom. There are so many great images in that song. What did Dylan say? Each line was a poem he didn’t have the time to write.

Dylan stayed true to his new instrumental keyboard style along with harmonica solos. That’s OK with me except he might turn the keyboard up in the mix: you can’t really hear what he is doing as a lead instrument most of the time. Donnie Herron gave us a surprise when he played the violin – shades of Scarlet Rivera, although he had none of her wailing off-key sound. He does make the steel guitar cry convincingly. George Recile is a powerhouse drummer who propels the songs forward. Danny Freeman plays a jazzy style on what looks to be a Wes Montgomery ES-175. The tone is mellow and allowed him to create unique licks for the songs.

I just discovered how much rock sound you get from one of those Gibson semi-hollow body guitars so I appreciated hearing him. Stu Kimball’s Telecaster was hot and clear – the elemental rock/country lead. He also doubled on a Gibson jumbo and for one song on a Gibson ES-335, which created a super mellow sound alongside Danny Freeman – two guitarists on semi-hollow body Gibson’s. I wait for the day when Dylan gives us his guitar on at least one song.

You can’t argue with him though. He is the artist, creating the palette he wants. Like Picasso, he has detractors of the day in every moment of his life who want him to return to this or that period. I found it best to approach each new work, sound or style with an open mind. Early judgment usually means we have to eat crow later on when it turns out we really dig the stuff.

I returned to my girlfriend in time to hear her wish come true: It Ain’t Me Babe was the first song in the encore. She was happy and I got an extra kiss and song-long hug. That’s her song, sung first by her guy and now by the Bobster himself. Down in front of the band the music was hot and compelling. Back in the stands it had an unplugged feeling with the steel guitar, Tony on up-right bass, and the warm jazzy guitar.

We were still singing Like A Rolling Stone after the applause, after the lights went up and after we all stood around in the parking lot trying to sort out what had happened. Bob went by in his big bus and the crowd spontaneously applauded the bus as it passed. The king of poetic rock was leaving but he left us with a great night and a great memory.

I wondered why they don’t put music like that on CD’s. Has there been a live release since “Real Live”?

Tomorrow we drive back but I will take the slow way home, maybe head north until I find Route 2 then east through Vermont and New Hampshire. We need time to decompress from our week on the road with Bob Dylan. My girlfriend wants to do it again next year. Is she a keeper or what?