I was excited to attend a tribute concert for Bob Dylan, on Oct. 16, 1992, at Madison Square Garden. On that night, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Eddie Vedder, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Tracy Chapman and other stars performed famous and obscure Dylan songs as a nod to the maestro’s 30-year recording career on Columbia Records.
The show? It was sensational, capped by Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Young, Clapton, Dylan and Harrison each singing a verse of Dylan’s classic 1964 song, “My Back Pages.” I still smile thinking of the night.
Now, 30 years later, on Sept. 30, New York will host a new tribute concert, this time at Town Hall, to remember Dylan’s memorable 1963 concert at that venue. Attendees this time, at the T. Bone Burnett-produced extravaganza, will include Sara Bareilles, Bill Friselle, Joe Henry, the Punch Brothers and as-yet-unannounced special guests.
This concert marks the Tulsa-based Bob Dylan Center’s first public event outside of Oklahoma.
Above all, the new show is yet another reminder of Dylan’s remarkable legacy and unsurpassed durability.
How many times have the naysayers counted him out, only to eat their words as he stages one more major music and cultural resurgence? Dylan, 81, may yet be full of surprises as he writes a new chapter. In fact, a book of his musings about songwriting will be published this fall.
It was whispered that the reason for the 1992 show was to say thank you to a rock star who seemed to be nearing the finish line at the time. Dylan was then considered to be mired in a slump. As someone close to Dylan told me a few years ago, Dylan’s predicament in 1992 was that he was “famous but not popular” – a worst-case scenario for an icon.
But Dylan roared back from the abyss and went on to win the Grammy for 1997’s Best Album (for “Time Out of Mind”), an Oscar in 2001 for Best Song (“Things Have Changed,” from Wonder Boys) and even a Pulitzer Prize in 2007.
Dylan capped his life’s work by receiving a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. While some academics shook their heads and thought he didn’t merit the acclaim, I was pleased for him. And yes, Dylan deserved the honor for his body of work.
The 1963 Concert
The venue is completely appropriate.
When Dylan graced Town Hall in 1963, he was emerging as the dominant figure on the folk-music scene. Critics and peers honored him by labeling the 22-year-old singer-songwriter as “the voice of a generation,” an unsolicited description that caused Dylan much grief in ensuing years, for he never wanted that kind of burden and responsibility.
But Dylan had taken folk music further than any other individual, by writing compelling, relevant “finger-pointing” (he loathed the term “protest music”) stories of injustice.
Dylan’s ascent reflected and helped shape America’s explosive civil rights movement. He found himself in the right place at the right time, as the nation turned a page in 1960 by electing a new white knight, John F. Kennedy, to the White House. The emerging counterculture embraced Dylan as an engine of change and hope.
Bob Dylan in 2022
Today, you might say Dylan has never been as ... popular. His punishing annual schedule of concerts has resumed after an understandable COVID-forced break.
“Rough and Rowdy Ways,” Dylan’s 39th studio album, was a major critical and commercial success upon its release in June 2020, as the nation struggled through a COVID funk. It was Dylan’s first release of original songs since 2012’s “Tempest.”
As usual, Dylan seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the nation, singing about everything from the John Kennedy assassination to the Rolling Stones.
The Sept. 30 concert will be a party, an opportunity for us to take note – yes, again – of Dylan’s timeless glory. It will be a great night – until they hold the next one ... in 30 years!