Concert Review: Bob Dylan live at Forest Hills
Words By: Peter Stone Brown | August 28th, 2015
This article was originally written in 2005 for the 40th anniversary of Bob Dylan's concert at Forest Hills. It has been provided to Gaslight Records courtesy of Peter Stone Brown. You can read some of Brown's other work, including his extensive collection of interviews, here.
Fifty years ago today, I got off a bus from camp at Union Square in New York City, handed my Dad my duffle bag and, with some other kids, hopped on the subway out to Forest Hills in Queens. It would be my third Bob Dylan concert and Dylan’s first stadium concert with a band, as opposed to a set at a folk festival. For the past six weeks, "Like A Rolling Stone" had been played constantly and was way up the charts on the Top 40 AM radio stations. A couple of days before the show, there had been a strange interview with Dylan by Robert Shelton in the New York Times, where Dylan had talked about understanding green clocks and purple statues.
Lining up outside the stadium, we could hear the band sound checking; the guitars, drums and organ drifting in a muddled mass over the stadium walls. When Highway 61 Revisited came out a few days later, I realized one of the songs we’d heard was "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry."Dylan was starting to win the crowd over, and a second wave of kids ran onto the stage again chased by the cops...
Inside the stadium, the stage was way out on the field, nowhere near the seats in the stands. As night fell, the air became cold, as if the stadium was a wind tunnel.
The first big difference from the two previous Dylan concerts I’d attended was several disc jockeys making introductions before the show began. At the other shows, while there may have been a "no smoking" announcement, there was no introduction; Dylan would just walk out and start playing "The Times They Are A-Changin'".
The first DJ to speak was Jerry White, who had a nightly folk show on WJRZ and had been the first person in the New York City area to play "Subterranean Homesick Blues" about five months earlier. He then introduced Murray the K, who had christened himself "The Fifth Beatle", and White introduced him as such. For years Murray had presented rock and roll shows at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater and a couple of years later he would present the first show in the US by The Who and, if my memory serves, the first show by Cream. He had his own way of talking, often adding e-az into his words - so if he said say the word "baby" it would come out "beazaby". Murray was massively booed immediately and when he said, "…it’s not rock, it's not folk, it’s a new thing called Dylan," and "Bobby is what’s happening," it got worse. White, trying to be a calming influence, took the microphone and quickly said, "I suggest you give a warm welcome to Bob Dylan."
Shortly after that, Dylan appeared alone with his acoustic guitar and harmonica holder, wearing a suit, his hair blowing wildly in the wind, and began with "She Belongs To Me". During one of the harp breaks, he walked to the side of the stage and posed for the crew of press photographers, while still playing.
Continuing with "To Ramona", "Gates of Eden" and "Love Minus Zero" he then said, "This is called 'Desolation Row'" and launched into a cast of characters that had never been in a song before. It was, in fact, a song like no song before it. He sang with immaculate timing, the audience cracking up on lines like, "One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants". "Mr. Tambourine Man" closed the set.
Fifteen or so minutes later, White appeared again and introduced Gary Stevens, the top disc jockey on WMCA. Stevens - probably taking a cue from Murray the K’s reception - wasted little time in introducing Dylan.
Dylan appeared, accompanied by four guys whom we later found out were Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks. They blasted into "Tombstone Blues" and pandemonium erupted. The crowd had quieted down, though, by the third verse. Yet, the tension remained thick and by the song’s conclusion the reaction was clearly divided between applause and boos.
Dylan then started the most obvious song destined to be "rocked up" from Another Side of Bob Dylan: "I Don't Believe You". The audience was quiet during the song, but at the end, the cheers and boos were again divided, with a large portion of the crowd chanting, "We want Dylan!" Dylan responded saying, "Aw! Come on," which was met by laughter, and then went into "From A Buick Six". The boos were somewhat less and Dylan continued with "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues" - the first song of the electric set to really hit me. But suddenly, during the next to last verse, a bunch of kids - all boys - suddenly took off from the stands, ran across the field and up onto the stage, while being chased by cops, running in and around the musicians. Nothing like this had ever happened at any concert I’d been to previously.
"Maggie's Farm" started to some applause, but on the line "I try my best to be just like I am," the crowd erupted again in a wave of cheers and boos. Then back to applause on the first line of "It Ain't Me Babe" and by the first chorus, half of the audience started shouting along, which they continued to do on each chorus to follow.
It appeared that Dylan was beginning to win the crowd over when a second wave of kids ran onto the stage, again chased by the cops. Dylan put down his guitar and sat at the piano - his first time playing it on stage - and went into "Ballad Of A Thin Man," though everyone at the time thought it was called "Mr. Jones". The effect of hearing this song for the first time was beyond amazing and it seemed perfect for the tension-filled atmosphere. "Like A Rolling Stone" - which once again divided the crowd - ended the show. There was no encore and we filed out, somewhat dazed, into the chilly August night, feeling like we had somehow narrowly evaded a riot.
A few days later, while walking down the main street of my hometown with my brother, I looked over at the window of the record store across the street and said, "Hey, that looks like a new Dylan album". We crossed the street to check it out and, sure enough, there was Highway 61 Revisited. Whatever we were going to do that day immediately ended. We took it home and discovered the names of the new songs we’d heard only a few nights before. Nothing would be the same again.
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