Dylan & the Grateful Dead

Thursday, July 16, 2009

7-14-09: All Old Things Become New Again





DYLAN IN THE LAND OF COCA COLA
(Though he’s currently featured in a Pepsi commercial)

Reading David Foster Wallace’s Consider The Lobster as I sipped Australian white wine from a paper cup at a table for one, I was oblivious to the stressed commuters pouring into the into the Port Authority at 9:15. I glanced up at the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings. The senate was grilling her, she had a pained expression. Feeling extremely content and anticipating adventure, I headed for terminal 69,destination: Allentown - off to see Bob Dylan and his Cowboy Band. The white wine I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I grabbed one more mini bottle for dessert.

It was a gorgeous day and my Greyhound journey flowed smoothly until we were abut ten miles from Easton, Pennsylvania, home to former Heavyweight Champ, Larry Holmes. A shadowy character in a pork pie hat, dark clothing and sunglasses, grabbed his large duffel bag and moved to the back of the bus. Seated a couple of rows behind me, he rummaged through his bag of trickery and began talking to himself. I heard the sounds of compressed air slowly escaping from canisters and then I heard a sustained blast of aerosol spray. A vile smell filled the air, something like Red Bull meeting Aqua Velva in a kiln.

Strange got stranger. Around the time we reached Easton, two pretty girls, exchange students from Romania on their way to Harrisburg, struck up a friendly conversation with me, asking me 99 questions about America. I suggested that if they really wanted to dig America, they should join me, Willie, Mellencamp, and Dylan at Coca Cola Ballpark. Alas, they had never heard of baseball or Dylan. Fortuitously, Allentown was just minutes away, but I was stuck in a swamp of madness. I had two Romanian angels in front of me and a hallucinating hell cat behind me on the verge of passing out from inhaling mystery fumes. Ain’t that America?

I bought a ticket for the sold out concert at the box office for $73. A reliable source informed me that David Bromberg and his Angel Band were seen entering Coca Cola Park as spectators. Willie had just taken the stage as I joined the festivities. Willie did his thang, briskly unloading his greatest hits and paying homage to Hank Williams with a medley that included Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin’ and Move It On Over. My favorite tune from the Willie set was Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.

Last Minor League Ballpark tour, I didn’t fully soak in how lucky I was to be on a baseball diamond for the Bob Dylan Show. Coca Cola Park was a glorious vision. The infield was barricaded, but I got as close as possible to home plate and wondered if I could still rip one down the line and clear the left field fence, 336 feey away, or if I’d launch one uo to the clouds, about 250 feet from the plate, a can of corn for the centerfielder who would be positioned where the stage was. I squatted in the visitor’s dugout by myself for ten minutes before I was evicted by a stunned yet pleasant security guard. We bonded over some Minor League chatter. I was pleased to learn that Shelly Duncan had a great first half for the Yankee’s triple affiliate in Scranton. Shelly at the All-Star break: 22 Dingers 68 RBIs.

Every nook and cranny of Coca Cola Park was crammed with advertising: AT&T, Dr. Pepper, Martin’s Potato Chips, Toyota, PNC Bank, Rothrock.com and Verizon competed for the working man’s bucks on the right field fence. I rested my beer in a News 69 cup holder and stretched out in the Empire Blues Shield on-deck circle. Looking away from the Stars and Stripes dangling in the centerfield breeze, a sign in left reminded about the other white meat: Pork Always A Grand Slam! Aint that America, something to see.

JC Mellencamp followed Willie in the line-up. The locals dug his groove, but JCM is too Plain Jane for my taste - a poor man’s Tom Petty. I enjoyed a chicken taco and a couple two, three more beers. Everybody in Coca Cola Park seemed to be in great spirits as the sun set over the Lehigh Valley.

At 9:15 PM the lights went out. Standing next to the barricade by the side of the stage, I saw security lead the Cowboy Band across the neatly manicured outfield grass to the stage. Shuffling behind them like a toy soldier was Bob Dylan - red striped black pants, black coat with silver buttons, red tie and black hat. I scurried closer to the left side of the stage. From my vantage point, I could only see Dylan. He looked like the Jack of Hearts standing there with his electric guitar strapped around his slender torso during Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat. A phenomenal version of Don’t Think Twice with three solid guitar solos followed. This was the best Dylan has sounded on guitar since the late ‘90s and the Maestro’s voice was a rumbling force to be reckoned with. The music thundered and a subtle echo added ambiance to Dylan’s voice, or was my mind just playing tricks on me?

The Cowboy Band blazed through Rolled and Tumbled kicking off a slew of successive songs featuring Dylan’s latest and greatest. Spirit on the Water worked in the clean-up spot and Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum ripped on its heels. By this time, I was prancing on the dirt in foul territory between home and first. Children and parents were dancing by their picnic blankets. Tweedle might be Dylan’s most underrated song and it was proceeded by the crème de la crème, Working Man’s Blues #2. Dylan voice was pesky and poignant - a tip of the hat to the industrious laborers of Allentown, a city that’s seen better days. Sensational Performance. ‘Nuff said.

After stranding us in the city that never sleeps with women who give us the creeps, Dylan warned us about travel to Houston. Dylan then led the charge down Highway 61, firing up His band and His crowd. Serving up “hog-eyed grease in a hog eyed town” Ain’t Talkin’ mystified. Masterpiece after Masterpiece, Dylan never had to retreat to his past as the most important musical figure of the 20th Century, because he’s the king in Modern Times. Even for a legend like Willie Nelson, opening for Bob’s gotta be a humbling experience.

The effusive praise continues. Thunder on the Mountain was crazed - each jam winding and wondrous, each delectable syllable crooned with meaningful inflection. Like a Rolling Stone was encore #1. Bob proclaimed he’s the king during a maximum impact Jolene - hotter than the studio track. Watchtower closed the night out in deafening fashion. The crowd went berserk, relishing the maestro’s mojo and begging for more, but Bob gave it all he had. I departed the same way I came, by foot, a two mile stroll down the lonesome Airport Road listening to Planet Waves on my CD walkman. I passed an endless graveyard with no tombstones. Each grave was marked with an ID plaque and a planted American flag.It appeared the dead were still clutching on to Old Glory. I retired to room 216 at the Red Roof Inn, but didn’t get much sleep. I had a restless fever burning in my brain.









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