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I wrote this about a week and a half ago, and I currently have no idea what state people will be in reading it the morning after the presidential election (or if anyone will even want to read it at all). But the occasion got me wondering how many times Dylan performed the day after an election, and if he ever acknowledged what had transpired.
To my surprise, he never played the day after a U.S. presidential election until 1996 - but then he’s played every single post-election day since. Until this year, that is.
Here's the rundown:
1996 - Clinton beats Dole
In '96, Bob's first election show took place in Charleston, WV (incidentally, every one of these shows is in America). He added two new songs to the setlist that night: "Tombstone Blues" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece."
I was going to make a crack about needing to read the tea leaves to make a connection there, but then I double-checked the lyrics and remembered that the Commander-in-Chief is actually a character in "Tombstone"! Interesting.
That being said, if he really wanted to make it explicit, he could have dusted off the song he played at Clinton's first inauguration: "Chimes of Freedom." But maybe he had a soft spot for the loser, a man with a very similar name to his own: Bob Dole.
2000 - ??? beats ???
Three new songs introduced at this Bethlehem, PA concert during the start of weeks of confusion about who actually won: "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Fourth Time Around," "Shelter From The Storm." Ordinarily, "The Times" would be the obvious connection, but a little harder to say what’s a-changin’ when you don’t know who a-won. But "Shelter from the Storm"? Perfect.
To get a sense of what seeing Bob on this strange night was like, here's part of a contemporary review by Peter Stone Brown:
Could there have been a more surreal day/night to go see Bob Dylan? The day after what is easily the weirdest presidential election in my lifetime. Probably like a lot of other people I didn't get enough sleep, first falling out waiting for Gore to deliver his concession speech and waking up 45 minutes later to his campaign manager announcing there would be no concession, and finally going to sleep for not long enough some time after that. It seemed like the whole country was in a daze, the endless droning of commentators the uncertainty. Hardly any messages on rec.music.Dylan, barely any email, the crazy realization of that long unanswered night sinking in, along with the realization that the country is divided almost exactly in two…
Tonight was my 75th Bob Dylan concert and in many ways it was as powerful as any I've seen going all the way back to that very first one in [a] not very full concert hall in Newark, New Jersey eight days after JFK was shot. Back then you used to go to see Bob Dylan in part to see what he had to say. And tonight, even though in many ways the setlist wasn't all that different than any other night on this tour, somehow, on this night, at [what] might well be a turning point for this country, in the once industrial town of Bethlehem, PA., those songs - some of the most brilliant and powerful of his career - spoke out once again.
2004 - Bush beats Kerry
This was actually my second Dylan show, and it's funny I had no recollection of it having occurred the day after the election - especially since this was the first election I myself could vote in, having turned 18 several weeks prior. Living in Illinois, I got to vote for then-State Senator Barack Obama four years before everyone else too.
Any election connection between him busting out "Shooting Star" and "Million Miles" for the first time on the tour? None that I can see, but I am open to any and all insane conspiracy theories. (“If you pick out the seventh letter in every third line of ‘Shooting Star’, it spells S W I F T B O A T!!!!!!!!”)
2008 - Obama beats McCain
Bob Dylan played La Cross, WI this evening. Nothing of note happened.
But here’s the thing: If the election is a blowout, the key concert might not be the day after the election - it might be the day of the election. And that was certainly the case this year. The night before that La Cross show - Election Night itself - Dylan played in Minneapolis. His comments there have become pretty well known: "I was born in 1941. That’s the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I’ve been living in a world of darkness ever since. But it looks like things are going to change now.”
Before the 2012 election, when Rolling Stone asked him about those comments, he said, “I don’t know what I said or didn’t say. I don’t know what I could have meant by that. You say things sometimes, you don’t know what the hell you mean.”
That’s some politician-worthy hedging right there.
2012 - Obama beats Romney
But a few weeks later he un-hedged onstage! This comment, again, comes from a show on Election Night itself - the result was already old news by the night afterward.
Dylan was back in the Twin Cities, where Obama had had a rally with Bruce Springsteen earlier in the day. During "Blowin' in the Wind," he remarked, “Why thank you everybody. We tried to play good tonight after the president was here today. You know we just had to do something after that. It’s hard to follow that. I think he’s still the president – I think he’s still gonna be the president. Heh. Yeah, we gonna win. You know, the media’s not foolin’ anybody, it’s probably gonna be a landslide."
You can hear it here (at the timestamp in the title):
2016 - Trump beats Clinton
Sadly, there is no recording of this concert in Knoxville, TN, during which I'd imagine there was a pretty dour mood in the house. In the static-set era, there was only one setlist change, swapping one Sinatra song for another: "Full Moon And Empty Arms" in, "I Could Have Told You" out. One Trump supporter online speculated that Bob wanted to avoid triggering the libs with lines like "I could have told you, she'd hurt you, she'd love you a while, then desert you…I could have saved you some crying, yes I could have told you she's lying." Ugh.
Bob Dylan does not, needless to say, have a concert scheduled on this year’s day after the election. So let's look at one from 45 years ago. Two, actually, a double-header.
Rolling Thunder V: Providence
Dylan professed over and over again bafflement of where the rumor of "small halls only" came from. Nevertheless, the tour almost immediately got flack for abandoning their supposed principal. Today marks the first large arena of Rolling Thunder, and certainly not the last. The Civic Center is now called the Dunkin' Donuts Center, which tells you just how cool and quaint this particular venue is.
This also marks the first time they'd play two shows in one day, trying to make ends meet on a tour with insane overhead. Again, the first time, and not the last. It didn’t entirely work; there were empty seats aplenty. Venues like this get rewritten out of Rolling Thunder mythology, but they were not all that unusual.
Each show has a one-time-only song for Dylan's solo-acoustic slot: "With God On Our Side" in the afternoon (its first performance since 1965), "It's Alright Ma" in the evening. Both are enjoyable for the novelty, but mostly sound like any number of other solo-acoustic versions. The one exception: He extends one line of "With God": "I've learned to hate Russia…and China…and Korea…and Vietnam…and Bulgaria…and Poland…and South America…and Cuba…all of my whole life"
Even more interesting, "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" makes its debut during the Dylan/Baez duet set. It would remain a standard there throughout the rest of the tour. My favorite songs in their duet sets tend to be the covers ("Never Let Me Go," "The Water Is Wide," etc), but this may be the best Dylan original they do, aided by David Mansfield's mandolin solos. Their two sets today also generated this great photo:
Before "I Shall Be Released" in the afternoon show: "Gonna do this one here for Richard Manuel, he's not here but he'd like to be here.....maybe he is here." (Joan responds: "Maybe he wouldn't wanna be here.")
Speaking of Joan, during her set she responds, presumably in response to a heckler, "Yes I remember Newport. I was the world's Madonna. All that's changed, thank God."
Other onstage weirdness: After "With God On Our Side," tour chronicler Larry "Ratso" Solomon offers this anecdote: "Then suddenly, a young woman advances to the lip of the stage, proffering a young baby to Bob, as if following some weird ritual. Dylan seems taken aback, then his expression of amazement turns to bemusement. He refuses the child and leans into the mike. 'I’m not a politician,' he laughs.”
And a funny moment during the evening show, in response to a fan’s yell for "Like a Rolling Stone" Bob actually sings a couple lines while strumming his acoustic guitar before stopping and saying, "No, we're not doing that tonight." He never played it on the tour (there was one report that he played it in an unrecorded show in a few weeks, but I suspect the person just forgot the setlist).
Was Dennis Hopper in the crowd? He gets a song dedicated to him, so maybe. He'd appear onstage once during the '76 Rolling Thunder tour, reciting some Rudyard Kipling. I talked to Rob Stoner about that earlier this year.
"Sitting in the audience in Providence, watching a show so intense it made me feel less like a spectator than a voyeur, I was hard-pressed to remember that there was any more to it than that. Through the course of three and a half hours, the concert never lost its celebratory mood or compromised its simple, almost casual brilliance… Though the Rolling Thunder tour had been touted as Dylan's attempt to restore some measure of manageability to the rock concert format, it also seemed to be serving the more private purpose of temporarily demystifying him, affording him the luxury of normalcy." - Janet Maslin, New Times
"Dylan, who walked on in whiteface wearing an Indian sombrero with a red carnation on it, was so loose he actually began to boogie." - Maureen Orth, Newsweek
"His voice was not as harsh as it was on tour two years ago, but it was strong as ever. He did the old songs 'It Ain't Me, Babe' and 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' with a completely new feel. A new song, 'Isis,' involved a mummy and was wonderful." - G.A.K., Publication Unknown
“The second show is fairly routine until the finale. The old chief [Rolling Thunder] had made his way to the front of the stage, cutting a striking figure in his Indian boots, rolled-up white pants, striped Cherokee shirt, and fedora-style hat, but he looked natural up there as he coolly surveyed the scene, glancing from the stage out to the vast audience, mysteriously stroking a long feather, exuding that Don Juanish prairie power, seeming to know that more than anyone else onstage or out in that sea of faces, this land was his land.” - Larry "Ratso" Sloman, On the Road with Bob Dylan
What'd they do before the show?
They were up early before these two shows, joining aforementioned Chief Rolling Thunder for a sunrise ceremony. Here's how a Newsweek reporter described it:
One dawn last week, Bob Dylan slid behind the wheel of his new mobile home and drove to a rocky point behind a Gatsby-like mansion in Newport, R.I. Soon he was joined by folksinger Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, poet Allen Ginsberg, Ronee Blakley (country-singing star of “Nashville”), Roger McGuinn (leader of the now-defunct Byrds), an assortment of lesser-knowns and hangers-on, and Rolling Thunder, a celebrated Cherokee medicine man. The group formed a circle around a small fire, and Rolling Thunder, who had earlier phoned the Coast Guard for the exact time of sunrise, raised an eagle feather, pointed it heavenward, then waved it at the gathering.
“Music comes from the earth to fill our souls,” Rolling Thunder intoned. One by one, each of the celebrants sprinkled some tobacco into the smoldering fire, and when it was Dylan’s turn, he stepped forward and whispered: “We are of one soul.” At the ceremony’s end, he had a tear in his eye.
And here's how Ratso described it (he also says it took place the morning after these two Providence shows):
Rolling Thunder begins the ceremony by explaining the meaning that sunrise has to the Indians, the affirmation, the renewal, the generosity of the Great Spirit. When he concludes his talk, he asks us to make our own prayers starting clockwise. Peter Orlovsky steps to the fire with, “I pray that we should all eat well and stop smoking cigarettes that are bad for us.” “May the spirit of this tour extend to everyone we meet along the road,” Ramblin’ Jack “Rolling Thunder begins the ceremony by explaining the meaning that sunrise has to the Indians, the affirmation, the renewal, the generosity of the Great Spirit. When he concludes his talk, he asks us to make our own prayers starting clockwise. Peter Orlovsky steps to the fire with, “I pray that we should all eat well and stop smoking cigarettes that are bad for us.” “May the spirit of this tour extend to everyone we meet along the road,” Ramblin’ Jack notes poignantly. Then all eyes shift to Dylan, who’s been standing with his head shyly burrowed into his chest, his Tibetan scarf flowing in the wind. He rocks back and forth on his boot heels, nervously kneading the tobacco in his fist. “I pray that man will soon realize that we are all of one soul,” he says gently, then strides to the fire and tosses the tobacco into the flames. Ronee Blakley shyly monotones a message that nobody can really hear and then Roger McGuinn vaults to the fire. “I pray that we’ll realize that everything’s gonna be all right,” he enthuses. It’s my turn. I step to the fire, “For life … and love.”
What's on the tape
Tapes plural! And even better: Both shows have everything, from the very first Guam songs all the way through the "This Land Is Your Land" finale. Good quality too (the evening show especially).
Find the index to all shows covered so far here. Subscribe to get future newsletters delivered straight to your inbox here:
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