Rolling Thunder VII: Burlington

1975-11-08, Patrick Gymnasium, Burlington, VT

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The ninth show of the Rolling Thunder Revue was hot. Not like "really good" hot, though it might have been that too. Actual hot. All the reviews mention how broiling the University of Vermont gymnasium got; the Burlington Free Press headlined their article "Dylan Applies Heat." Joan Baez commented on it onstage, though the tape is too muddy to make out what exactly she says. Tour chronicler Larry "Ratso" Sloman put it this way in his book: 

These are perhaps the worst conditions yet encountered on the tour, certainly rivaling Lowell’s gym, and with the crowd rocketing the temperature to close to 100 degrees it’s certainly no picnic up on stage. But onstage everybody’s pouring their guts out, Dylan sweating so hard his pancake makeup is completely washed off by his fourth number.

This is Dylan's second concert in Burlington, Vermont, out of 10 total (counting neighboring Shelburne and Essex Junction, which have the big outdoor spaces Bob usually plays these days; he was supposed to make it 11 in Essex this summer). Why do I know that? I live in Burlington, and when I moved here a couple years back made it a point to track down as many of Bob’s area shows as I could.

He first played Burlington in 1965, at the same UVM gym the Rolling Thunder Revue hit. This was on one of his first tours with The Hawks, the last tour before Levon Helm left. No word on whether they kept the temperature down that time, or on much of anything else related to that show. Except that, if you wanted to see Bob and the Hawks, it was apparently an easy ticket:

Despite that poor reception, he was due to return almost exactly a year later, one of the reported 64 US dates scheduled before the motorcycle crash took him out of commission. At the time there were reports he'd only be off the road a couple months, so he still made this flyer. (Fun fact: All four acts were managed by Albert Grossman.)

After Rolling Thunder, which apparently had much better turnout than his ‘65 how, Dylan didn't return to Burlington until 1988. He soon became a regular, though, with shows in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1994 (he visited Vermont twice that year), 1995, and 1996. That last one, though generally an unmemorable show, features maybe my favorite "This Wheel's on Fire" ever. I tossed it up on Soundcloud:

The next time he returned, in 2007, I was there, making the hour and a half drive from my college in New Hampshire. I can't say I remember much about that show. A week prior I'd seen him in an amazing small outdoor theater in Florence, Massachusetts, the stage surrounded by pine trees. Seeing him at a run-down fairground, the smell of fried dough lumbering through the air, seemed a bit of a letdown, atmosphere-wise.

He's been up here a couple times since, but not while I lived here. This summer would have been my first Dylan show in Vermont since 2007, as he scheduled a return to that same fairground. You can guess how that went.

Rolling Thunder VII: Burlington

The Venue

UVM's new Patrick Gymnasium, where the concert was moved from the smaller and cooler (in both senses of the word) Memorial Auditorium. Memorial is where he was supposed to play in 1966 too. Apparently it's cursed for Dylan concerts. Too bad; they held the town farmers markets there until recently, when the whole building was deemed unsafe. Guess Bob won't be giving Memorial a third try any time soon.

Show/Setlist Changes

"Simple Twist of Fate" makes its live debut during Bob's short mid-show solo set, where it would appear most subsequent nights. "Live debut" at a proper concert, that is; Bob played it with Guam at the "mahjong parlor" gig seen in the Scorsese doc last year. That arrangement seemed pretty sloppy, but it's too bad they didn't play it more, try to work into something cool with the full band. 

That said, it shines as probably his greatest solo song of the entire tour, so I can't complain. Perhaps buoyed by the success of "Simple Twist," in a couple nights he'll debut another Blood on the Tracks song by himself: "Tangled Up in Blue."

Onstage Comments

As I mentioned earlier, banter on this tape is a little tough to make out, but he dedicates "Hard Rain" to “all psychology students.”

Special Guests

None, but across campus that same evening, Senator Hubert Humphrey spoke for a Vermont Democratic Party fundraiser.

The Associated Press made much of the juxtaposition, despite the events having nothing to do with each other. Humphey wore a "dapper suit" while Dylan wore a "mountain hat"! Dylan "painted a condemnation of society" while Humphrey "took political jabs at President Ford"! That sort of thing.

Here's more of the reporter stretching a shaky premise for an article to its absolute limit. You can practically hear him rolling his eye at his editor as he tries to come up with ways to juxtapose these two unrelated events.

They peaked emotions and left crowds cheering for more. But the performances by Bob Dylan and Sen. Hubert Humphrey at opposite ends of the University of Vermont campus this weekend had little else in common… It was a hard day's work for both men. Leaving their audiences inspired, they packed their bags and left Burlington and its picturesque autumn view of Lake Champlain. Dylan traveled to neighboring New Hampshire for a Saturday concert at the state university town of Durham, while Humphrey flew on to New York for congressional hearings Monday on the city's fiscal crisis.

Contemporary Reviews

"It's easier to describe the audience than the music, for the latter was timeless, no annotation could pinpoint it. Mothers walking around, babies at the breast; Burlington cowboys; drifters, losers; high UVM officials; very solid security; lots of marijuana, at least as much confiscated beer; local police enraptured, some film ripped out of its owners' cameras. The gym was a scene, one of those rare times when people forgot their differences to come together to share in each other. The pressure in Patrick's cooker was musical Saturday night; the heat didn't matter." - Burlington Free Press

"The large crowd, estimated at more than 5,500 by officials at the gymnasium, caught the easygoing spirit and enthusiastically cheered all the performers on. Even a wide swatch of the concert-goers who had their view of the stage obscured by the huge banks of speakers suffered in relative silence and cheered happily when Baez moved microphones further out so that more [of] the audience could see." - Rutland Daily Herald

"It was amazing to see him, not so much because you were looking at Bob Dylan, but that you were looking at him, listening, in a college gym in goddamn Burlington, Vermont. People freaked: Dylan sings (cheers!) Dylan talks between songs (Cheers!) Dylan plays his harmonica (CHEERS!). Sort of childish, I suppose, but after waiting one day for six hours to get the tickets and 4 hours another day to get a decent sear, after throwing Dylan lines at each other for four days, after all the nonsense it was a giddy sort of feeling to see Dylan and Baez and Ginsburg [sic] and the rest trying to recreate the sixties for us." - The Middlebury Campus

What'd they do before the show?

Dylan enjoyed some herb! Sorry, make that herbs plural - specifically, "a cup of yarrow, comfrey, boneset and peppermint tea" he drank on a visit to Burlington's Old North End (only a few blocks from where I live!). He was visiting local Susan Green, who knew him from his Greenwich Village days - she'd been friends since childhood with his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo - and she wrote about it a few years back for VTDigger.  His visit to my neighborhood kicked off with a car chase:

As we traveled on Burlington’s South Prospect Street, he admired the stately 19th-century buildings. But I also noticed he kept turning around to look at the station wagon behind us. I asked him, “What’s the matter?”

“We’re being followed.”

Followed? By crazed fans? The CIA? “Bobby, what do you want me to do?” was all I managed to say.

“Lose them,” Dylan instructed me.

So I sped up. The other car did too. When we reached my section of Burlington, I tore through the neighborhood. They were still on our tail. After several sharp turns, we seemed to be alone on the dark streets. But suddenly there they were again, coming toward us.

As the station wagon swerved around, I careened onto my street and raced up the driveway behind my five-bedroom house. From that hidden vantage point, we saw our pursuers zip right by.

“Who are they?” I finally asked.

“My bodyguards,” Dylan replied matter-of-factly.

The entire essay's a fun read. She writes about trying to convince Vermont's Goddard College, where she went to school, to book Dylan in 1962. He’d said he’d do it for $75 and bus fare. The powers that be passed.

Renaldo & Clara footage

They filmed a long scene at the long-gone Curio Lounge. It sounds like quite a place, with guns ands creepy dolls covering the walls as well as, per Ratso's book, “what’s purported to be the remains of a Civil War general, complete with a red, pulsating heart visible in the bony rib cage.” Sadly, none of the footage makes the film.

What's on the tape?

This is, unfortunately, the worst-sounding recording thus far. Maybe all that heat warped the microphones.

1975-11-08, Patrick Gymnasium, Burlington, VT

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