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Reviving A Memory

Reviving A Memory

On October 2, 1965, I attended my fourth Bob Dylan concert at Symphony Hall, in Newark, NJ.  It was a concert that’s barely been mentioned or written about except as far as I know by me in an article I wrote for a long time ago.  For years there were no photos and if anyone recorded it, it has yet to surface.  Last summer, a friend shared a photo from the show of Dylan at the piano.  It was a close-up, but that photo could have been from anywhere.

Photo by and courtesy of Thom Cronin

A few days ago, a photo appeared on the Levon Helm tribute page on Facebook, Electric Dirt Farmer of Dylan, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson by photographer Thom Cronin that totally blew my mind because it was so close to the vantage point from which I witnessed the show.  I’d been carrying around in an image in my mind of that show for more than 49 years and this photo brought it to life.

I was 14, and my family had moved to North Jersey two years before.  I had a job a couple of days a week after school and on Saturday mornings.  So the day of the show, I rode my bike home, and immediately called up the theater to see if tickets were still available.  They were, so I took a bus to Newark.   I’m pretty sure this was the first concert I bought a ticket to myself without asking my parents.  I’d just seen Dylan a little over a month before at Forest Hills, so I figured if I asked them to get me a ticket they would have said, “You just saw him.”  So I bought the ticket which was maybe four dollars, probably less.  The ticket said “stage site,” and in those days it was not uncommon for people to be seated on the stage so that’s where I thought I’d be sitting.

It was still several hours to the show, so I got on a bus to go back home.  As I took my seat, I couldn’t help but notice a Cadillac limo going in the other direction headed towards the theater.  As I looked out the window, I thought I saw a lot of hair through the rear window of the Caddy.  But I didn’t have enough money on my for another bus fare.

When I returned to Symphony Hall that night, I saw a bunch of kids from my class at junior high school.  To put this in perspective, I was a long-haired, poetry reading and writing, anti-Vietnam war button wearing, folk-singing freak and I took a lot of shit for it.  And to add another dimension to it, Bob Dylan was pretty much universally despised in the entire town.  The town I lived in was also the home of Lorre Wyatt, the guy who said he wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” and eventually recanted his story.  But no amount of proof (and there’s a lot more proof now than there was then) could dissuade the people in that town from believing Wyatt wrote the song.  So when I saw these kids from my class in the lobby, my reaction was oh no!  The enemy!  They were all wearing jackets and ties which was pretty standard for going to a concert back then.  I was wearing some dumpy sports jacket and jeans.  I thought it was pretty funny when they said to me, “What are you doing here?” especially since my first Dylan concert was in the same theater almost two years before, when the theater was known as The Mosque.  So I answered them, “The question is, what are you doing here.”  Of course I knew what the answer was, Dylan had two hit singles, “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street,” and the second was still high on the charts at the time of the concert.

I walked away to find my seat, expecting to be led to the stage.  Instead I was directed to go down into the auditorium.  All the way down.  A couple of rows of folding chairs had been set up in front of the regular seats and my seat was in the first row, second chair in from the center aisle.  Holy shit!  I couldn’t believe it!

There were a couple of guards against the wall on each side of the stage.  I figured this was because of the stage rush that had happened at Forest Hills where a bunch of kids jumped on the stage during the electric set chased by cops in and around the musicians.

The opening acoustic set was exactly the same as Forest Hills starting with “She Belongs To Me, and ending with “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  On the third song, “Gates of Eden,” Dylan started coughing.  After finishing the song, a guard brought out a glass of water and Dylan said, “Excuse me, I just got over a case of Leprosy.”  Watching him during the set, his face was stoic resembling the cover of The Times, They Are A-Changin’, except his hair was way longer.

When the band took the stage after intermission, the contrast between how they looked and how Dylan looked was somewhat astonishing.  They were in suits and ties and had really short hair, which would grow as the tour continued.  I had no idea who they were and Dylan didn’t introduce them.  At Forest Hills, the audience was so far from the stage that unless you had binoculars (which I didn’t) it was pretty hard to tell what anyone looked like.  Not long after the show, a friend had a program from the concert the night before had Carnegie Hall, which listed the musicians, under the heading: Levon & The Hawks.  I then realized I’d seen Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson at Forest Hills, and also realized that they along with the organ player, Garth Hudson were on an album I had by blues singer John Hammond, So Many Roads.

Photo by and courtesy of Thom Cronin

There was a line of huge Fender amps that ran across the stage.  They started with “Tombstone Blues,” and it was probably the loudest thing I ever heard in my life.  Since Dylan was holding down the rhythm, along with Helm on drums and Rich Danko on bass, it allowed remaining musicians, Richard Manuel on piano, Hudson on organ and Robbie Robertson to kind of have a free for all throughout the show.

The song that blew me away however came early in the show when Dylan pulled out, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” from his first album.  I went pretty crazy seeing that.  I couldn’t believe it.  Of course years later, such surprises became pretty common and one of the main reasons to go see him, because you just never knew when he was gonna pull out something he hadn’t played in years or never played.

Unlike Forest Hills, and the shows that happened later in the tour and around the world the following year, there was no booing.  Also unlike Forest Hills, at Symphony Hall there was an encore, “Positively Fourth Street.”

Photo by and courtesy of Thom Cronin

In the months after the show, I longed to hear that sound again.  The following June, a single, “I Want You” was released and the flip-side was a live version of  “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” recorded in Liverpool just a few weeks before.  I played it several times a day at top volume.  But it would be at least four years until the Royal Albert Hall bootleg surfaced.

I didn’t know it at the time but I wouldn’t see Bob Dylan again until more than eight years later in January, 1974.  For a few years, I wondered what happened to Levon & The Hawks.  When Music From Big Pink was released three years later, I bought it without hearing it, without thinking about it.  When The Band had their live New York City debut at the Fillmore East a year later, I was there, and little did I know I’d find myself backstage at one of their concerts a few months later.

Decades later through other strokes of luck, I’d have other front row seats at Dylan concerts and occasionally be up at the stage at some general admission shows.  And though I’ve seen Dylan more than 100 times since, that night, that show in Newark remains kind of hard to beat.

Special thanks to Thom Cronin for being there that night with a camera for letting me use his photos






  1. Michael Gray Michael Gray February 24, 2014

    Thank you – a really interesting, likeable piece.

    • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown February 24, 2014

      Thanks Michael!

      • Scott Scott September 29, 2015

        Peter……..I was actually at that show. The first of many. It changed my life!

        • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown September 30, 2015

          Cool Scott. It took me almost 50 years to find other people who were at that show.

  2. jack jack February 24, 2014

    nice one, pete.

  3. Stumpzian Farber Stumpzian Farber February 24, 2014

    And you revived MY memories of a concert a month later at the old Washington Coliseum. I have used the same words ( “the loudest thing I’d ever heard in my life”) to describe the second half. I’ve always wished some photos might turn up (and a tape!), so I was glad to see Cronin’s along with your article. Some of it seemed familiar, which makes me think I read the earlier version at some point. Anyway, thank you.

    P.S. People sitting on the stage — fascinating.

  4. zuke zuke February 24, 2014

    PSB, glad to see you are still writing about Bob. When I looked at those pictures yesterday I didn’t even recognize the Band. I thought Bob might have picked up a couple of local musicians like Chuck Berry does.

    • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown February 24, 2014

      Howdy Zuke, good to see you’re still around.

  5. BOB STACY BOB STACY February 24, 2014

    Thanks for caring so deeply about the good music … and then taking time to reach back for just the right words to say about it.

  6. Sandi Bachom Sandi Bachom February 24, 2014

    I was at a concert when Dylan went electric in Riverside California, nobody has any record of this concert. He did the very set you described, acoustic, and then he came out with the Band and did Like A Rolling Stone. I’m told by his archivist and folks who worked on that tour he only did the show for a year and Levon quit cause he got tired of getting booed. This has made me crazy for years, I even filmed Donovan recently and at the Q&A I asked the question and he couldn’t hear me and thought I was talking about Newport…so I missed my window. Donovan and Dylan were at a party at someone’s house after the concert. I moved to Boston in October of 65, the year I turned 21, so it must have been before that but Newport was July right? I’ve even asked his archivist and nobody knows! I was interviewed about it in the Dylan Examiner a couple of years ago, but thank you for the set list cause I do remember the songs, we loved him so.

  7. Martin Golan Martin Golan February 24, 2014

    Great PSB piece as usual, detailed, personal, and the kind you read every word of even if you don’t have the time.

  8. Thom Cronin Thom Cronin February 24, 2014

    A wonderful piece of writing Peter. The coincidence of the two of us sitting anonymously so close to one another almost half a century ago flabbergasts me, as does the power of images that for all those years I thought ordinary.
    Thanks for the thrill.

    • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown February 24, 2014

      Thanks so much Thom, and everyone else for your comments!

  9. Michael Simmons Michael Simmons February 25, 2014

    Beautiful reminiscence, Peter — your attention to detail and power of recall are indeed always powerful! I’d love to read your memories of The Band at the Fillmore too.

  10. David Desmond David Desmond February 25, 2014

    thanks, I follow dylan stuff since I was 11. Uused to ask people if they ever met bob dylan. surprisingly many had. I finally got to meet him and talk alone the day he made “political world” video in Bloomington, IN. He is not at all like all these journalists say he is. He was very nice but not warm and fuzzy. We shook hands and talked. He asked me what I did. PLEASE don’t let him be remembered as what some journalists said he wss. he’s a regular guy who wants to be left alone. If you get to meet him, he’s OK. Make sure you are. I first saw him night two of Chicago tour 74.

  11. Wayne D. Wayne D. March 17, 2014

    I have a question about the strat he used. Is that the one that just sold for a million bucks at auction? Those pics might be rare, if it is, because I remember they said they didn’t have very many pics of him using it.

    • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown March 17, 2014

      It wasn’t a million but it was several hundred thousand dollars. And when I first saw this pic, the same thought entered my mind. It could well be, because when those guitars were left on the plane was never really specified, and it wasn’t from leaving Newport. Dylan did an endorsement for Fender, and they probably laid a bunch of guitars and amps on him, as well as quite a few different reports of him buying electric guitars at various stores in NYC and New Jersey.

    • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown February 21, 2015

      It was probably near the end of the fall ’65 tour. There were days available.

    • Ken Shane Ken Shane September 29, 2015

      I was fortunate enough to have a cool older cousin who took me to this show. I remember it much the same as you do, with one exception: while there may not have been any booing, someone definitely yelled out “rock and roll sucks” as the second half began. In ant event the show remains a great memory over the years. I have often quoted the ‘leprosy” line and the fact that it was the only thing he said to the audience that night.

      • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown September 30, 2015

        The leprosy line was hard to forget.

  12. Scott Scott September 29, 2015

    I attended that show, the first of many……..It changed my life!

  13. laurie bennett laurie bennett October 1, 2015

    My friend Mark just sent me this article, we wound up sitting on the stage, to the left of Dylan in your photo, can’t make it out too well, was only 13, had no idea of the importance or the people (Levon) playing. I do have some photos, 2, and tried to post but not able. Black and white, let me know if you want me to send you copies. Have the poster and ticket as well, very nicely framed for me by Mark Sceurman.

    • Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown October 1, 2015

      Sure Laurie, if you go to my home page by clicking on main website, you’ll find a link to email me.

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