On a rain-threatened Sunday, the Bob Dylan-led outdoor mini-festival played the fourth date of its run at Music City’s horrible excuse for an outdoor music venue.
Although overcome by an amazing night of music, the site’s atrocities were many. The slow gate process resulted in an hour-long entry line that snaked through the downtown streets. There was also no advance notice that folding chairs and umbrellas were forbidden until you got to the gate which left the site looking like a Goodwill drop-off center. Some genius thought of putting the merch tent right in the sight lines of those sitting on the rear hill. And, for those of us lucky enough to be in front of the tent, we had the pleasure of standing on what I hope was nothing more than just some fresh lawn mulch. Lastly, since I go to concerts to listen to music and not to drink and pee, I heard that it only took an hour to get through the beer lines.
The AmericanaramA shows all closed with an ending 95-minute Dylan set after 75-minute sets from Wilco and My Morning Jacket. Each show opened the night with a brief solo set. Former Grateful Dead member Bob Weir was Sunday’s guest while Richard Thompson, Ryan Bingham, and Beck filled this role later on in the tour. It turned out to be a prominent role since these artists generally found themselves joining Wilco and MMJ in their sets. On this night, Mr. Weir wound up serving as a big catalyst for both bands.
Weir started early at 5:30 and his 35-minutes on stage resulted in only five songs—not unusual by Dead standards since extended guitar noodling was a part of each number. I felt the same way I did when I saw the Dead in their prime: I would have enjoyed it much better if the focus were on the singing. Perhaps showing his age, Weir had a teleprompter on his mic stand which led him most of the way through. The songs from his Dead and post-Dead past (i.e. Ratdog) were familiar to only some but were warmly received by all. He even honored the host by covering a fairly recent Dylan song from 1989’s Oh Mercy. Weir signed off by telling us we’d see him later.
MMJ and Wilco, both almost-arena acts in their own right, were the perfect bands to hold this festival together. They draw in their respective uber-fan bases that respect each band and hold Dylan on the high pedestal he deserves. A look at the nightly set lists revealed what a blast both are having on this tour: no two shows were alike! Front men James and Tweedy are both great singers and entertainers. Likewise, in Broemel and Cline, you have two of the best guitarists out on the circuit today.
As great as their sets were (despite a slow start for Wilco), their moments with Bob Weir proved to be the evening’s highlights. Weir’s segment with MMJ–his first of the tour–was about the closest you could get to a Dead show without smelling the patchouli. On the other hand, his stint with Wilco and their trippy cover of Revolver’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” was simply mind-blowing.
The closing act featured a crack band with an animatronic robot playing the part of Bob Dylan. Well, it seems like it could have been since the gaucho-clad Dylan barely cracked a smile or even so much as moved his shoulders. Mostly, he stood singing guitar-less with an occasional harmonica up front or at the piano where he referred to a songbook. He literally did not say a single word throughout the entire show, not even to introduce the band or his special guests, the local McCrary Sisters. The ladies were cause for a rare song change in Dylan’s set list when they joined in for some under-rehearsed and mis-amplified backing vocals on “Blowing in the Wind.”
Having seen Dylan since “one too many Marlboros” ruined his voice, he certainly has modified his show to the gruff and growling limited vocal range that remains. Sticking mostly to his more recent songs, obviously crafted to his bluesy voice, he remarkably sang/spoke his way through the songs with an almost precise enunciation of every word. Oddly, it turned out to be a great way to focus on his masterful lyrics.
As always, the musicianship of his band alone would make the evening worthwhile even if you forgot that you were looking at rock history’s greatest songwriter in the flesh. That night mysteriously marked the last night for guitarist Duke Robillard who cryptically announced his departure from the band on Facebook the next day.
Music City should consider itself fortunate to attract a show as worthy as this one. Perhaps the next time something like this comes around, we can show these artists some more respect and build a decent outdoor shed for live music. Mr. Mayor, are you listening?
- Two Djinn
- Loose Lucy
- Friend of the Devil
- Most of the Time (Bob Dylan cover)
Bob Weir – Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
My Morning Jacket
- Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
- Master Plan
- First Light
- It Beats 4 U
- Slow Slow Tune
- War Begun
- Brown-Eyed Woman (Grateful Dead cover with Bob Weir)
- I Know You Rider (Grateful Dead cover with Bob Weir)
- Victory Dance
Jim James – Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Tom Blankenship – Bass
Patrick Hallahan – Drums
Bo Koster – Keyboards
Carl Broemel – Electric Guitar and Saxophone
- Blood of the Lamb
- Remember the Mountain Bed
- Side with the Seeds
- Art of Almost
- Jesus, Etc.
- Bird Song (Grateful Dead cover with Bob Weir)
- Tomorrow Never Knows (The Beatles cover with Bob Weir)
- Passenger Side
- Impossible Germany
- Born Alone
- Laminated Cat (Loose Fur cover)
- Hoodoo Voodoo
Jeff Tweedy – Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
John Stirratt – Bass
Glenn Kotche – Drums
Mikael Jorgensen – Keyboards
Neels Cline – Electric and Pedal Steel Guitars
Patrick Sansone – Keyboards and Electric Guitar
- Things Have Changed
- Love Sick
- High Water (For Charley Patton)
- Soon After Midnight
- Early Roman Kings
- Tangled Up In Blue
- Duquesne Whistle
- She Belongs to Me
- Beyond Here Lies Nothing
- A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
- Blind Willie McTell
- Simple Twist of Fate
- Summer Days
- All Along the Watchtower
- Blowin’ in the Wind (with The McCrary Sisters)
Bob Dylan – Vocals, Piano and Harmonica
Tony Garnier – Bass
Stu Kimball – Electric Guitar
Duke Robillard – Electric Guitar
Donnie Herron—Steel Guitar, Mandolin and Banjo
George G. Receli – Drums