Another post in honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday.
The Second Time I Didn’t See Dylan
By David Daniel
First time I ever heard of Bob Dylan was when my older cousin Eric mentioned him. He must’ve read an article and not yet heard the name said aloud because he pronounced it “Die-lan,” like what you do with a telephone. Soon, everyone knew how to say the name and how it had come to be. Eric became a big fan, and in ’64, when he said Bob Dylan was gonna be at the Newport Folk Festival, we decided to go. We invited our friend Cooper along.
We didn’t have tickets, but that was okay—we didn’t have money or wheels, either. Plan was to take backpacks and sleeping bags and hitch from Boston. It went down like this:
We got a string of short rides, including one from a highway philosopher who told us that he once walked across America and that a journey of any length always begins with good shoes. His, he said, were bad, unfortunately—raggedy cowboy boots—and now he couldn’t walk to the mailbox without gruesome pain.
Outside of New Bedford a Brink’s truck drove by and stopped. From inside the cab the guard waved “Come on,” gesturing to the back door. We grabbed our packs and hoofed it double time. Eric took hold of the handle and yanked. The riveted-steel door didn’t budge. Cooper tried. I tried. When the door went on not budging, I pressed close to its small window and peered through bulletproof glass. The driver and the guard sat craned around in their seats, laughing their asses off. Right. Like a Brink’s truck is gonna pick up hitchers. Wiser young men, we stepped away and the truck lumbered off. It was probably a common prank, and, hell, they deserved a good laugh to relieve the tension of guarding with their lives all that money that was never theirs.
Soon enough we were laughing, too. An Entenmann’s bakery van picked us up. The driver even opened a box of powdered donuts to pass around. We wore sweet smiles all the way to Providence.
A few short rides later we were in Newport.
Once a summer playground of the Gatsby set, home to deep-water yacht racing and fabled music festivals, it’s a grand old town. Eric and Cooper and I roamed the elm-shaded streets outside the festival grounds, where little informal knots of people clustered around musicians playing for free: “Four Strong Winds,” “Ramblin’ Boy,” “Greenback Dollar”—all these road-going songs on acoustic guitars and harmonicas. Like I said, we didn’t have tickets to the actual festival and didn’t know how we were gonna get in, but we weren’t worried. One step at a time (and we had good shoes).
That night, weary from sun and sea air and a six-pack of Schlitz we’d managed to score and chug down lukewarm, we spread our sleeping bags in some bushes and crashed. We woke to daylight and the crunching-gravel sound a Bentley makes when it rolls past, three feet from your head. Fumbling around in the dark the night before, we’d become unwitting guests of the Vanderbilts!
“Let’s stick out our thumbs,” Cooper said. “Maybe they’ll pick us up.”
“Maybe it was their money in the Brink’s truck,” Eric said.
“Maybe they’ll have donuts in there,” I said.
Tickets to the festival were sold out, not that we had the five bucks to buy them even if they weren’t; but in those days you didn’t fret. It’s not like now, when it’d take a Delta-Force team to get in anyplace without a ticket. Back then, if you were determined, you could usually find a way. Hop a fence, appeal to the better angels of a hostess or a gate guard, even entomb yourself in a crowd and stroll right in.
As it turned out, the mojo wasn’t working that day and we had to settle for listening to the free street music of wannabe troubadours. After two days we hitched home.
The following summer at Newport was when Dylan came out in his tight black jeans and shades, edgy as a feral cat, jacked his guitar into the amp, and busted out the electric jams—“. . . ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more . . . .” I wasn’t there for that one either.