B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.
By Brian Fitzgerald
Unlike fans at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the audience at Boston University on November 10 cheered when Bob Dylan put down his acoustic guitar and picked up an electric guitar. And their applause grew louder as the night progressed, reaching maximum volume with the closer of his 40-minute encore, "Blowin in the Wind."
The 4,500 students gathered at the BU Armory were perhaps a bit more open-minded than the folkies who felt betrayed by Dylan 35 years ago when he started playing rock and roll.
In a well-received concert that was the final event in the dedication of BUs new student residence, Dylan deftly switched back and forth between acoustic and electric all night. He mixed such oldies as "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and "All Along the Watchtower" with songs from his 1997 album Time Out of Mind. The show included traditional versions of classics such as "Maggies Farm" and "Highway 61 Revisited," as well as unconventional renditions of "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Like a Rolling Stone."
Dylan likes to mix it up, and he always has. The iconoclastic artist even produced alternative renderings of recent songs, among them "Trying to Get to Heaven" and "Cold Irons Bound." Never one to run with the pack, Dylan has always consciously set out to break down or transcend established forms, especially with his own songs.
As a high school student in Hibbing, Minn., Dylan played rock and roll. He switched to folk music at the University of Minnesota and stayed with it during New York Citys coffeehouse scene. Known for performing from the heart during his long career, his repertoire has included blues, bluegrass, protest music, country, and gospel. He showcased diverse styles at the Armory, having bandmate Larry Campbell play mandolin on the country song "Searching for a Soldiers Grave," and inviting Matt Glaser, head of the string department at the Berklee College of Music, to play violin on the classic "I Shall Be Released" and on "If Dogs Run Free," a nugget from his 1970 album New Morning. The song contains some of his most admired lyrics: "If dogs run free, why not me / Across the swamp of time?/ My mind weaves a symphony / And tapestry of rhyme."
In the previous nights lecture on Dylan, Christopher Ricks, BUs William M. and Sara B. Warren Professor of the Humanities, called him the "greatest rhymer of the last 50 years."
Even the fans who were the most horrified by his switch in 1965 in Newport are probably more forgiving now. A few might go as far as to admit that Dylan, rather than selling out and defecting to rock in the mid-60s, was trailblazing a new genre: folk-rock.
"Bob Dylan is still prominent because he started a type of music that is still popular today," says Morgan Melkonian (MET04), who had waited in line for four hours to get her free ticket to the show. She was one of thousands who assembled at the GSU for ticket distribution on October 29.
You dont have to be a music promoter to figure out that Dylan can still pack arenas with fans, but his popularity among young people is nonetheless impressive for a 59-year-old. Of the 15 venues in his current fall tour, 11 are at colleges and universities. Few of his contemporaries have had such staying power over the years. "He is a cultural icon," says Joe Shibley (CAS01).
The show was the first by a headline performer at BU since B. B. King played at the Armory as part of BU President Jon Westlings 1996 inauguration celebration. Westling wanted the opening of the new residence also to be celebrated by a major concert, and Dylan was chosen last year by a student poll conducted by the Dean of Students Office. "I always wanted to see him, and Im glad I finally got the chance," says Virginia Gervin (COM01).