This week, Sony Music Entertainment will release "Bob Dylan — The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration," a new,
high-definition DVD/CD edition of the concert at Madison Square
Garden. The show marked Dylan's 30-year recording career with
Columbia Records, now a division of Sony. PBS will begin airing
the new version beginning March 4.
The lineup that night included Beatle George Harrison, Rolling
Stone Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Tom
Petty & The Heartbreakers and members of The Band and Pearl Jam.
Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Lou Reed, Richie Havens, John
Mellencamp, Tracy Chapman, The Clancy Brothers, Booker T and the
MGs, and G.E. Smith also performed.
"It was incredible," Smith, a former Saturday Night Live
bandleader, recalled last week. "I've done a lot of things but
never anything like that, with so many great people in the same
place. Because it was for Bob Dylan, it felt like it really
meant something to everyone there."
Smith said the artists' competitive spirits and reverential
respect for Dylan produced some of the most remarkable
performances he had ever seen. "It was surreal," he recalled.
"Every two minutes something magical happened."
Over the years, new details have emerged about the event, and
new interviews with performers and producers offer fresh
glimpses into what went on, and what didn't, backstage at
Elvis Costello was to perform "Positively Fourth Street," but
visa problems delayed him. Black Flag singer Henry Rollins was
invited to perform "Subterranean Homesick Blues" backed by Pearl
Jam, but the plan fell through, production sources told Reuters
Broadcast live at the time as a pay-per-view event, the 25-song,
four-hour show had to end by 11 p.m. Some of the most
potentially intriguing planned performances were lost to rock
Clapton and Dylan prepared a new version of "It Takes a Lot to
Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry," and Neil Young, whose sonic
take on "All Along The Watchtower" was a concert highlight, also
planned to perform "Forever Young" on a pump organ.
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At sound checks on the day of the show, Pearl Jam's Eddie
Vedder sat alone in the empty front row of the arena, mesmerized
as he watched the other performers.
"I felt like … we were in the room with maybe 10 of the 12
apostles," Vedder said in a new backstage interview included in the
set. "It was incredible."
In late 1992, Dylan's career was foundering, according to
biographers. A series of poorly reviewed 1980s albums had renewed
debate among critics over whether Dylan's career was over. It wasn't
even clear whether the mercurial artist would show up that night,
according to liner notes in the new release.
But Dylan did emerge that night to perform several songs, including
"Song To Woody," his heartfelt ode to late folk singer Woody
Guthrie, written when he was 19.
The performance moved Guthrie's daughter, Nora, who sat in the
front row, to tears, according to Dylan biographer Howard Sounes.
Later, Harrison, Clapton, Petty, Young and Byrds lead singer Roger
McGuinn emerged to trade verses with Dylan on "My Back Pages,"
before the house gave him a standing ovation.
"The really remarkable contribution of Bob Dylan is that he took
black, rural blues and white folk music, rock and roll and the kind
of Allen Ginsberg beat poetry literary sensibility and combined them
all," veteran producer Don Was said in another new backstage
"He was really the first to do that. … His synthesis was the basis
for all rock and roll that came subsequently," Was said.
In the ensuing 22 years, Dylan released several of the most
critically acclaimed albums of his career, wrote a best-selling
memoir, won an Academy Award, a Pulitzer prize, the U.S.
Presidential Medal of Freedom, and seven of his 11 Grammys. At 72,
he continues to perform and record.
(Reporting by Chris Francescani; editing
by Mark Porter)
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