Bob Dylan wasn’t completely one hundred per cent out of the public eye in 1968 – he did perform for about half an hour in January at the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall.
After a long hospitalization, Guthrie passed away on October 3, 1967. Apparently Dylan told Harold Leventhal that he would be the first to volunteer to perform at any memorial concert that would be arranged for him. Those shows (one in the afternoon, one in the evening) took place on January 20, and featured Judy Collins, Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Odetta, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald, Tom Paxton, and, of course, Pete Seeger.
Each of the artists sat on stage while the others played, and Dylan performed three songs with “The Crackers” (The Band, before they were known by that name, but after they were known as The Hawks).
Dylan’s performance, his first in nearly two years, was highly anticipated. The Rolling Stone review of the show noted that tickets were being scalped for $25 (about five times the retail price), but that there weren’t enough scalpers to satisfy the demand.
The songs that Dylan and The Band performed give a strong sense of how they were working together in 1967 on The Basement Tapes. “I Ain’t Got No Home” is quite different from the way that Dylan sang it at the beginning of the decade, and “The Grand Coulee Dam” has a strong influence from The Band in the way that it swings. “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt” was the lone down-tempo song that they did. All three are suggestive that a Dylan concert around this time would have been really interesting. While he used a band here, Dylan played acoustic rather than an electric guitar, and the bluesy sensibility is a stark contrast to the rock shows from 1966.
In addition to their fifteen minutes, Dylan joined the rest of the performers on “This Land Is Your Land” and “This Train is Bound for Glory”, two of Guthrie’s most rousing songs.
The afternoon show is the one that seems to have been released on CD (and on vinyl in 1972). It’s available through the usual retailers. Apple let me buy just the Dylan songs for 99 cents each, and they’re well worth it. The album itself is pretty extravagantly priced, if you ask me.
Two of the three songs show up on YouTube. Sadly, it is “Grand Coulee Dam” that is the best of the trio, and that I couldn’t find. Play these through – they’re a glimpse of what might have been.