I have far less confusion about the second Bob Dylan concert that I saw than I do about the first. On August 29 1988 Dylan returned to Ontario to play the Canadian National Exhibition.

One of the things that I sort of always liked about growing up in the Toronto area were the CNE concerts. I never really did the CNE much at all as a kid because my family owned a cottage so we were never around at the end of August to go. By the time I was in university, I was always working in the summer, so I was around for a bit of it. The CNE is just a big state fair equivalent – midway rides, try to win a stuffed animal – but they always had a series of big name concerts each night, and admission to the Ex, as it was called, was free with a ticket. A list of shows, from 1948 to 1994, can be found here.

As I say, I didn’t go to many of these as I would have been away every summer through 1986. In 1987 I saw The Cult show there, and I am reasonably certain that that was the show at which Guns ’n Roses opened and were booed off the stage. A few months later their first album would break and they became the biggest band in the world, but that audience despised them that night. I definitely saw one of the David Bowie shows that year, and the New Order show (awful) and the Echo and the Bunnymen/Gene Loves Jezebel show (also pretty bad).

In 1988 I saw Bryan Ferry and also Bob Dylan. I remember that I had no solid plans to see the Dylan show because I went with my girlfriend of the time and we had no tickets. Since you had to pay admission to the fair unless you had a ticket, I think I paid to go in to the box-office with the plan of bringing the tickets back, so that we would save money. I remember that someone sold me tickets while I was standing in line, with the logic that the tickets (not marked up) would be better than what I could get day of at the box office. So I paid for those and it turned out we sat about six rows from the stage, dead centre. There were two seats empty next to us, or a couple of seats away from us, during the opening act, and when that ended that act – Timbuk3 – came and sat with us. At the time it was sort of cool – hey! rock stars are sitting right next to us to watch Dylan – and sort of uncool – hey! Timbuk3 sort of suck! – at the same time. Regardless, the seats were awesome.

Other things I remember: it was kind of cold and I didn’t have a jacket. The sound system was typically bad (an outdoor football/baseball stadium, the Ex was always a terrible venue) but we were so close to the stage that it was almost alright. Dylan still wasn’t talking to the audience. I thought it was a better show than Hamilton the month before.

I have a bootleg of this show and it is quite similar (though the quality of the bootleg is superior). Here was the setlist:

Subterranean Homesick Blues

Absolutely Sweet Marie

Masters of War

Simple Twist of Fate

Shelter From the Storm

Highway 61 Revisited

Girl From the North Country

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

One Too Many Morning

Barbara Allen

I Shall Be Released


Like a Rolling Stone

It Ain’t Me, Babe

All Along the Watchtower

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

To my ears, that’s a better setlist than the Hamilton show, although it has fewer “hits”. Other than “Silvio”, nothing later than the mid-1970s. This was a real classics tour. This may have been one of the best Dylan shows that I ever saw live.

In 1989 I saw only one show at the Ex (The Cure and Love and Rockets). In 1990 I didn’t live in the Toronto area for the summer, so I saw none. In 1991 there was nothing I wanted to see. Since then I haven’t lived around Toronto. Now I’m kind of curious as to what shows they have this year….

Here’s the opening act

One thought on “CNE

  1. Rusty

    Timbuk 3 were great. (I almost added “you idiot!” but refrained, because tone is so hard to communicate on the internet, and the respect and affection I have for you might not come through, you big old idiot.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s