Return to Newport Folk


August 3, 2002 was, in a lot of respects, an unremarkable day in the touring life of Bob Dylan. Concert #1432 in the Never Ending Tour opened with “Roving Gambler”, moved through a series of 1960s hits (“The Times They Are a-Changin’”, “Desolation Row”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (newly back in the rotation), “Mr. Tambourine Man”) with only a few of the more recent Dylan songs (“Summer Days” and “Cry A While”). The show included a cover of the Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away”. If I played the show for you, you wouldn’t find it particularly remarkable. It sounds not much different from a lot of the other shows that Dylan played on his 2002 Summer US tour.

But what if I showed you this picture?


And then what if I told you that Dylan didn’t have a beard and a ponytail at the show on August 2 in Worcester, MA? Would you want to know what the hell was going on? I sure do.

Thirty-seven years after he told the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival, who had just booed him relentlessly, to kiss his ass with a harrowing version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, Bob Dylan returned to the scene of the crime. Yes, August 3, 2002 Dylan played, for the fourth time in forty years, the Newport Folk Festival.

Well, not quite. You see, Newport had changed just as much as Dylan had. By 2002 it was the Apple and Eve Newport Folk Festival (I had to look up Apple and Eve – I don’t think that we get their juices up here in Canada). Yes, they’d sold out. Gone corporate. Dylan should’ve booed them.

Instead, he showed up in a fake beard and a wig.

It is a serious WTF moment in the career of Bob Dylan.

Given the clearly traumatic history of the last time Dylan stood on that stage, he doesn’t really do much to address the history. Yes, he wears a wig and a fake beard (I probably can’t say that enough), but other than that he leaves well enough alone. If it were up to me (and it most assuredly is not), I would have loved for him to come out and play “Maggie’s Farm”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” and then leave. Better: He should have done the first three acoustic and then the final two electric. But I’m a spiteful person, and Bob Dylan just lets bygone be bygones.

The closest he really gets to talking about it is the fact that he plays “Positively Fourth Street”, a song he recorded four days after the 1965 debacle, and which is widely understood to be a kiss off to the folk scene. But Dylan so relentlessly juggled his song line-ups at this point, it’s hard to imagine that even that was deliberate. They asked, he played, he went on his way.

And, yet, the beard. I can only imagine that Dylan once swore that he’d never show his face around those parts again, and this was his way of keeping his word. It’s clear that he is fully aware of the potential for a scene – he alludes to the possibility – and then doesn’t deliver. There are no fireworks, no drama. He’s the consummate professional. Disappointing, once again, those who might have imagined a spectacular flame-out.

Good show, but not really essential.

Nice wig though.

I didn’t find any video, really. There are two fifteen second long clips on YouTube shot from a mile away. Here’s one of them (playing “Down in the Flood”):