Folk Concert Etiquette



The best thing that I have discovered on this project to date, by a wide margin, is Dylan’s concert at Town Hall on April 12, 1963. A remarkably high quality recording of a tremendously good show, I’ve listened to this one three days in a row. A two set show featuring two dozen songs, and one poetry recital, this deserves an official release in the US (most of it was released in Europe on Bob Dylan 50th Anniversary Collection: 1963, and some of it shows up on the Bootleg Series – including two songs in Scorsese’s No Direction Home).

That’s not what I keep noting though. What I keep noting is the way the audience expresses their love for young Mr. Dylan.

Most obviously, there is the explosive, deep, sustained appreciative applause. These people (Robert Shelton claims an attendance of 900 in a 1200 seat venue) are listening hard, and reacting harder. It is the first “big” Dylan show (and the first where he performed mostly his own songs), and the difference from the clubs (which often sounded as if there were ten people there) is noteworthy.

The second thing that I noticed is the rude fans. Men mostly (okay, men exclusively), their job is to tell Dylan how to do his job. They yell out the names of his older (and newer) songs, demanding them as if he were a jukebox or a trained monkey. At one point Dylan denies a request for Hard Rain, only to play it later (heading into the break – a great way to end the first set). Someone calls for it in the middle of Dylan doing his stage patter, clearly throwing him off (though he recovers beautifully, and wittily). At another time he does accede to a request for Prett Peggy-o. I’m pretty sure that this was politeness, since he’s not doing other traditional songs in his set. He also introduces it by asking somewhat incredulously “You really want to hear that?”.

Third, and most oddly, there are the fans who try to control the rude fans. The Town Hall show has an inordinate amount if shushing. People in the audience call out to Dylan and others (mostly women) quickly shush them. It seems at first to be a reaction to the rudeness but, more importantly, it seems to suggest a crowd that has a strong desire not to miss a single moment, a single aside, even the tuning of a guitar string.

Personally, I hate the song-callers at shows. The best response I’ve ever heard to one came from Billy Bragg, who, denying a request for something or other, said: “That’s easy for you, mate. You just have to remember the title. I have to remember the words, the chords, and the witty banter that introduces it. Which is another way of saying you’re out of luck”.

In a couple of years – at Newport, in Manchester – Dylan will get the rudest of song callers. But that would be getting ahead if myself.

The shushers on the other hand are my kind of people – I’m trying not to miss a moment either.

But here you go, song-caller, wherever you are, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall at the end of the first set: