Highway I-94, M-14 & US-23 Revisited: A comprehensive history of Bob Dylan in Ann Arbor

MUSIC

Bob Dylan Ann Arbor concert posters

Left: Concert poster for Bob Dylan's 1964 appearance and Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer). Right: Poster for Dylan's 1996 concert at Hill Auditorium.

When Bob Dylan plays Hill Auditorium on November 6, it'll be the 12th time he's played Ann Arbor (and the 13th time in Washtenaw County when counting his 2007 concert with Elvis Costello at EMU Convocation Center).

But unlike what is sometimes stated, his first solo show was not September 9, 1964, at Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer); it was on April 22, 1962, at the Union Ballroom as part of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. That show is sometimes forgotten about by writers because they have to expand their concert-database searches to find it: Dylan, who had released his self-titled debut LP the month before, was so little known that he was mistakenly advertised as "Bob Dillon," as shown in this ad in The Michigan Daily

Another Daily ad, reprinted in Neil Cossar’s 2018 book Bob Dylan: The Day I Was There, showed Dylan's name spelled correctly and also quotes Jay Margulies about the 1962 concert and its afterparty:

I went to the hootenanny in April 1962. I was in my last term at the University, living on E. Washington, just off State St. I wasn’t planning to go, but while at a Laundromat that evening, I saw the flyer. My memory is that I decided to walk two blocks to the Frieze Building and see the concert. I don’t remember much of it – though I think it was the first time I’d seen any musician with headgear to support the harmonica – but I have a vivid memory of Bob Dylan at the party afterwards. For at least an hour, Dylan and a local musician I knew, Mike Scherker, sat opposite each other on beds, playing their guitars alternately and together. Mike was by far the more accomplished musician, but Dylan had a focus and intensity about his music that was memorable. Mike was playing for fun, Dylan to learn and improve.

The Michigan Daily's review of that 1962 concert spelled Dylan's name correctly and raved about his performance -- even if the man himself would have preferred to be riding his motorcycle in the countryside rather than play a university ballroom.

Bob Dylan ad and live review, Michigan Daily, 1962

Dylan also took part in the hootenanny on April 21, 1962, with other Ann Arbor Folk Festival performers, according to this September 23, 2014, article in The Michigan Daily, which also features remembrances by Marie Kimmey. The former president of U-M's Folklore Society before she graduated in 1961, Kimmey helped book Dylan at the 1962 fest.

"I think we paid him 50 bucks,” she says. “At that time he was still not known, and we actually had people complain, ‘Who’s this guy? What’s he doing? He plays harmonica and talks. We want our money back!’ But we were thrilled to be pulling this off -- and for only 50 bucks. We knew he was going to go places, and he did, within a year or two.”

At the festival after-parties Kimmey had an opportunity to get a closer look at the fledgling superstar. She was not particularly impressed. “He’s about two years younger than me, and I thought he was pretty immature,” she says. “I noticed that he usually had a pretty girl with him.”

Dylan needed a place to stay for the weekend and Bill Sharfman recalls that it was at 519 E. William St., a stately old Italianate structure dating from the 19th century that served as home to a pack of mischievous Michigan students. “We had a motorcycle store in the living room,” he says, “and there was endless jazz being played upstairs.”

Sharfman doesn’t remember a lot about Dylan, who at the time was not yet old enough to vote and wasn’t much of a conversationalist. “What I do remember is that he went around to all the record stores in Ann Arbor, and asked if they had the new Bob Dylan record.

As for his performance at the Michigan Union, Kimmey recalls the audience reaction was a little disappointing. “I really liked Dylan’s talking blues stuff, which was pretty much what he was doing then. But in Ann Arbor at that time, the large majority of the students were of a preppy kind and not so much into what we were enjoying. I’m sure there were people who loved it. But a lot of the crowd didn’t understand it."

Dylan returned to perform in Ann Arbor in 1964 at Ann Arbor High School, which The Michigan Daily reviewed favorably while noting a Dylan was a bit sloppy: "... flat G-string, the missed chord, the monotonous chanting of familiar verses."

Alumni who were at the 1964 concert recalled the show in that September 23, 2014, article in The Michigan Daily, including a then 15-year-old Bill Kirchner who went on to form Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen while he was a student at U-M:

Kirchen was a student at Ann Arbor High and managed to find a unique way to view the bard’s concert there on September 19. “I’d been doing junior theater and I knew my way around the auditorium,” he says. “I crawled up in the light deck and I just sat up there, right above the stage, staring down at him.”

By 1964 Dylan was famous and by the time he played Ann Arbor High School he had recorded four albums: Bob Dylan (1962), The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), The Times They Are a-Changin' (1964), and Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964). But it would be another 10 years before Dylan returned to Ann Arbor, which he did backed by The Band for a February 2, 1974, concert at Crisler Arena -- a solid step up from a high school auditorium.

The Michigan Daily previewed the 1974 concert with a story in its January 26 edition, though there are several mistakes in its timeline, including the claim that the Ann Arbor High School concert was in 1969 and the 1962 show was in 1963. It also quotes legendary Ann Arbor guitar teacher and luthier Herb David talking about a 1965 concert -- he's more than likely referring to the 1964 show -- and a 1963 gig, which is probably really 1962:

He remembers Dylan in ’63 as being “grubbly, foal and filthy … He was trying to be a Jack Elliot-Woody Guthrie type, faking a hillbilly accent. Sometimes he had a very objectional sort of personality.” … David remembers Dylan being thrown out of restuarants and drugstores for his appearance as well as hooted by some of the folk people.

The article also quotes Morey Richman, who helped produce the 1964 concert for the Folk and Jazz Society, saying Dylan was ill at the show: “He only stayed two days, and had a doctor remove an abscess from his arm the day before the concert.”

The story also states that Dylan visited Ann Arbor on "one or two other occasions" in 1963 and 1964, though he didn't perform -- again, these are likely misrememberings -- and he was said to stay at the home of Mike Sherker, the musician who Dylan jammed with after his 1962 concert.

The 1974 Crisler concert is well-documented by reviews and a crowd-sourced bootleg that includes the introduction by promoter Bill Graham: "Please keep the aisles clear, take pictures from your seats, not from the aisles, and don't record the show! We don't want any bootleg records coming out!" The bootleg did come out and is sometimes referred to as It's Been a Long Time, though it's a rough recording. (If you're curious, you can download a FLAC copy here.)

Line for Bob Dylan tickets outside Hill Auditorium, December 1973

Line for Bob Dylan tickets outside Hill Auditorium, December 1973. The Ann Arbor News, December 15, 1973.

According to Bob Dyan's official website, the setlist included 18 songs and -- as reported in the Ann Arbor Sun on February 8, 1974 -- over the course of two-and-a-half hours before 14,000 at a sold-out Crisler. A March 14, 1974, article in Rolling Stone stated it was 13,600 people in the arena, but the main reason for the magazine's story was to report on the problem people were having scalpers throughout Dylan's tour that year:

However, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a promotion agency was accused of involvement in a scheme to place 300-1000 tickets on the black market, where they sold for $15-$75. The University of Michigan Daily, in a copyrighted story, said the scalping operation involved choice, main-floor seats for the February 2nd show at Crisler Arena.

Promoting the concert was Bamboo Enterprises of Detroit. The firm was hired by Bill Graham’s FM Productions to coordinate Ann Arbor ticket sales with the university, a co-promoter.

When the concert ended Graham took the microphone and asked the audience of 13,600 for help in finding the people “who knew how it was done.” Graham told a reporter for the Daily there had been “obvious hanky-panky.”

The Michigan Daily was all over this controversy, too, first printing a scalping story on February 1, 1974, above the paper's logo, then running a front-page article on February 2, and following it up the next day with another above-the-fold front-pager and a short piece in the Week in Review section. The Daily's review of Dylan's concert was right next to that February 3 front-page article about scalping. Reviewer Diane Levick was more complimentary of The Band's spotlight performances than Lauren Jones was in the Ann Arbor Sun, and the two writers differed on whether Dylan dug his solo-acoustic sections of the show, but you can listen to the bootleg and decide for yourself.

In Cossar’s Bob Dylan: The Day I Was There book, a man named Joe Hall recalled working security for the show:

I was working security for Universities Activities Centre (UAC)-Daystar. At first I was keeping aisles clear, helping way too high folks find their seats, etc. We had all been promised a good posting and that the uniformed security would take care of the heavy stuff. However, a bunch of us got reassigned to do outside security just before the concert began (the venue doors were notoriously easy to pop).

 

The crowd trying to get in free (tickets were a whopping $7-$15) was about five deep and my partner and I spent a merry half hour yanking back glass doors that had been popped open. At some point Gary, my partner, was reaching out to pull a door shut when somebody clubbed him with a beer bottle crushing his cheek. As the medics were carrying him off, and the crowd poured in I decided that this was way above my pay grade. I went into the arena, sat on a step in the upper section and listened to the concert. The music was good, despite the shine having been taken off.

A week after the concert on February 10, 1974, The Michigan Daily posted a behind-the-scenes account of Dylan's Ann Arbor visit, though writer Dan Biddle likely uses some imagination to fill out his story (emphasis mine):

The real action, however, is in the room next door. In the mind’s eye, Dylan can be seen putting on pants and deodorizing his armpits as several uneasy people enter the adjacent conference room. 

Let's assume this next part happened as Biddle wrote it because it's a classic bit of colorful scene-setting:

The legendary Bill Graham, a man with a voice like a Bronx butcher and a face like a washcloth, erupts through the door. “I don’t know who you are, motherfuckers,” Graham hollers, pointing a menacing finger at the reporters. “But you’re saying some bad shit about my man, and I’m gonna throw you out of the building before you can turn your head around.”

...

The handmaidens are young women with sculpted hips and breasts falling out of silk blouses. Noses held high, they pass into His dressing room carrying gifts: plates of cut fruit, bottles of champagne and baskets of mixed nuts. Graham explains: “We gottta run a tight show. This guy won’t go on stage unless he’s got fresh-cut lemons for his lemonade. Gotta keep him happy … Annie, where are ‘da lemons?” Annie, who wears glitter-crusted eyelids and no shirt to speak of, tosses a wink at [Detroit rock promoter Bob] Bageris and runs out into the hallways.

...

When Dylan emerges from his dressing room for the final set, the thickly-muscled guards form a phalanx and bulldoze people out of the way as he walks toward the stage. As he mounts the stairs, he appears to smile. This is some comfort, as he does not smile once on the stage during the entire show.

Finally, here's music journalist and Washtenaw Community College English instructor Jas Obrecht remembering Dylan's 1974 appearance as recounted in an October 24, 2010, article in The Ann Arbor News as part of a preview for his 2010 concert at Hill:

Obrecht has a vivid recollection of the Bob Dylan and the Band concert at Crisler Arena in February of 1974. That was the legendary tour that yielded the “Before The Flood” live album. “This was when the Watergate scandal was at its height,” recalls Obrecht — and it was also Dylan’s first tour in eight years. “The most unforgettable moment occured during his solo set, when he sang ‘It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding).’

“When Dylan delivered the line ‘Sometimes even the President of the United States must have to stand naked,’ the entire audience rose to its feet and drowned him in cheers. That’s just one of many defining moments he brought to us,” says Obrecht.

Bob Dylan, Hill Auditorium poster, 1981

Dylan wouldn't return to Ann Arbor until November 7, 1981, which followed three albums steeped in his conversion to Christianity: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981). Even though those LPs are low-rated in Dylan's discography, there was sufficient demand to see him live that he performed four times in Michigan in 1981, including June 11 and 12 at Pine Knob and November 7 and 8 in Ann Arbor at Hill Auditorium (concert poster shown above).

The Michigan Daily ran a sort-of preview, sort-of overview of Dylan on November 8 and a review of that night's concert on November 10 that captured the general bafflement people felt about his uneven shows during this time.

… listening Sunday was occasionally like a stint in the dentist’s windup chair. Bad craziness we can hope for from a Dylan show, even brazen self-absorption can be fascinating, but … what benefit it a man if he sells his obsessions for a couple of hours worth of nicenicenice? I much prefer Prince in the shower with his crucifix to Dylan’s proselytizing – he’s much better to look at and I like his ideas about holy communion a lot more.

The Michigan History Project posted a 14-photo slideshow from one of the November 1981 concerts (it's unclear which night) and if you want to judge the shows for yourself, you can download bootlegs of both evenings here.

Eight years later Dylan returned to Hill for a single night as part of his Neverending Tour, which featured the guitarist G.E. Smith of Saturday Night Live fame. On November 6, 1989, The Michigan Daily ran a positive review of this November 1, show and The Concert Database has another solid write-up, though it's unclear which publication it's from. The curious among you can check download a bootleg of the show here.

The Neverending Tour lived up to its name when it brought Dylan back to Ann Arbor in 1996 for two concerts six months apart at two different venues. The May 14 show was at the Michigan Theater and the November 21 show was at Hill. I can't find any reviews about the May 14 gig, but you can listen to it here and write your own. The Michigan Daily's rave review of the November 21 show made note of several women in the audience who jumped on the stage to dance during a few songs, which seems unthinkable in these days of heightened security. Hear it yourself here and see if you feel the sudden urge to dance, too.

It's back to Hill -- and in November to boot -- for Dylan's next Ann Arbor gig. The November 5, 2000, date was favorably reviewed in The Michigan Daily, though it seemed to be a by-the-numbers Dylan gig. Judge for yourself here.

The Neverending Tour came back around in 2002 -- and, of course, it was in November -- but this time it was at Crisler. No reviews or previews as far as I can tell, but a fan site has several write-ups, and audio from the concert has been uploaded to YouTube for your enjoyment.

Dylan went on tour with Elvis Costello in 2007 and they stopped at Eastern Michigan University's Convocation Center on October 12, which you can download here, but it wasn't until 2010 that he returned to Ann Arbor. The concert was at old familiar Hill Auditorium -- and he almost played in November but missed it by a few days. The October 28 show was previewed in The Ann Arbor News, featuring the aforementioned quotes from Jas Obrecht about the 1974 gig, plus general commentary on Dylan from Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Dick Siegel, Jackson-based musician Eric Kelly, as well as Susanne Kocsis, then the assistant director of the Center for International & Comparative Studies at the University of Michigan, and Emily Ross, club manager at The Ark at that time. The Michigan Daily also published a preview by Cassie Balfour where she makes the case for the older Dylan even when those around her have dismissed him as someone whose best live performances are well behind him. No reviews of the concert but, again, feel free to write your own after you listen to it here.

That brings us to 2019 and Dylan's latest November appearance at Hill Auditorium as part of the now 30-year-old Neverending Tour. It will likely be another mixture of pure genius mixed with head-scratching choices, all of which will be documented on bootlegs. Please send us your reviews for posterity. 


Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.


Bob Dylan plays Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on November 6. Tickets go on sale September 20.

Related:
➥ "Dylan's 'Skyline' pianist at home in Ann Arbor" [Ann Arbor News, February 5, 1978]
➥ "Dylanology Quiz" [Ann Arbor Sun, January 25, 1974] 

Comments

The unnamed doctor who treated Dylan for an abscess was Ed Pierce, later a state senator and mayor of Ann Arbor. Dr. Pierce told me about it when I was seeing him for treatment of a staph infection in 1985. His wife (and receptionist) Mary Lee chimed in that she vividly remembered the "stinky" coat Dylan was wearing.