A Ripping Good Concert by Willie and Bob

Two Old Pros Conduct Master Classes in How to Perform

On a feel-good Nashville summer evening on a low stage erected over second base in 10,000-seat Greer Stadium, in front of the huge guitar-shaped scoreboard, two of the music world’s songwriting geniuses demonstrated on Tuesday evening (June 28) why they’re still on top of their game.

In “Like a Rolling Stone,” particularly, Dylan seemed to catch fire, and he ripped through it as if he were back racing on his old Triumph motorcycle, with Don Herron’s masterful steel guitar work replacing Al Kooper’s fluid organ playing on the original recording. Dylan, in his white cowboy hat and black western-cut suit, even got up from behind his sheltering keyboard and actually moved around on stage, becoming animated while blowing harmonica solos.

It was a warm Nashville evening, with tie-dye shirts everywhere and a marijuana haze floating near the stage. Many musicians and music industry folk were in the crowd. Hank Williams’ granddaughter, the singer Holly Williams, was seated near the first base line. BR549 lead singer Chuck Mead walked by on his way to the infield.

The Nashville ties of all three acts seem palpable. Opening act The Greencards, a very impressive young bluegrass group, made much in onstage remarks of their Australian and British roots having been superseded by their recent move from Austin to Nashville, Nelson of course spent several mostly unhappy years in Nashville before moving to Austin for a musical rebirth and Dylan recorded some of his most brilliant work here, with Nashville musicians. Onstage on this evening, Dylan proudly introduced Herron, a graduate of Nashville bar band BR549, as being “from around here. You all know him.”

Although he usually performs 14 songs in each show, Dylan has not repeated the same set list during this entire tour of minor league baseball parks, which began on March 7. Songs themselves came from throughout Dylan’s career. He opened with “Drifter’s Escape” and worked down through “This Wheel’s on Fire” to the seldom-performed “Under the Red Sky” to “Summer Days,” finally encoring with “Masters of War” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” With the addition of Herron on steel, fiddle and banjo, Dylan has injected a western-swing feeling to some of his songs, particularly on “Bye and Bye” (which he rarely sings on this tour) with its poignant line, “I’m paintin’ the town, making my last go-round.” This evening, he showed he’s not even close to his last go-round.

Nelson, in following the Greencards and preceding Dylan, provided a warm and hit-filled hour and 20 minutes of nonstop music. With his traditional opening number “Whiskey River,” Nelson had the crowd enraptured. He sang many of his varied hits, from “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” down through “Me and Paul,” “On the Road Again,” to “Always on My Mind.” After a spirited and spiritual close with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” flowing into “I’ll Fly Away,” he came back onstage, saying, “I got one new song I want to do for you.” The song is “Superman,” with words along the lines of “Too many pills, too much pot, trying to be something that I’m not/I’m not Superman.”

The entire evening was a master class in how to perform, how to hold a crowd and also a very graphic presentation of the power of the song. Nashville is a songwriter’s town, after all, and the appreciative crowd was treated to an evening full of some of the finest and strongest country and rock songs ever written. As the happy crowd streamed out of the stadium, I heard the words “organic music” from several concert goers. “Biblical,” one young man kept repeating.