There had been rumors that Bob Dylan would tour in 1975, with guitarist friend Bob Neuwirth, Ronee Blakley, star of the movie "Nashville," and some tour mates of folk times past, Joan Baez and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the cowboy from Brooklyn. Well, the tour happened, starting in "America's home town," Plymouth, Mass., in a 1,800-seat hall and ending, 22 cities, 30 concerts and five weeks later, in a December benefit concert for imprisoned Ruben "Hurricane" Carter in New York's 20,000-seat Madison square garden.
Roger McGuinn, ex-Byrd, appeared as a guest at the first concert and stayed through the whole "Rolling Thunder Revue." Joni Mitchell appeared as a guest about halfway through the tour and stayed for the rest. Such personas as Gordon Lightfoot, Arlo Guthrie, Robbie Robertson, David Blue, Mini Farina and a Cherokee medicine man named Rolling Thunder dropped in for a time. Poet Allen Ginsberg and gypsy violinist Scarlet Rivera were along. Muhammad Ali, Roberta Flack and Richie Havens took part in the finale.
It has been a year in which the Rolling Stones and the Who had made big tours Dylan's tour was smaller, travelling in buses, in the Northeast and Canada, about half the time playing small halls. But still it was important. Dylan, along with the Beatles, is known as the most influential voice in pop music of the 1960s and anything he does is noteworthy. This time, he was singing "Hurricane" among his new songs, an outcry against injustice and a return to that concern for Dylan, who lately has been writing in the good-time country vein.
The night before the big benefit, the Rolling Thunder Revue had performed in the New Jersey prison where former middleweight fighter Carter currently is serving a sentence on conviction of murdering three persons in a Patterson, N.J., bar in 1966. Dylan is convinced of his innocence.
Before the concert, various performers, though not Dylan, spoke about the tour. Dylan's wife, Sarah, and son, Jessie, 9, were with him at the prison.
Joan Baez said the performance had been her idea, after Dylan suggested they go out to visit Carter. "Why raise the jealousy level of people out here, that Carter is getting all the attention. I thought it would be nicer to share a show with everybody here. We had a free night."
She had a tour of her own scheduled for November and December. Miss Baez said, but it was "irresistible" to cancel that and go on tour with Dylan. "We're an incredibly happy family," she said. "Everybody put away big egos; we knew we couldn't live that way." Travelling with her was her son, Gabriel.
Miss Baez, whose bag has long been protest, also had something to say about prisons. "The reason they exist is to get people who frighten other people off the streets. The real criminals are still out there, dropping bombs."
Joni Mitchell, not into protest, said "I came along on the tour for the magic and enjoyment and interaction between writers and musicians. I couldn't think of a more interesting place to be at the time.
"It has covered the full spectrum of family life. It's a rolling family, with the same generosity and lack of generosity afforded to members of any large family.
"I've been writing on the tour, approaching it like a coffeehouse experiment. This tour doesn't have the pressure of my own shows, when I'm travelling with my band." Miss Mitchell sang a song at the prison, "Coyote," which she had written on the tour.
Elliott has been to his mother's funeral that morning; insisted on going to the prison. He said that last July or August, "I was playing a gig at the Other End in New York. Dylan came to see me. I got him up on stage to play a song. I hadn't seen him for seven years. We'd sort of drifted apart. After his motorcycle accident, he wasn't talking much to anyone. He needed a lot of privacy to write.
"Once I almost saw him but through my own great, gross paranoia I didn't. Robbie Robertson told me I should go up to Woodstock and see him. I went on the bus. I bumped into a mutual friend there who said Dylan was writing all day and not seeing anybody. So I told him to give Dylan by regards and got on a bus and went back to New York. I told Sara tonight and she said they were all alone up there wishing I'd come along.
"So, last summer, Bob said, 'How about we get together and do a tour with Bobby Neuwirth. We can travel by bus and play small halls.'
"I'm slowly realizing most of the weirdness and the feeling of rejection I got were my own imagination."
Roberta Flack, who performed only at he prison ad the benefit, said, "I think this is the greatest change any of us will have to show our real artistic concern. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez could sell out the Garden but by being here today I'm able to say what I feel my self about the Carter Case."
Ginsberg, who read two poems, at the prison, to much applause, on most shows sang along on the finale and played finger cymbals. He said:
"There was a sense that protest was dead, that the artistic community was exhausted and indifferent. This concert is a symbol of 1970s energy and some kind of community. It's the beginning of another attempt to deal with the problems of America, the unresolved evils and hassles and corruption,"
The tour has had three film crews along, Ginsberg said, and he has been working on filming. "We did a scene at Plymouth Rock at Jack Kerouac's grave, with Dylan improvising ballads having to do with America."
And how will the film turn out? Ginsberg said, "It'll be sublime."
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