By: Kellen Salom

At 82 years old, Bob Dylan is practically the last man standing from his generation of singer-songwriters. With the vast majority of his peers either retired or deceased, Dylan continues to tour and release music. Though Dylan has been known for the hit-or-miss quality of his live performances, especially in recent years, his show at the Classic Center on the evening of March 15 proved that he is still capable of demonstrating exactly why he is so legendary. Part of his “Rough and Rowdy Ways” tour, named for the album of the same name he released in 2020, Dylan’s visit to Athens also included a show the prior night on March 14. 

A concert unlike any I have attended before, my experience naturally began very uniquely immediately after having my ticket scanned outside of the Classic Center. Because Dylan has a historic disdain for smartphones being used to record and photograph his concerts, he requires all attendees to place their phones in Yondr pouches, devices that can only be locked and unlocked by event staff before and after the concert. While I appreciate the sentiment behind this choice and have come to find it fosters a much more intimate environment, this restriction meant I was unable to procure photographic evidence of my encounter with the elusive Dylan.

Shortly after I found my seat at the very back of the auditorium on the upper balcony, Dylan and his band came out on stage with no introduction. Beginning the concert with his 1971 song “Watching the River Flow”, I was immediately star-struck. While I went into the concert with no idea what to expect, I was very impressed by the robustness of Dylan’s vocal delivery and the tightness of his band. While Dylan meandered, albeit surprisingly energetically, through selections from his many “eras” throughout the duration of the concert, it was clear that his primary emphasis was on “Rough and Rowdy Ways”, from which nine of the show’s seventeen songs were derived. As the night continued, Dylan occasionally accentuated his soulful piano accompaniment with a couple of songs in which he played harmonica, harkening back to his days as folk music’s premier icon. While he occasionally rose from his piano to greet the crowd, aside from a brief introduction of his bandmates towards the end of the show, this was the full extent of his interaction with the audience. After Dylan closed the concert with a deeply emotional and passionate rendition of his spiritual “Every Grain of Sand”, he promptly left the stage, perhaps never to be seen in Athens again. Following the conclusion of the set list, several favorites from the show emerged, such as the slow, ruminating “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)”, the personally reflective “I Contain Multitudes”, and the scathing “Black Rider”. 

While Dylan refrained from playing his “greatest hits” of the 60s and 70s, an aspect of his shows that may deter some concertgoers, the show was incredibly engaging and appealing from beginning to end. My girlfriend who accompanied me, certainly not someone who would identify as a Dylan fan, found the show to be just as outstanding as I did and wished to investigate his discography further. To describe the concert using one word would be impossible given the wide scope of the setlist, the band’s adaptiveness to the dissimilar demands of each song, and the remarkably versatile performance of Dylan himself. Regardless, I will attempt to do so for the sake of this review: sublime. To any who may be indecisive if presented with an opportunity to see Dylan in concert, let this review persuade you. At this point, there is no guarantee how long he will continue to tour, let alone how long he will continue putting forth performances of such high quality. For any fan, whether causal or devoted, the opportunity to see Bob Dylan live is one that cannot be refused.