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A Ticket to Ryde: Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival of Music

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The highest pre-Dylan points – which were provided by Tom Paxton, the Who and Richie Havens – almost made the festival audience forget that they were, essentially, waiting for Bob.

Paxton, hardly a super-star back in the States, was a surprising knockout before the British audience, performing songs like "Rambling Boy," "Last Thing on My Mind," and "Crazy John." His "Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues" got a terrific standing ovation. One of his two encores was a song called "Forest Lawn," which deals with the bullshit America puts you through even after you're dead. Even after being told, in the most emphatic terms, that Paxton was not coming back onstage, the audience continued standing, chanting "Paxton, Paxton, Paxton, Paxton . . . " for a full four minutes. Overwhelming delirium prevailed, and there were tears in many eyes, when the singer-songwriter did re-appear one last time to say: "Thank you, thank you – you have made me happier than I have been in my whole life." A wonderfully emotional moment.

It was an excellent night for Pete Townshend of the Who, who got off some of the nastiest guitar heard during the entire festival (and in the Who's whole history, one critic wrote). The Who had arrived at the last possible moment via helicopter, which slopped in on a near-crash landing, following contractual negotiations. They wound up getting paid twice what they'd been signed for – but less than one-sixth Dylan's $84,000.

"Young Man Blues," a section from Tommy, then "Summertime Blues" and "My Generation"; all these were frequently interrupted by standing ovations. The encore, "Shaking All Over," swept up the whole audience on the sheer momentum of its thundrous riffs, shook them, left them exhausted, as finally the Who receded from the stage, leaving the stage strewn with bashed and wasted equipment.

It is understood that Dylan told Wight's promoters he'd not appear unless Richie Havens (who, like Dylan, is represented by Albert Grossman) was also on the bill. As the last rays of sun glowed upon the horizon on the festival's closing night, Havens, accompanied handsomely by Paul Williams on guitar and Daniel Benzebulon on congas, wove a charged, spell-binding set out of "Maggie's Farm" and "Window of Experience" and "Hey Jude." One song spring-boarded the next, building in intensity to his second and final encore, an exciting, powerful "Strawberry Fields Forever."

And then followed a one-hour wait, while the Band set up. It was to be a set by the Band, and then Dylan, maybe two, maybe three hours of Dylan.

In all, it had been a placid festival, and as technicians arranged the Band's equipment and instruments onstage, the audience prepared itself with various combinations of speed, acid and hash. Dope had been readily available, often for free, and lovingly consumed all through the weekend. Now it was time for one final set-up.

Perhaps all the dope, coupled with the good vibes, was responsible for keeping Wight trouble-free. Islanders had anticipated, with no little trepidation, something on the order of soccer fan booze crazies, except with long hair and loud music. The 150 men who constitute the Isle of Wight police force had their weekend leaves canceled, and braced themselves for the worst. The festival security force, with their haughty Alsatian hounds, looked a bit out of place. But all in all, Wight authorities were pleased. Said Superintendent Arthur Maynard: "Everything has been very good-tempered. The kids have been well-behaved and there has been no trouble of a serious nature."

During Dylan's performance, a lovely 19-year-old girl, who said her name was Vivian and that she came from "nowhere," appeared naked with a similarly naked young man, in the midst of a sea of foam pumped into a recreation area, and before 200 persons, made love. There was no attempt to stop them – but there was plenty of encouragement. "Beautiful," bellowed several who saw it: "Freaky, baby!"

And then: the Band. A nice hand for them, as they jiggled and thumped right into "We Can Talk About It Now." They were in soaring good form, pouring good country rock and roll into the damp night air: "Long Black Veil," "Chest Fever," "The Weight," "I Shall Be Released," "Loving You," "Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos," and "Don't Tell Henry." Forty-five minutes of solid good-rocking Anglo-Saxon music.

On came Bob Dylan, one of the very few artists who could afford not to wear skin-tight, flared, sexy trousers. Boy Dylan in a loose white suit (Buddy Holly probably owned a suit like that), white shoes, white tie and yellow shirt, behind a sparkling stainless steel chin-height barricade of microphones. The stomping and the cheering and the crying and the crush toward the front-stage area was still strong as Dylan began his first song, "She Belongs to Me."

"Great to be here, great to be here," he said as he finished the song. "It sure is."

There was a slightly more down-home resilience to "I Threw It All Away" and "Maggie's Farm" than on the recordings, possibly due to the Band's mellow, sinewy backings. "Highway 61" positively rocked.

Then the Band departed for a time, allowing Dylan to play acoustically: "Will Ye Go, Lassie Go," a hardy perennial on the British folk scene; "It Ain't Me Babe"; "To Ramona"; "Mr. Tambourine Man."

In "Like a Rolling Stone," Dylan hit upon a new device of adding the world "girl" at judicious places – "You mustn't let other people get your kicks for you, girl!" the sang, goosing the song along all the better, with the Band, who had re-joined him now, adding their resonant voices to the chorus.

"I Pity The Poor Immigrant" took on sea chantey tones with Garth Hudson's accordion accompaniment. Song after song rolled on, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," "Lay Lady Lay," "One Too Many Mornings." And then Dylan announced: "We're going to do one more for you." Just the slightest sardonic grin. "This was a big hit over here by Manfred Mann, a great group, a great group."

A whoop of anticipation, and sure enough, it was "Mighty Quinn," mighty funky.

Bob smiled broadly and waved his goodbye as the audience fell into their chant: "More, more, more more, more . . . " So he did an encore of two more songs, the first of them a new Dylan song, a slow, gentle ballad called "Who's Gonna Throw That Next Throw," then followed it with a prancing "Rainy Day Women No. 12 and No. 35."

And that was it. He had sung for one solid hour, from 11 PM to midnight. "Thank you, thank you, great!" he told the audience, still smiling, as he left for the last time.

This story is from the October 4th, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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