Atlanta, GA — In this, the ninth city of his 24-city tour with the Band, Bob Dylan opened himself up to some peach-sweet Southern hospitality, as he socialized with Jimmy Carter, the governor of Georgia, at a post-concert party at the governor's mansion.
Carter, a Democrat who entertains 1976 vice-presidential hopes, sent Dylan a hand-written invitation last December, promising that any gathering would not be open to the press. "It was not an effusive note," Carter said later. Dylan accepted, through tour-producer Bill Graham, with a special request for some real down-home cuisine.
Following the first concert of a two-day stopover in Atlanta, January 21st and 22nd, Dylan and his entourage rolled up to the mansion on Atlanta's posh northwest side in three long black limousines escorted by a state trooper and entered the box-like, tin-roofed neo-Georgian residence which stands as a monument to its first occupant, former-Governor Lester Maddox.
Inside, the group was met by Carter, a 49-year-old peanut farmer and former nuclear submarine captain, his wife Rosalynn, and their three sons, one of whom, Chip, made a pilgrimage to Woodstock in December, 1968, just to shake Dylan's hand. The party in Atlanta was Chip's idea, the kind of fantasy that apparently can come true if you happen to be the governor's son.
For more than two hours, 30 persons, including Dylan, the Band, promoter Bill Graham, three heavies from Georgia's fledgling music industry in Macon — Alex Hodges, head of Paragon Agency, which manages the Allman Brothers, Phil Walden and Frank Fenner of Capricorn Records — and the Carter sons' closest friends, ate grits, scrambled eggs and country ham, drank beer and wine and dipped fresh vegetables in a cheese sauce.
The governor acted as Dylan's personal host, guiding him through the mansion, pointing out antiques and chatting quietly.
"I asked him if he wanted a drink, but he only wanted orange juice and would only eat the vegetables," Carter reported the next morning.
At one point Dylan and the governor slipped outside for a private walk around the mansion grounds. They talked about the tour, Dylan's plans to return home afterwards, his family, and the responsibility Dylan feels toward his audience.
Asked if Dylan had discussed the persistent rumors that he plans to donate his share of the tour royalties to Israel, Carter replied, "He didn't say anything to me about it."
Earlier, however, during intermission at the concert, Graham met the governor at Carter's sixth-row seat (officials of the hall had given the governor's party 16 seats on the row, but the Carters had insisted on paying for them) and told the governor: "Dylan was particularly impressed by the fact that you had gone to Israel." Carter, a strong Israeli supporter, toured the Holy Land in 1972.
At the party, however, Carter said, "When I mentioned Israel, Dylan changed the subject and said he and his wife had recently been to Mexico and had enjoyed that country, too." (The next day, Chip Carter brought Dylan a gift from his father, a small coin found at an Israeli archeological dig.)
Others at the party, including Carter, reported Dylan's famous reticence: "He never initiates conversation, but he'll answer a question if you ask him." Carter, who seemed sincerely interested in both the Dylan phenomenon and the man himself, called Dylan "painfully timid" but found a warm, family-loving man behind the electric stage personality and the reclusive private self.
By 1:30 AM the party ended and Dylan returned to his hotel room. Shortly afterward, Gregg Allman and his wife appeared at the door of the governor's mansion and Carter came downstairs in blue jeans and bare feet ("the way I always dress around the house") to say hello and tell them how sorry he was they had missed the party.
(In Miami, where the two Dylan concerts on January 19th caused a nine-mile-long traffic jam that kept many people from entering the Sportatorium until the concert was half over, there were only two protest signs and six demonstrators. The signs read: "$9.50 — A Rip Off" and, "Dylan: Master Of War," referring to the Dylan-as-Zionist rumors.
(Away from the concerts, Dylan, who stayed in a hotel in nearby Coconut Grove, ventured out to the folk and blues club, Bubba's, and, on Sunday, joined the end of a religious rally at Peacock Park. The rally was conducted by Arthur Blessitt, once known as "The Mod Minister of Sunset Strip," and, according to a reporter at the Miami Herald, "Bob went up and talked to Blessitt for about ten minutes. My feeling was that he was just inquiring. Art didn't want to say anything about it. He said 'If anybody is going to talk about it, it'll have to be Bob Dylan.'"
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