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Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue Comes to the Buffalo Bills

Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, as sated readers are surely aware by now, rapidly turned into this fall's major musical spectacle, even though it's been limited to 21 cities in the Northeast

January 1, 1976
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Keith Baugh/Redferns

As we were going to press, the Revue was finishing its last scheduled shows in Toronto, December 1st and 2nd, and Montreal on the 4th. There still remained the tantalizing possibility of a West Coast tour after the Madison Square Garden benefit December 8th to raise money for imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. George Lois, the executive director of the Hurricane Carter Defense Committee who arranged the Carter benefit, said that Dylan originally "wanted to disband the Revue after December 5th. But he thought it important to convince the Revue to stay together for this benefit – a 'Protest Emergency Benefit' – to politically protest the fact that Carter remains in prison and to raise money for his legal defense. The committee also wants to do something in [New Jersey] Governor Byrne's backyard. There are lots of people in Newark who want to have a benefit there. Dylan is doing the Garden benefit because Rubin can use the support even though such a big hall goes against everything Dylan has talked about."

Besides Dylan and the Revue, Muhammad Ali and Roberta Flack had agreed to appear, Lois said. He had also sought to book Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, but both had prior commitments.

Meanwhile, as the Revue rolled on through Massachusetts and Connecticut en route to Canada, there remained audience complaints that the sound system couldn't fill the big halls. Otherwise, the show was praised as being near flawless. Dylan, with his silk scarves and big hat and melting whiteface, continued to draw tumultuous ovations for the mere act of whipping out his harmonica. He was doing "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" as a waltz, "It Ain't Me Babe" as a cha-cha, and even added "From a Buick 6" to the repertoire. Joan Baez decided to try an a cappella version of "Do Right Woman," and Jack Elliott, in huge chaps, added a superb talking blues, "912 Greens." Joni Mitchell, who joined the tour in New Haven, stayed with it, and she and Ronee Blakley forsook their denims for elegant black dresses. At the Harvard Square Theater, Mitchell stood coolly to one side, smoking a cigarette, while Allen Ginsberg tapped his finger cymbals together and the cast gathered to sing the finale. "This Land Is Your Land." Observers also noted the intense interplay between Dylan and violinist Scarlet Rivera during "Isis," which began to draw more applause than "Hurricane."

In short, the tour grew less to resemble standard concert format and began to take on the overtones of a variety show: entertainment on a grand scale. So, we figured, who better to report on such an undertaking than so active a participant in America's grandest form of entertainment: professional football. After all, who is really more popular: Buffalo Bills star O.J. Simpson or Rolling Thunder ringleader Bob Dylan? Accordingly, we called on Buffalo Bills defensive end Pat Toomay who, coincidentally, took teammate O.J. Simpson and went off to Niagara Falls on November 15th to file this report:

NIAGARA FALLS—Certainly, keen anticipation is a noted breeder of disappointment. I recall a play in a pro game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. An obscure wide receiver, loping down the field in his specified pass pattern, suddenly found himself wide open. The ball fluttered out to him. He caught it. He turned north with the football and suddenly there was the end zone, the corner flags, the goal posts. He sprinted. He made it!

He raised the ball over his head and, with a national television audience watching, slammed the ball into the artificial turf. Except . . . Except that he had mistaken the five-yard line for the beginning of the end zone. He had spiked the ball in the open field. He was the goat, Too bad.

Photos: Bob Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue

So, when first word of the Rolling Thunder Revue came drifting out of Plymouth, Massachusetts, I was determined not to get too excited. I would go, but for the sake of support and to ensure the presence of an uncluttered mind, one void of any Dylan-Baez major musical event prejudices, I asked one Orenthal James Simpson if he would be interested in seeing Bob Dylan perform. We were all lolling about in the Buffalo Bills' training room at the time.

"I can get into some white music," Juice answered jocularly. "But if it snows, count me out. I cannot handle snow."

"You've got to be kidding!" hollered Ahmad Rashad, Juice's flankerback friend, above the slosh of a churning whirlpool bath. "This is Dylan, Juice. We've got to go."

"Okay," O.J. relented, "but if it snows . . . "

I next approached Halvor Hagen, 6'5", 260-pound Norwegian – an offensive tackle. I sketched in the details for the projected event.

"Great," Hagen said. "I've never been to a concert."

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