Bob Dylan finally emerged from 18 months of self-imposed seclusion at the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert in Carnegie Hall on January 20. His appearance had been announced and the two performances were sold out weeks in advance. Scalpers were reportedly getting $25.00 per ticket, and at the concert itself people were standing on the sidewalk and in the lobby begging, “Extra tickets? Any tickets for sale?”
In addition to Dylan, the memorial concert also featured Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Jack Elliot, Odetta and Richie Havens, all performing songs written by Guthrie. Before and after each song, Robert Ryan, the program’s narrator, and Will Geer did readings from Guthrie’s work, accompanied by slides and still photographs of his art.
The performers sat in a row across the stage, most of them resplendently dressed. Odetta wore an orange and gold striped floor-length caftan, Judy Collins sported a red rose at the neck of her long-sleeved white blouse, while Richie Havens had on a purple silk Indian shirt beneath a black Nehru suit with a long jacket. But Bob Dylan, in a gun-metal grey silk mohair suit, blue shirt with green jewels for cuff links and black suede boots as well as his new beard and moustache, was the center of attention.
Most of the artists accompanied themselves on guitar while they sang, and the others played behind them. Dylan, however, sprawled in his chair with his eyes closed, seeming to be somewhere else entirely until it was his turn to play.
The crowd had been roused by Richie Haven’s rendition of “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” after being mesmerized by Odetta. Then Dylan came on to do “Grand Coulee” and the reaction broke all previous bounds even before he began to sing. Playing acoustic Fender guitar and backed by another acoustic guitar — this one with an electrical pick-up — Fender bass and drums, he performed the number with a strong rock beat that had some girls in the audience boogalooing in their seats. On this and the other tunes the group performed the bassist sang harmony on the choruses — producing a unique combination with Dylan’s singular voice.
“Mrs. Roosevelt” was a slower arrangement, and the “I Ain’t Got No Home” was very swinging, and brought everyone to his feet, applauding as the cast went off. Dylan smiled in spite of himself at the great reaction he got to each song, but wasted no time between numbers. In spite of the opening announcement forbidding cameras and taping, there was at least one flash when Dylan began to sing.
In the second part of the program, the biggest reception went to Pete Seeger singing “Reuben James,” whipping up the crowd with a sing-a-long, which he had to encore. “I’ve Got To Know” was a powerful duet by Odetta and Havens. “Bound For Glory” gave everyone a chance to sing a verse, including some scatting by Jack Elliott, who was last to sing, and this broke the audience up again! “This Land Is Your Land” included Arlo on harmonica, and a duet with Judy Collins and Dylan on the second stanza.
At the end of the concert, the Guthrie family came out on stage, and Mrs. Guthrie, in an orange dress, was obviously moved by the marvelous tribute, and hugged and kissed each artist. When she got to Dylan, he blushed, in spite of himself. When the cast did go off stage, they did not come back, even for bows, and most of the crowd stayed, clapping, stamping their feet, begging more, more, more! Then, cries of “We Want Dylan” went up. Finally Pete Seeger came out and said, “Woody wants to say to you to take this music to the world, because if you do, maybe we won’t have any more fascists.”
This is a story from the February 24, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.