By the summer of 1971, Bob Dylan was something of an apparition. He’d moved back to New York’s Greenwich Village with his rapidly growing family, but he fiercely guarded their privacy and was rarely seen in public. The fact that deranged fan A.J. Weberman was going through his trash and organizing demonstrations outside his house didn’t exactly help matters. New Morning, Dylan’s previous LP, had hit shelves nearly a year in the past, and pictures started circulating through the press of Dylan and his wife Sara in Israel at the Wailing Wall. It was beginning to look like he might drop out of the music scene entirely.
Dylan had been off the road since a motorcycle accident prematurely ended his 1966 Blonde on Blonde world tour, though he did perform at a Woody Guthrie tribute show in 1968, later guesting with the Band at a 1969 Illinois show and again at the Isle of Wight a few months later.
Yet by the time George Harrison started planning the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, Dylan hadn’t played a single song onstage in almost two years. Harrison knew that getting Dylan on the bill would guarantee sell-outs at both the afternoon and evening shows, and somehow he actually talked him into showing up. According to legend, Harrison asked Dylan to perform “Blowin’ in the Wind,” a song he hadn’t played in seven years. Dylan snapped back, “Are you going to play ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand?'”
In the end, Dylan did perform “Blowin’ in the Wind,” along with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” “Just Like a Woman” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” He was backed by the one-time-only supergroup of Harrison (guitar), Leon Russell (bass) and Ringo Starr (tambourine). “With his beard trimmed below the jawline, his hair medium short but wiry, he looked as if he’d stepped off the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” read the original review in Rolling Stone. “His voice now had a beautiful fullness to it, but it was closer to The Times They Are A-Changin’ than Nashville Skyline.”
The Sixties had been over for slightly over a year and a half by the time the Concert for Bangladesh rolled around, but there was already nostalgia for the era. The sight of Ringo and George playing together again brought tears to peoples eyes, and the return of Dylan (not to mention the return of his long dormant protest songs) was hailed as a huge event. They’d have to wait another two and a half years, however, before he was ready to take the Sixties nostalgia show on the road.