Bob Dylan has a famously checkered history as a performer: Ask anyone who’s seen him in concert in recent years, and you’ll no doubt get wildly different responses. But the legendary musician has had a particularly rocky relationship with Spokane audiences, and following his Nobel Prize win, we look back at some of Dylan’s more noteworthy appearances – and one notable non-appearance – in the Inland Northwest.
March 27, 1966 – Dylan was 27 when he was first scheduled to play a 4 p.m. Sunday show at the Spokane Coliseum. The singer-songwriter was still riding the success of his landmark 1965 albums “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” which blended his folk roots with experimental rock sounds, inspiring some of his fans to label him a musical traitor.
“Bobby Dylan is just about the most dynamic force in rock music,” The Spokesman-Review wrote several weeks before the concert. “As he stands before his audience, a mussed shock of dark hair topping gaunt, sensitive features … Dylan presents an outlandish figure.”
But Dylan never showed. Hundreds of fans waited outside the Coliseum only to be informed that the show was canceled after the truck carrying Dylan’s equipment broke down.
Just a few months later, Dylan would release his double album “Blonde on Blonde,” which is frequently cited as his masterpiece.
Jan. 17 and 18, 1980 – Nearly 14 years later, Dylan did arrive in Spokane, though many of his fans probably wished he hadn’t bothered.
Dylan, accompanied by his backing band and a gospel quartet, performed at the Opera House (now the INB Performing Arts Center) two nights in a row. At this point in his career, Dylan had fervently embraced Christianity and was known to shy away from performing his old hits, which negatively affected Spokane ticket sales (admission for the show was $15, about $45 in 2016 dollars).
Many of those who did make it to the show were, according to reports at the time, unimpressed.
“There were many born-again brethren in the crowd who applauded (Dylan) fervently,” Kim Crompton said in a 1980 review. “But his message of ‘saving grace’ failed to salvage the concert for many disappointed fans who walked out midway through the show.”
June 7, 1995 – Dylan’s live reputation had improved by the mid-’90s, and he was on the road so frequently that his schedule has been referred to as the Never Ending Tour.
The musician returned to Spokane in 1995 for an outdoor concert in Riverfront Park, which was nearly moved to an indoor location because of unseasonably cold, rainy weather. Unlike his previous Spokane show, Dylan’s ’95 set list featured as many career deep cuts as classic Dylan tunes – “All Along the Watchtower,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
“It’s clear that Dylan is having fun again,” Spokesman music critic Don Adair wrote, “playing lead singer and guitar hero in a screaming rock ‘n’ roll band.”
Oct. 5, 2001 – The Spokane Arena opened mere months after that redemptive 1995 concert, and Dylan would play there when returning to Spokane in 2001. Dylan and his band rented out the Arena as a practice space for several days before the show, which was the opening concert of the tour’s final leg.
Although attendance for the Arena show wasn’t great – Jim Kershner reported that only half the house was filled, speculating that the recent Sept. 11 attacks were to blame – Dylan’s set list included a number of iconic songs he didn’t play during his previous Spokane visit: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Desolation Row” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
Other notable Washington and Idaho appearances:
Feb. 9, 1974 – With his longtime backing group the Band, at Seattle Center (now Key Arena).
Aug. 20, 1988 – At the Gorge Amphitheater (then known as Champs de Brionne Music Theatre), with Tracy Chapman.
May 16 and 17, 1998 – Returns to a sold-out show at the Gorge, performing with Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison.
Sept. 1 and 3, 2010 – Performs at the Post Falls Greyhound Park and Event Center and Yakima County Stadium on a co-headlining tour with rocker John Mellencamp.