Opinion | Tony Jones: Now, about that Bob Dylan show

There’s been an interesting dialog going on in the letters to the editor section of the Summit Daily lately.  Actually, there’s been several going on, but the one that I’m writing about is the thread generated by a letter writer’s disappointment with the July 3 Bob Dylan show at the Dillon Amphitheater. I missed the show and so can’t speak to the writer’s criticism of Dylan mailing in the performance but the complaint about wanting to hear the hits got my attention. 

Creating a setlist for a tour has got to be tough for artists who have been touring for decades, knowing they can’t please everyone.  Of course, fans want to hear the hits, but is a greatest hits setlist truly representative of these enduring musical careers? Artists like Bob Dylan have been putting out excellent work for decades and I’m sure feel slighted at attempts to pigeonhole their accomplishments to any one period of their career. Dylan has an extensive catalog and has experienced such success over the last 60 years he can build his setlist based on the songs he wants to play, which may not necessarily be what some in the audience want to hear. 

Is it arrogant for an artist to play cuts from their latest release and skip the greatest hits in their concert setlists? Perhaps, but let’s be real, you can (and do) hear their greatest hits every day on the radio or your music stream and it sounds just like it did when it was first released. However, the Bob Dylan of 2022 isn’t going to sound much like the 20-something that first started playing on the radio in the early ’60s.  And while we’d all like to get in the way back machine to hear Dylan in that Greenwich Village coffee shop in ’61, we’d be missing a lot of great music that he’s created in the intervening years. Creations like the Infidels album, a collaboration with Mark Knopfler, that was released in ’83 and is one of my favorite Dylan albums. 

I’ve yet to see Dylan live in concert but one of my favorite bands is Jethro Tull and I’ve been watching them, or band front man Ian Anderson, in concert for decades. This began for me in Florida around 1980 and has continued into more recent years with Anderson solo shows in Boulder in early 2000 and at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in 2017. During that time his style of music has changed several times, but what has remained consistent throughout those decades is his virtuosity and that of the other members of Jethro Tull and its been fun to be a spectator in that evolution. I think it also speaks to the power of human performance. Be it live music or sporting events, the spectacle rarely fails to make an impression and often gives us memories to reminisce about years later. 

Following an artist’s evolution and maturation over time allows one to observe how their musical interests, styles of playing, and the themes that they write about change over the years. Indeed, how the artists themselves have changed over the years. The Bob Dylan of today is not the same person who first picked up a guitar and penned “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”  It’s fascinating to observe these changes over time as documented in an artist’s recorded work and it’s an honor to bear witness to it in person — almost like being a part of history. 

What an artist has to say today in their new songs matters, and it perhaps matters more than in their earlier work as they bring the perspective of years of experience to bear in their writing. 

Still, whether your preference is note-for-note renditions of your favorite band’s hits, or you want to hear later work and everything in between, one thing that we can all agree on is how lucky we are in Summit County when it comes to music options. With venues like the Dillon Amphitheater and many other Summit County locations hosting high-quality live music for free it’s a great time of the year to get outside and enjoy the sounds, setting, and scenery.

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