Available either on video or as a double CD, Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary special is a strange footnote to his career.

It took place on October 16th, 1992, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, commemorating Dylan's 30 years in the music business. The date has no known significance, and in fact it was almost Dylan's 31st anniversary by the time the concert took place.

Dylan was signed to Columbia Records on September 29th, 1961. His first record was made in November of '61 and released in March 1962. In October of 1962, Dylan was in the process of making his second record, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

It is unclear whether the tribute was Dylan's own idea or a creation of Columbia Records. In any event, an all-star lineup of classic rock and country performers was assembled, as well as a crack backing band consisting of Steve Cropper and G.E. Smith (who was briefly Dylan's lead guitarist before becoming the musical director on Saturday Night Live.) on guitars, Duck Dunn on bass, Booker T. on keyboards, and Jim Keltner on drums.

The performances on-record are a mixed bag. Neil Young, Lou Reed, Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson, Richie Havens and Ron Wood all delivered impassioned performances. Tom Petty, with the Heartbreakers, at least seemed to be having fun. Eric Clapton and especially John Mellencamp delivered listless performances, and unfortunately, Mellencamp opened the show with a downright butchering of "Like A Rolling Stone". Dylan himself performed several songs, alone on acoustic guitar, and joined in on the two closing tracks, an excellent version of "My Back Pages" done with two of the Wilburys, Petty and George Harrison along with Young, Clapton, and the Byrds' Roger McGuinn, which was followed by "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", performed by everyone.

The most interesting moment of the concert (nicknamed "Bobfest" by Neil Young) was the performance of Sinead O'Connor, which was edited out of the released CD. O'Connor had only two weeks before made her infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live, where she had ripped up a picture of the Pope. Apparently Dylan's fans are not as liberal-minded about social protest as one might think, because O'Connor was greeted with a forceful chorus of boos. At which point she abandoned her intended song and gave an a capella recitation of Bob Marley's "War", before departing the stage to an even greater chorus of boos. In my own opinion, O'Connor's performance was a welcome breath of fresh air from the bloated, self-congratulatory atmosphere at Bobfest, but I understand myself to be in the minority on this one.

The video was originally done as a pay-per-view simulcast, but was available on PBS within a few days of the concert, where it seemed to play about once a week for the next two years.

Understand, this is hardly a Bob Dylan record at all. It is an uneven collection of covers from artists far further past their prime than Dylan.

The playlist:

1. Like A Rolling Stone--John Mellencamp
2. Leopardskin Pillbox Hat--John Mellencamp
3. Blowin' in the Wind--Stevie Wonder
4. Boots of Spanish Leather--Nanci Griffith and Carolyn Hester--not on official release
5. Gotta Serve Somebody--Booker T. and the MG's--not on official release

6. Foot of Pride--Lou Reed
7. Masters of War--Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready (of Pearl Jam)
8. The Times They Are A-Changin'--Tracy Chapman
9. It Ain't Me Babe--Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash
10. What Was It You Wanted--Willie Nelson

11. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight--Kris Kristofferson
12. Highway 61 Revisited--Johnny Winter
13. Seven Days--Ron Wood
14. Just Like A Woman--Richie Havens
15. When The Ship Comes In--The Clancy Brothers

16. War--Sinead O'Connor--not on official release
17. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues--Neil Young
18. All Along The Watchtower--Neil Young
19. I Shall Be Released--Chrissie Hynde (of The Pretenders)
20. Love Minus Zero/No Limit--Eric Clapton--not on official release

21. Don't Think Twice It's All Right--Eric Clapton
22. Emotionally Yours--The O'Jays
23. When I Paint My Masterpiece--The Band
24. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere--Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Roseanne Cash, and Shawn Colvin
25. Absolutely Sweet Marie--George Harrison

26. License To Kill--Tom Petty
27. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35--Tom Petty
28. Mr. Tambourine Man--Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds)
29. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)--Bob Dylan
30. My Back Pages--Dylan, Young, Clapton, McGuinn, Petty, and Harrison

31. Knockin' on Heaven's Door--Everyone
32. Girl of the North Country--Bob Dylan

Notes on the song list:

--Dylan also performed "Song To Woody", and John Hammond Jr. performed "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", but neither appears on the legal and semi-legal copies I have of this performance, so I cannot place them accurately on the set list.

--Al Kooper appears on the John Mellencamp songs. He played the organ part on the original 1965 version of "Like A Rolling Stone".

--Dylan had a brief career as a session harmonica player before signing with Columbia. One of the records he played on was by Carolyn Hester. Another was Harry Belafonte.

--For best results, start the video or CD on Lou Reed's "Foot of Pride" and take it from there.

--Kris Kristofferson was the studio janitor during the recording of Blonde On Blonde in Nashville in 1966.

--The Band had only three original members at this point, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Levon Helm.

--Van Morrison and Elvis Costello were supposed to show up but didn't.

"Hey Bob!! Thanks for having Bobfest!!"--Neil Young

Behind the Shades, by Clinton Heylin, Summit Books, New York, 1991

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