Dylan, Mellencamp inaugurate large-scale concerts at Dehler

A young girl on the shoulders of an adult watches John Mellencamp at Dehler Park in Billings on Aug. 11.

A young girl on the shoulders of an adult watches John Mellencamp at Dehler Park in Billings on Aug. 11.

When Brett Michaels can be spotted outside of the Laurel WalMart, Bob Dylan just rolled through Billings, the Scorpions can be seen at MontanaFair and Montana Avenue is closed for Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, it’s been a good week of music.

From Rockin’ the Rivers to the Magic City Blues, last week’s selection of live music was considerable. Perhaps the most anticipated performance was Bob Dylan’s at Dehler Park.

When I saw Bob Dylan in 2003 in Casper, Wyo., I was sure he was near death. Five decades of performing seemed to have caught up with the music icon as he hovered above his keyboards barely moving—not at all like a rolling stone (though he’s held up better visually than Keith Richards).

Seven years later at the Billings ballpark the musician was astounding. He switched from guitar to keys with the virility of Jakob Dylan. His throaty rasp swooned the ladies and awed the gents. In the ballpark, he just seemed happy. Amongst kids on parent’s shoulders and women in sundresses, Dylan was truly in his element.

Lights illuminate the crowd on Dehler field during the Bob Dylan/John Mellencamp performances Aug. 11 in Billings.

Lights illuminate the crowd on Dehler field during the Bob Dylan/John Mellencamp performances Aug. 11 in Billings.

John Mellencamp also seemed joyful during his set. Mellencamp, who mentioned onstage that his band stared as a little bar band in Indiana 40 years ago, opened with “Pink Houses.” Exuding Americana with his well-know tunes, Mellencamp didn’t break out his biggest hit, “Jack and Diane,” but his set was filled with sing-alongs including “Small Town” and “The Authority Song.”

“We came a thousand miles to see you guys tonight,” Mellencamp said. “I’m a little ragged around the edges but thankful.”

John Mellencamp in performance at Dehler Park in Billings.

John Mellencamp performs at Dehler Park in Billings.

Billings residents didn’t need a ticket to catch the show. The concert could be heard as far as Division Street, and the downtown corridor was host to many people on lawn chairs and tailgates. Though they couldn’t see the musicians, they could hear them crystal clear. The area, set near the rims, served as a downtown amphitheater.

Dylan opened his set with “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35,” and the crowd responded with great enthusiasm. “Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone
/ But I would not feel so all alone
/ Everybody must get stoned.” Indeed, they did.

The rest of Dylan’s lyrics weren’t as clear. Known for his lack of enunciation, only bits and pieces of lyrics filtered through. With a once-in-a-lifetime voice, it didn’t matter. It was thrilling just to hear him sing.

Before the closer “All Along the Watchtower,” Dylan took a moment to sing happy birthday to Charlie Sexton, the guitarist in his backing band.

To host more than 8,000 fans at Dehler Park set the stage for more to come. The ballpark, billed to the taxpayers as more than just a ball field, had yet to show its full potential. The night before Dylan’s performance a small crowd stood on the field as the ABC band played kid-themed rock ‘n roll. Koncert for Kidz has drawn families to Dehler, but nothing compares to the grand scale audience that filled the park on Aug. 11.

The following day the ball field appeared as though nothing ever happened—proof that stilettos, empty beer cans, and dancing aren’t just for the streets anymore.

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About Anna Paige

Anna Paige is a writer, poet, and photographer advocating for live music culture, visual and performance arts, and the creative class in Montana through writing. More >>