It Was 50 Years Ago Today–Bob Dylan’s First Concert

It was 50 years ago today—well, tomorrow–that Bob Dylan played his first concert, on November 4, 1961.  Billed as Dylan’s “First New York Concert” it was, more accurately, Dylan’s first anywhere concert.  Prior to this show, at Carnegie Chapter Hall, he had only played club dates and a few guest spots on multi-artist bills.  Dylan arrived in New York on January, 21, 1961 and began playing hoots at clubs like Gerdes Folk City almost immediately. 

His first “break” was a two weeks stint opening for blues giant John Lee Hooker at Gerdes in April of that year.  On September 26, Dylan began another two week engagement at the club, opening for the much better known Greenbriar Boys.  Though Dylan was the opening act, New York Times music critic Robert Shelton focused entirely on Dylan in his review of the opening night.  The impact was immediate, and a few days later Dylan was signed to Columbia Records by legendary A&R man John Hammond (who had discovered/signed Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, and later Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan.)

Five weeks later, Izzy Young, owner of Greenwich Village’s Folklore Center (and an early Dylan supporter) presented Dylan “In His First New York Concert” at Carnegie Chapter Hall, a 200 seat room that was part of the Carnegie Hall complex.  Reportedly only 53 people attended, but it was the start of a touring career that continues today.  Dylan expert Clinton Heylin notes in “Bob Dylan: A Life In Stolen Moments” that he sounded “extremely nervous and uncertain of himself,” and performed “Pretty Peggy-O,” “Black Girl (In The Pines),”Gospel Plow,” “1913 Massacre,” “Backwater Blues,” Young But Daily Growin’,” “Fixin’ To Die,” and “This Land is Your Land.”

We have reproduced here the program for the concert, with it’s ridiculous biographical sketch, drawn from an interview Dylan gave Izzy Young.  He exaggerates for effect, claiming he got his start playing in carnivals, was raised in Gallup, New Mexico, and was given a scholarship to the University of Minnesota.  Classic stuff.

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i was at Dylans first concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall which i thought was Carnegie Ricital Hall…whatever. I was there with my friend Shirley and my younger brother who insists he was never there. He, being a Dylan fan and forgetting he was at that concert surprises me to this day. He is now a D.J. and you can hear him on Mostly Folk.org. One of his shows is called “Black and Blue” and opens with a Dylan song and insists that he first heard Dylan at a Joan Baez concert. But I was at that concert too, but it was not his first Dylan concert and says I must have been on drugs, ha! That Carngie concert was amazing. When Dylan came out, there was not a peep in the house. I could only hear the breathing of some in the audience, unlike concerts years later where people were standing on their seats and screaming. Well, now i am 82 years old, sang in a rock band called The Life Cycle and did a recording
for an animated film produced by Ralph Bakshi called “Marvin Digs: which is still on utube. The vocalists got no credit and fake names were put on the credits. Of course we received no money even though the bands name was listed on the credits. Oh well, I wonder what Dylan would have said? But then, we were not Dylan. And I am grateful to have seen his first concert.

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