Bob Dylan's (maize) and blues

Alumni remember the bard’s visit to Ann Arbor 50 years ago

Dylan poster, 1964

This poster of the Ann Arbor High concert is very rare and valuable. Pete Howard of Poster Central is seeking an original for purchase. (Image courtesy of Pete Howard.)

Ed Reynolds has mixed recollections of the summer of 1964. It was in September that the 20-year-old once-and-future student at the University of Michigan got married to a girl he hardly knew. It was also in September that he went to see Bob Dylan perform at Ann Arbor High School.

The tickets were a wedding gift from a friend who had connections in advertising. “They were great tickets,” Reynolds says, “right in the middle of the front row. You couldn’t get any closer.”

The marriage didn’t last, but Reynolds’ memories of the concert have. He recently retired as an attorney for the University of Michigan Health System. As a parting gift he received a set of Dylan’s 40-odd albums on compact disc.

“Most of the time, when I listen to them now,” he says, “sooner or later, into my consciousness comes that concert.

“I made an unwise decision to get married in ’64, and the tickets were a wedding present, so it was worth the two-year marriage to get those tickets,” he continues. “That’s the way I look at it.”


Reynolds had discovered Dylan about a year earlier, just after the release of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the young balladeer’s breakthrough second album. Tracks included the quintessential protest anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind,” along with such other classics as “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”

“I came as close as anybody could come to driving my mother to an asylum,” recalls Reynolds. “The first time I heard the first cut, that was it. I was poleaxed. It’s a wonder I didn’t play it right through the grooves. Over and over and over. It was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. I couldn’t get enough of it.”

Another Ann Arborite who became enraptured with Dylan following the release of Freewheelin’ was 15-year-old Bill Kirchen, himself a budding musician and later a founding member of the country-rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Kirchen also played the record incessantly, although his parents didn’t seem to mind.

He remembers how disappointed he was that Christmas to discover that his father had given him an LP of Wagner’s opera music “with a big garish, purple cover.”

Later at the dinner table his father asked if Bill wouldn’t like to play his new record. “I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, sure, thanks, Dad, I’d love to. I can’t wait to put it on.’ So I went out there and I grabbed this Wagner album I had no interest in, and it turned out he’d bought the first Dylan album, and stuck it in the Wagner cover for me. That’s one of my great memories of Bob Dylan and my dad.”

“Absolutely unbelievable”

Kirchen was a student at Ann Arbor High and managed to find a unique way to view the bard’s concert there on September 19. “I’d been doing junior theater and I knew my way around the auditorium,” he says. “I crawled up in the light deck and I just sat up there, right above the stage, staring down at him.”

At this point Dylan was still in his acoustic folkie phase, and he stood alone in the spotlight with only a guitar and harmonica to accompany his somewhat less-than-mellifluous voice. His repertoire now included a second classic protest anthem, “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” as well as “With God on Our Side,” “When the Ship Comes In,” and “Chimes of Freedom.”

“He had on a suede jacket,” says Reynolds. “The place was full. I don’t remember how big the auditorium was at Ann Arbor High. But I remember thinking, ‘I’ll never see anything as great as this again in my life.’ It was absolutely unbelievable.”

“That was huge for me,” concurs Kirchen. “I think if you don’t know the first 10 Dylan albums, you don’t know why he’s an icon. You’ve got to go back to those to hear what he was up to. He was a great singer, a stunning songwriter.”

The reviews are in

Dylan in the Daily

This image of Dylan appeared in The Michigan Daily.

The Michigan Daily’s review of the concert was . . . perplexing.

“That the many-sided personality that is Bob Dylan remains an enigma ­— perhaps even to himself — was amply demonstrated last night when this uncommonly hung-up kid played guitar and harmonica and sang to an overflow crowd,” wrote Dick Pike.

“Nearly as random as some of his more esoteric ‘verses’ was his delivery on this occasion — obvious to those who had heard the angry lad previously — certainly not at the peak of its potential. But somehow, the unabashedly monotonous guitar style — not always in tune, either — the unsophisticated and occasionally sloppy harmonica work, and the pinched nasal voice (that only Bob Dylan could get away with consistently and still remain a popular performer) only served to throw the weighty content of Dylan’s musical polemics into shocking sharp relief.”

Even the Dailyhad to admit, however, that the singer’s new material, heard by the audience for the first time as it had yet to be committed to record, was mesmerizing.

“Dylan was hard to listen to,” remembers David Garelick, then a junior studying English at U-M. “He had a really edgy, gritty voice, and a gritty personality, and it was hard to like him. But it was a great show. He played ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ which hadn’t been released yet. It was just incredible, and still is. I couldn’t imagine that somebody from my generation was writing these kinds of songs — so rich, the imagery in that song.”

The whole picture

Garelick’s opinion of the frizzy-haired troubadour dropped sharply after the concert, however. “I wanted to interview him for The Michigan Daily,” he says. “I was an English major then. I wanted to ask him all these questions about his poetic imagery and how he wrote his songs and some of his influences, but he didn’t want to talk to anybody.”

Garelick went backstage and found his access blocked by Dylan’s bodyguards. “They were pretty big guys,” he remembers. “The door was closed to the dressing room and I said to one guy, ‘I’m from The Michigan Daily and I’d like to talk to Bob Dylan.’ And he said, ‘I’m his bodyguard and he doesn’t want to talk to you.’ The guy was just kind of a thug.”

To be fair, Garelick recalls there was a “small mob” trying to get to the singer. “I didn’t have a press card or anything,” he says. “If Dylan’s agent had been prepped to it, maybe it would’ve made a difference. But I kind of doubt it.”

“A thunderbolt to the brain”

Regardless of their opinions of Dylan the man or his music, no one who was at that show would ever forget it. Reynolds counts it not only as the best concert he ever attended, but also as one of the most memorable events of his life.

“You’ve got to picture the whole experience,” he says. “Here he is, the person who wasfolk music in 1964, in this auditorium, your typical American anywhere auditorium. The curtains are cheesy and moth-eaten, there’s no set. You’re in high school. You’re in freaking high school. In the midst of all that ordinary stuff, which brings to mind things like lunch in the cafeteria in 10th grade, there’s this person who’s . . . magic. The juxtaposition of all that made for a one-of-a-kind experience. I’ve never seen anything like it since. It was a thunderbolt to the brain.”

Jean Conlin also had a one-of-a-kind experience that day, although of a different sort. The 17-year-old student at St. Thomas High School wasn’t a serious Dylan fan but knew enough to recognize him coming out of the Baskin-Robbins on Stadium Boulevard the afternoon before the concert.

“I was driving into the parking lot with my friend, Kathy,” she recalls, “when we saw Bob Dylan carrying two ice cream cones to a car at the other end of the lot. I parked and we jumped out, quite excited, and went up to the car window, which was open. There sat Bob Dylan, and in the back seat with him was Joan Baez!”

Dylan seemed a little surprised but wasn’t annoyed, Conlin recalls. “I don’t think he was used to young girls coming up to him,” she says. “Kathy and I were pretty nervous. I asked him if he was Bob Dylan and he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, I know you are and we wanted to tell you we’re fans and we’ll be going to your concert tonight.’ He just nodded his head and gave a slight smile.”

Later at the concert she and her friend had fun recalling the encounter to their dates. “I was familiar with Dylan’s music because of my boyfriend,” says Conlin. “He was the one that bought the tickets.” She enjoyed the show, finding it both piquant and strange. “When he played the harmonica and guitar at the same time, I remember thinking how odd that was. Kind of like a one-man band.”


Misspelled Dylan ad

This ad, which appeared in The Michigan Daily, misspells Dylan’s name, indicating how little-known he was at the time of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 1962.

The concert at Ann Arbor High wasn’t the first time Dylan performed in Tree Town. About two-and-a-half years earlier, over the weekend of April 21-22, 1962, he appeared at the University of Michigan Folklore Society’s second annual Folk Music Festival. Dylan took part in a hootenanny with Jesse Fuller and other festival performers at Trueblood Auditorium on Saturday night, then did a solo show at the Michigan Union Sunday afternoon.

Marie Kimmey had been president of the Folklore Society before graduating with an architectural degree in 1961. She helped to arrange Dylan’s appearance.

“I think we paid him 50 bucks,” she says. “At that time he was still not known, and we actually had people complain, ‘Who’s this guy? What’s he doing? He plays harmonica and talks. We want our money back!’ But we were thrilled to be pulling this off — and for only 50 bucks. We knew he was going to go places, and he did, within a year or two.”

At the festival after-parties Kimmey had an opportunity to get a closer look at the fledgling superstar. She was not particularly impressed. “He’s about two years younger than me, and I thought he was pretty immature,” she says. “I noticed that he usually had a pretty girl with him.”

Dylan needed a place to stay for the weekend and Bill Sharfman recalls that it was at 519 E. William St., a stately old Italianate structure dating from the 19th century that served as home to a pack of mischievous Michigan students. “We had a motorcycle store in the living room,” he says, “and there was endless jazz being played upstairs.”

Sharfman doesn’t remember a lot about Dylan, who at the time was not yet old enough to vote and wasn’t much of a conversationalist. “What I do remember is that he went around to all the record stores in Ann Arbor, and asked if they had the new Bob Dylan record.”

Talking blues

House where Dylan slept in 1962

In 1962 Dylan spent the night at 519 E. William St. when he played at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. The house has since been demolished. (Photo by Bob Molay, courtesy of Bill Sharfman.)

As for his performance at the Michigan Union, Kimmey recalls the audience reaction was a little disappointing. “I really liked Dylan’s talking blues stuff, which was pretty much what he was doing then. But in Ann Arbor at that time, the large majority of the students were of a preppy kind and not so much into what we were enjoying. I’m sure there were people who loved it. But a lot of the crowd didn’t understand it.”

One of those who did understand was reviewer Hugh “Jeep” Holland of The Michigan Daily.

“As colorful as his red-checkered shirt, as lively as his skipping fingers, as dynamic as his wild harmonica and as ethnic and varied as his audience, Bob Dylan proved his reputation as one of the most promising new stars in folk singing Sunday,” wrote Holland.

“While his guitar playing was intricate and strong, it was the combination of his frantic harmonica and his trance-like, searching voice that most enthralled the audience. Catching a note, Dylan would wrestle with it and squeeze every meaning and emotion from it, only to go after another and another.

“Asked how he likes singing as a career, Bob Dylan answered that it was fine but that he’d rather be riding his motorcycle around the country. With his talent, and the hearty approval he receives wherever he performs, he’s not likely to ride that cycle for a long, long time. Bob Dylan is bound for other roads right now.”


  1. Matt Commers - 1992

    Bob Dylan has been back to Ann Arbor a number of times, I would guess. I was privileged to catch one show in 1990 or 1991, when Dylan played Hill Auditorium. A beautiful show, together with a great band. Dylan has given us all many gifts. As a fellow Minnesotan, I would agree with others who have said that the influence of the culture of the Iron Range should not be underestimated in Dylan’s work. He himself acknowledged it in his recent autobiography. The Range anno 1950-55 must have been quite a place with rigid mores and ideas, but a kind of authenticity and pragmatism that cannot be denied. That Dylan emerged from that environment and ambitiously combined that heritage with the then radically innovative environment of New York and ripe tradition of American folk music is in some sense an almost magical coincidence. Most of all, though, it is a tribute to Bob’s hard work and determination as an artist.


  2. Ronald Gold - LSA '67

    I am, and have been, a big Dylan fan for many years but am embarrassed to say that when a friend introduced me to his music while I was an undergrad I said he had a terrible voice, “but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”.


  3. James Klein - 1966 AB English

    I was at that concert in Ann Arbor HS Auditorium in the fall of 1964. Joan Baez sat in the front row left. She stayed in her seat the entire concert and never never sang one note. I have a question for anyone who was there: Did Dylan sing The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll during the concert? I have played and discussed that ballad every year for nearly 40 years in the first week of the fall term for my IL students as an introduction to their study of law. That song played a role in my decision to go to law school.
    Jim Klein
    Charleston, SC


    • Paul Hostetter - -

      I was there. I had seen him in Denver in January of ’64. He sang the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll at both concerts. By the time he played in A² the record with that song was out.


  4. Phil Rogers - LSA '75

    Alright, so this alumnus is a lifetime admirer of Bob Dylan. But that didn’t keep him from offering what some rather silly folks feel is an obligatory cliché when discussing the bard. The author puts forth the phrase about Mr. Dylan’s “less-than-mellifluous voice” – as if Bob was supposed to sound like a member of the Lettermen. What Mr. Alan Glenn is either are ignorant of (or neglected to mention) is that Dylan sounded a whole lot like the singers he’d learned his craft from, and whom he was more or less emulating. This stellar group of older folk and blues musicians included Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and several others. It might appear that my fellow Michigan alumnus didn’t do his homework adequately before dashing off his cutesy little remembrance.


  5. C.E. Koch - --

    While it doesn’t have the setlist for the 9-19-64 Ann Arbor show, Dylan’s website does have setlists from other shows around that same time. “Hattie Carroll” seems to have been performed at all or most of those shows, so I’d say there’s an excellent chance you heard it in Ann Arbor.


  6. Sylvia Berliner Reis - 1963

    I lived in Vail during Vail’s first year as a co-op, 1962-63. One of our members invited Bob Dylan to eat his meals at Vail. (men could board, but not live there.) He ate with us for at least several days. In repayment for our generosity, he gave US a concert in the co-op living room!!
    Never to be forgotten.
    Sylvia Berliner Reis


  7. adrian ciugudean - 1991

    Bob Dylan, whether you like him/his music or not—whether you lived during that generational moment or not–is an American icon. I remember visiting East Europe as a young teen during the 1980s (where ‘ The times they are a changin’ ‘, was much more of a profound lyric for that time and place, as you can well imagine) and talking to young adults that worshipped him. This Dylan affect on Europe comes as no surprise to anyone who knows that the Beatles, upon their debut visit to the States, called on Dylan early on. So, yes, Bob Dylan, visiting Ann Arbor during the 60s–although I wasn’t there to see it—is just another point of pride for me as a Michigan alumnus. I can’t wait to tell my cousin(older) who is an Ohio State fan but a Dylan worshiper! : )~


  8. Alan Jones - 1968

    I also went to the 1964 Ann Arbor H.S. concert as a confirmed Dylan fan. I had been stunned by his music, and had first seen him at the Newport Folk Festival the previous summer. Having been to many performances there as an Ann Arbor High School student it was doubly strange to go back for a Dylan concert.


  9. David Frisinger - 1969

    I was there as a senior from Chelsea High School tagging along with friends who knew more than I did. An eye-opening experience for a country boy.


  10. Jim Klein

    Thank you Alan Glenn and MToday for the piece on Bob Dylan. I really enjoyed the article and the comments. I was a senior in high school when Dylan played in the Union Ballroom and that brings up another question. I remember hearing Malcom X speak in the Union Ballroom. Would you dig into your archives to remind if my memory serves correctly? It was after fall 1962. I also saw Bill Cosby, Dick Gregory (straight from the Birmingham jail) and Governor Ross Barnett in the early ’60s at Hill Auditorium, heard Mario Savio on the Grad Library steps, took part in the Teach-in, and went to the 1965 Rosebowl — UM 35, Oregon State 7 — and paid about $2 per game for a season student ticket to see Cazzie and company perform at Yost. Fond memories to be sure.


    • Deborah Holdship

      Hi, Jim: We will look into your Malcolm X question. Meanwhile, “The 1913 Lectern” on our Heritage website focuses on the lectern in Hill Auditorium, which has been the site of many historic events on the Michigan campus. Ed.


  11. Jay Margulies - 1962

    I went to the hootenanny in April 1962. I was in my last term at the university, living on E Washington, just off State St. I wasn’t planning to go, but while at a laundromat that evening, I saw the flyer. My memory is that I decided to walk 2 blocks to the Frieze Bldg (I hope that’s where Trueblood Auditorium was) and see the concert. I don’t remember much of it–though I think it was the first time I’d seen any musician with headgear to support his harmonica)–but I have a vivid memory of Dylan at the party afterwards. For at least an hour, Dylan and a local musician I knew, Mike Scherker (apologies: this is an incorrect spelling) sat opposite each other on beds, playing their guitars alternately and together. Mike was by far the more accomplished musician, but Dylan had a focus and intensity about his music that was memorable. Mike was playing for fun, Dylan to learn and improve.


  12. David Zimmerman - 1964

    Everybody notices the curious spelling of the musician’s name in the ad from the Michigan Daily reprinted above.
    History should also note that the Daily did print a correction, which read roughly as follows
    “The Michigan Daily would like to point out that the folk singer who played at the Michigan Union on April 22 bears the surname of a well-known poet, not that of a well-known marshall. The Daily wishes to apologize for this unfortunate error.”
    That correction was brilliant. I wish we could find out who was responsible for it (and maybe also for the original error).


  13. Carol Bishop (Eichwald) - 1964

    I was at the Michigan Union concert and remember it well. He was not known at that time, and it was a whole new experience, but as his fame grew, I remembered back to that solo concert many times. I live on the Monterey Peninsula in CA and he and Joan Baez hung around here a lot when Joan lived here, and as both of them rose to fame and before the famous rift. His voice never really got better, but his persona did!!!


  14. david gedalecia

    A bluegrass trio I was a part of, the Stony Island Boys (Mike Michaels, mandolin; Jon Aaron, guitar; me, banjo), were featured at the first University of Michigan Folk Festival in 1961. I think it must have taken place in the spring of that year at Hill Auditorium or Rackham Auditorium. Earlier, in February, 1961, at the University of Chicago Folk Festival, our group was rehearsing and a raggedy guy came and listened to us for a half hour or so, bobbing up and down. When I asked who he was, after he left, Mike Michaels said that he was this guy called Bob Dylan who traveled around doing mostly Woody Guthrie songs. Since there were quite a few in the folk crowd doing that, my response was, “well, that’s cool,” and we continued the rehearsal. The next time I saw him, in the fall of 1961, at Gerde’s Folk City in New York’s Greenwich Village, he opened for the Greenbriar Boys, got rave reviews in the New York Times, and the rest is history.


  15. Elaine Sims - 1968

    I was there as a new freshman. Don’t remember who took me but do remember the walk from campus to the high school seemed mysterious and involved crossing railroad tracks. All very exotic. Mr. Tambourine Man was hypnotic. I have been to later concerts of his at the Michigan Theater and had trouble recognizing the later performer from the 1964 experience. What a special time that was.


  16. Jane Keon

    I was 15 and my brother had just started his freshman year at Alma College, in our hometown. He called me in the afternoon and said he’d heard Bob Dylan would be giving a concert in Ann Arbor that night. My mom said I could go, and we jumped in the car and drove pell mell to get there on time. We were in time, but they were sold out! We waited around, and pretty soon the ticket person called us back and said he had one seat available center front and one in a chair on stage. On stage? Sure enough, they had set up chairs on both sides of the stage, facing the performer, and I got to sit only a few feet away from Bob Dylan! What a night to remember!


  17. harold kirchen - 6 weeks spent at LSA Honors College...

    I attended that concert with Brother Bill, and only found out years later where he had dipped out to. I was 11 or 12 at the time. Years later, I myself found pleasure in those… well, what’s the altimetric opposite of cavernous catacombs –– those dark, lofty heights where only narrow catwalks prevent you from falling through the ceiling into the auditorium below?

    Anyway, years later, my status as Stage Manager for several plays (along with a ring of stolen keys) at what now had become Pioneer High School, gave me my own, personal access to those heights. The gals that I encouraged to climb the 40 or so vertical cage-ladder steps up to a make-out session were sometimes a little nervous, but there’s nothing like having the nose of the guy behind you on the ladder snuggled happily into the crack of your butt to encourage you to climb!

    Back to 1964, it was an eye-opener for that young kid, but I was an easy convert to the movement that was in progress. So proud that Bill has several times since asked me up onto the stage to join in the chorus of his rousing, rocking rendition of The Times, They Are A’Changing, that he still proudly sings.

    And so cool to have a crowd of 400 or so at The Ark join in with us!

    Semper Bob!


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