“It was just one man and a guitar. The power of performing under one spotlight … It would mesmerize the audience.” quoted Photographer John Byrne Cooke. The setlist has not survived the passage of time – and with Dylan it is unwise to assume he played material from his most recent album, The Times They Are a-Changin’.
The acoustic UMass show came 15 months before Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival.
The UMass show was part of a brief New England tour. Photographer John Byrne Cooke drove with Dylan in a Ford station wagon to the Amherst show.
John Byrne Cooke recalls 1964 New England road trip with Bob Dylan…
“We had a least two cars, possibly three, although I don’t see a third one in the photographs. I was in the same car as Bob. You can see my picture of Bob sitting in the front seat. You can also see that’s their (Maymudes’ and Dylan’s ) Ford station wagon. I want to point out that it’s navy blue. It’s been described as a red car, I think, in some book.”
“We were kind of like his extended road crew – except we were not paid or anything!” Cooke laughed.
There were also some other people along for the trip that would later make their mark in the music scene, including two that Dylan first worked with in 1964.
“Paul Rothchild, way before he produced the Doors, was in another car. John Sebastian, just before he formed the Lovin’ Spoonful, was there. At the time, we just knew him as this guy who played a mean blues harp.” Sebastian would later be part of the Bringing It All Back Home sessions.
Also along for the ride was one of Cooke’s oldest friends, fellow photographer Charlie Frizzell
After the gang arrived at Amherst, Cooke met blues musician Taj Mahal for the first time. “I know he was a student there,” Cooked remembered, “although he may have graduated by that time.”
Back in the mid-1960s, Dylan and other traveling musicians often had to play in make-shift auditoriums, and UMass Amherst was no exception.
“There was this place (The Curry Hicks Cage) . . . It was a big room, a gymnasium. The stage was specifically constructed for the concert, and they brought in rows of folding chairs, I believe.” While “The Cage” still stands, Dylan now plays the newer Mullins Center when he plays UMass Amherst.
“It was in four sections, a pipe-constructed stage. There wasn’t even a curtain,” Cooke said, then looked at his photographs from April 26, 1964. “Well, there wasn’t a curtain in my photograph, but that may have just been from the soundcheck.
“During this period, from 1963 until 1965, it was just one man and a guitar. The power of performing under one spotlight . .It would mesmerize the audience.
Dylan did not seem to be under much pressure during the road trip, according to Cooke.
“There was usually some Beaujolais around. It was just hanging out with a friend, and his road manager. (Dylan) could laugh, but he could also be cryptic and opaque – but he was not striking a pose.”
“At the time, to people like Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax, (Dylan) was the apotheosis, he was the new folk poet. They put their expectations on him.
“This was not a daily topic (on the Amherst trip). It was not really brought up.
“What’s interesting is that while people really know his protest songs – ‘The Times, They Are A-Changin’ ‘, ‘Hattie Carroll’ – The ones that lasted were the love songs . .. ‘Don’t Think Twice’, ‘Baby Blue’, and ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, which are, I guess, the anti-love songs.”
“When it comes to Dylan, you have to be careful not to over-intellectualize. Dylan was writing the gospel truth. You can’t listen to his songs and not think that he cared about what he was writing about. For people saying otherwise, it was just bulls***. I reject that. He put it all in the music – “Hattie Carroll”, “Emmett Till”. He did not want to come out and say we needed civil rights. It was in the music.”
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF: JOHN BYRNE COOKE
1.) Poster: April 26, 1964
2.) Photo by John Byrne Cooke. Bob Dylan with Navy blue Ford station wagon driven by Victor Maymudes. Massachussetts, April 26,1964.
3.) Photo by John Byrne Cooke. Bob Dylan, Victor Maymudes, Paul Rothschild, John Sebastian and others. April 26, 1964. Amherst, Massachusetts.
4.) Photo by John Byrne Cooke. Bob Dylan in car.
5.) Photo by John Byrne Cooke -The Silhouette dylan – Amherst, Mass., April 26, 1964 performance at the school gymnasium makeshift stage in front of the warm-up