Get Electric: Bob Dylan in Providence

I discovered Bob Dylan last year when I decided to write a paper about his controversial decision to “go electric” at the 1965 Newport music festival. While I had listened to his music before, this was the first time I really appreciated the genius of his poetic lyrics of dissent delivered on the rough waves of his raspy voice.

When his name popped up in my search for upcoming events in Providence, I couldn’t resist but to grab this chance to see the folk troubadour turned 70s rockstar for myself. At the peak of midterm season, I dropped everything and dragged my friend Henry along to the Providence Performing Arts Center. While I definitely should not have been surprised, I was struck by the gap between the average age in the room and my own. You know the feeling of being at a One Direction concert and asking yourself, “Why is there a 50-year-old dad standing next to me?” Surrounded by Boomers, I felt convinced that I was that person at this concert. Nevertheless, I persevered.

Henry and I followed the crowd to the main theater doors, where we proudly presented our printed, non-electronic tickets. We shuffled down the middle aisle and squeezed past several pairs of legs to settle into the theater’s red velvet seats. Dylan soon made his entrance, lifting everyone out of their seats and rousing a long round of applause.

A few minutes of electricity passed before most people settled back into their seats, with the exception of a group in the front for whom remaining seated in the presence of Bob Dylan was seemingly unthinkable. I wished to have their same resolve, but feeling out of our element, Henry and I returned to our seats, channeling all of our excitement into enormous grins and the occasional head bop.

What followed was a stream of boppy, somber, mystical, hardcore instrumentals accompanied by Dylan’s sandpaper poetry. I thought his voice couldn’t get raspier than it was on the albums I had listened to so many times–I was wrong. I was struck by the evolved sound of his voice and also by the sight of Dylan strutting around the stage from piano to mic to guitar, seamlessly slipping in notes on the harmonica. This guy had been doing this since the 1960s, and to see him as a fresh artist making the same art was pretty amazing. 

When the concert ended, Henry and I lingered outside along with a crowd eager to express their excitement about what they had just witnessed. I found myself speaking to a seventy-something-year-old man who, of course, initiated the conversation by pointing out my young age. He explained with ardent pride that this marked the 28th Bob Dylan concert he’d attended. It was reassuring, he said, to see people my age appreciating “real music.” (OK Boomer).

While this has turned into a bit of an ode to Bob Dylan, I want to rewind to the moment when I decided to venture downtown and do something I usually wouldn’t. The Brown bubble makes it easy to slip into a routine and then perform it week after week. Even in the moments when I feel the need to get away for a bit, I often fall victim to the sentiment that there just isn’t much to do in Providence.

But whether it’s going to a concert, attending the infamous waterfire, or simply strolling around a new neighborhood, the city has its gems and it doesn’t take too much to find them. This event was a particularly special experience for me, especially because I first became fascinated with Dylan while researching the performance he gave 54 years ago at the Newport Festival, right in our home state of Rhode Island. Regardless of an immediate connection to an event, it’s still exciting to experience Providence in new ways and encounter people you otherwise wouldn’t. This concert was a nice reminder that there are ways to build Providence into our four years at Brown and that it’s absolutely worth it to do so–all it takes is a bit of looking.