Bob Dylan in Iowa: A history of his concerts in the Hawkeye State
Bob Dylan’s no stranger to Iowa.
A Minnesota native and relentless touring veteran, the historic songwriter’s visited the Hawkeye state a number of times since launching the crowd-coined “Never Ending” tour in the 1980s. Known for years as a polarizing figure in live music — some believe him to be transcendent, others complain of Dylan’s aging vocal delivery — Dylan returns to Stephens Auditorium in Ames on Oct. 23.
Ahead of Dylan’s anticipated return, here’s a look back at some — yes, some, not all — of his previous Iowa shows, as told by reviews and stories in The Des Moines Register archives.
Aug. 26, 1990, at the Iowa State Fair Grandstand: In his first of two career Grandstand performances, Dylan pulls a total 10,260 people to the year’s closing concert. The talent in '90 — which earned the top spot in the Register’s ranking of modern Grandstand lineups — included Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson (who performed the night before Dylan) and George Strait with Alan Jackson. Dylan returned to the Iowa State Fair in 2001, performing for 10,689 people.
Nov. 2, 1991, at Stephens Auditorium: Dylan returns to central Iowa for an 18-song set, including 1981 number “Lenny Bruce” and the celebrated “All Along The Watchtower.”
He brought an audience of 2,729 to the venue, the Register reported. As with his Iowa State Fair show the summer before, Register reviewer Kurt Helland said Dylan was at times difficult for the audience to comprehend.
“Dylan just doesn't have a stage voice,” the review reads, still praising Dylan’s overall performance. “... on this night, the further the show progressed, the more Dylan seemed ready to keep playing all night.”
April 7, 1994, at Stephens Auditorium: Dylan brought in about 1,500 concert-goers to the Ames venue. Reviewing the show for the Register, Lauris Olson took note of the estimated 1,100 empty seats in her opening sentences:
“Perhaps those fans not present had heard he could be disappointing when seen live,” Olson wrote. “Tales of his lack of stage presence, mumbled phrasing, garbled delivery and unorganized presentation are rampant — and at times true -— but not this night.”
Referring to Dylan as being in top form, the reviewer said he performed numbers such as "Blood on the Tracks,” "Simple Twist of Fate" and "Tangled Up in Blue."
Nov. 16, 1996, at the Adler Theater: Dylan brings his tour to Iowa twice in the span of four days — playing the Five Flags Center in Dubuque on Nov. 12, 1996 before visiting the Davenport-based Adler on Nov. 16. News of the shows reached Des Moines for being particularly rowdy.
“Reports from three recent shows in the region suggest Dylan, not the most demonstrative guy in show business, is loosening up, having fun and inviting fans to do the same,” then Register music writer Patrick Beach printed. “Dylan shocked fans by inviting them onstage to dance with him.”
Dance with Dylan? Stranger things have happened on stage in Iowa.
April 3, 2000, at the Five Seasons Center: Performing in Cedar Rapids — at the venue now known as the U.S. Cellular Center — Dylan played 18 cuts for the roughly 5,000 onlookers. The show took place between studio releases “Time out of Mind” and “Love and Theft.”
“'All the people that we used to know, they're an illusion to me now,' Dylan sang on Monday night,” Former Register music writer, Kyle Munson, now Iowa Columnist, wrote. “But this living legend was still very real, and sounding better than ever.”
Aug. 28, 2004, at Principal Park: Dylan and iconic country troubadour Willie Nelson returned to Des Moines together for a co-headlining gig as part of a tour stopping at minor league baseball parks across America.
Dylan performed a 14-song set, including a two-track encore.
“Saturday's show was what you might call an in-the-park home run,” Munson wrote in the review. “Neither icon turned in the sort of peak performance to clear the fences, but they rounded the bases and scored.”
Oct. 29, 2004, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena: Long removed from his ‘90 performance in the venue, Dylan returned to Iowa City for a show Register archives said was commendable, but not without its flaws. He would return to Carver in 2007.
“The rock legend's concert drew nearly half its songs from his two most recent albums, 1997's "Time Out of Mind" and 2001's "Love and Theft." That's sterling source material, but it's curious that Dylan would be so stingy with his rich and vast back catalog after a few years of flogging the same "new" songs,” reviewer Munson wrote.
April 21, 2006, at the Val Air Ballroom: Dylan joined forces with outlaw country heavyweight Merle Haggard for an ALS benefit concert in honor of Register columnist Rob Borsellino, who later lost his life to the disease.
Behind the legend of Dylan and Haggard, the show raised an estimated $60,000 for ALS charity. A total 2,028 people attended the event.
Aug. 22, 2012, at Wells Fargo Arena: His lone performance in Iowa’s largest indoor venue, Dylan kept to the hits during his latest central Iowa gig: “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Highway 61 Revisited” were all present in the 17-song setlist.
Bob Dylan returns to Ames
When: 8 p.m., Oct. 23.
Where: Stephens Auditorium, 1900 Center Drive, Ames
Tickets: Tickets go on sale at noon on Friday and range from $65-$89.50
More information: center.iastate.edu.