Bob Dylan at Bennington, Part Two: the Bluesman and the Riddle
It may come as a surprise that Bob Dylan has a history with Bennington College; he visited the campus for two performances, once in the infancy of his career, in 1961, and again in 1963, just as Dylan was beginning to break into the national spotlight.
Lizzy Blum (Class of 1964) described her memories of organizing the first Dylan concert in a recent interview with Crossett Library Public Services Coordinator Laura Payne. Blum grew up playing folk music with her family on Long Island, and eventually began to travel into the city on weekends, working at the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street, and immersing herself in the West Village scene. During her “Non-Resident Term” in the winter of ’60/’61, Blum returned to New York just in time to witness a 19-year old Bob Dylan’s very first appearances in the city, soon after he'd dropped out of college in his home state of Minnesota.
The following fall semester, Blum booked the legendary bluesman Reverend Gary Davis to play on campus, with Dylan serving as the supporting act (Dylan later hailed Davis as “one of the wizards of modern music”). Blum asked her friend John Harsch, a student at Williams College, to drive the two singers to Bennington from New York. Before the show, Davis, who had allegedly had too much to drink at a pre-show dinner in Williamstown, announced that he would not perform until the audience could solve a riddle, the answer to which “involved every letter in the alphabet.” No one in the crowd could solve the riddle, and Dylan had to stall for almost two hours. He repeated several songs from his set before Davis gave up and finally took the stage on the third floor of Commons. After the show, the 65-year-old Davis went his own way, but Dylan stopped by the after-party, which was held in the common room of Canfield House.
When Dylan returned to Bennington in 1963, this time as the headliner, the SILO (Bennington’s biannual literary magazine) acquired and published the hand-written lyrics to one of Dylan’s newest compositions, “The Times They Are a-Changin,” which, since its recorded release in 1964, has been firmly planted in the canon of American folk music.
The issue of the SILO has since become a collector’s item, with asking prices of up to 200 Euros. This is notably the only instance to date of a SILO contributor going on to win the Nobel Prize in literature, which Dylan was awarded in 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Dylan, now aged 76, recently wrapped up the 2017 leg of his “Never-Ending Tour” with five performances at the Beacon Theater in New York City, marking 2,903 shows since the tour’s first date in 1988, and nearly six decades on the road. Although there are no photographs, films, or audio tapes of either of Dylan’s concerts at Bennington in the 60s, and the stage which he graced so many years ago has been lost to the ongoing renovations of Commons, his presence on campus has left a palpable impact.