It was raining in Memphis all day and some said that a tornado had touched down the night before on Union Avenue, and there were tornado warnings on the TV when my friend Link picked me up and we headed south to Jackson. This was my first time in Mississippi and every Mississippi fantasy I’d ever had was running through my mind as the rain poured down in torrents. We passed Jerry Lee Lewis’ town and I kept expecting the ghost of Howlin’ Wolf to emerge from behind a tree, but instead I saw lots of Mississippi cops and lots of fender benders as we passed something back and forth below window level.
Jackson was a couple of hundred miles south of Memphis almost in a straight line, but I didn’t see any cotton fields or we were on Nissan Boulevard passing a Nissan plant that seemed to stretch for a mile and then found ourselves in the center of Jackson, parking by the state capitol.
The main stage of the Cellular South Jubilee Jam was situated at the end of some downtown mall in the shade of the Bell South building and the Southern Trust Band, while a yellow Pearl River Resorts blimp hovered overhead with “PearlRiverResorts.com” painted on the bottom. What would’ve been a nice corporate park under non-tornado circumstances to catch a cigarette during coffee breaks was instead a field of mud, deep soggy mud. A “Cellular South” banner hung at the back of the stage onto which stepped Bob Dylan who launched into a blistering “Maggie’s Farm” which I thought was pretty funny considering the completely corporate setting minus the mud. The band sounded amazing. Rocking hard, totally together. Dylan followed up with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” which featured a great harp solo and then it was into a totally kick-ass version of “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”
He stayed at the piano for “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” while some loud drunk started complaining about the songs, so I moved away and sank into even deeper mud that had a quicksand consistency. At first it seemed like Dylan kept coming in too early to start each verse, but by the third verse the song seemed to settle down and out came the harp for a strong lengthy solo.
Then it was back to rocking for “Drifter’s Escape” and Dylan picks up the harp and it’s the wrong one, but he made up for it quickly with an exceptional solo and the band is loud and ferocious.
Given the setting, and since there was apparently no chance of Dylan actually singing “Mississippi,” “Floater” seemed like an appropriate choice, at least lyrically. However it seemed to go right over the crowd’s head, and it should be noted that the crowd was not exactly a typical Dylan crowd, whatever that is, being an outside, downtown show and all. The one good thing about outside shows is if someone is obnoxious, you just move somewhere else, except in this case each step meant sinking further into mud.
Whatever energy had been lost on “Floater” was resurrected by a stunning “Highway 61 Revisited” and Dylan was having a great time boppin’ and rockin’ behind his keyboard. He never stopped moving once and the guitars were smoking. He slowed it down for “To Make You Feel My Love” with the beginning instrumental making me hope beyond hope that it would turn out to be a slow majestic “Simple Twist of Fate,” but no such luck, though Dylan brought out the harp again for another way better than decent solo.
He closed the abbreviated set with high energy versions of “Honest With Me’ and “Summer Days,” and of course returned for “Like A Rolling Stone” which featured a terrific solo from Freddie and “Watchtower.”
Whatever problems this band may have had making things click earlier on this tour seem to be gone and they were one, very tight, very rocking unit. Whatever the show didn’t have on the Dylan mystical intensity meter, it compensated for in energy and I wasn’t expecting any great revelations in this situation. I decided as we slogged out through the mud onto Mississippi concrete that this is Dylan’s “I’m gonna have fun tour,” and there’s no doubt that that’s what he was doing.
A couple of hours and hits later we were crossing “Elvis Presley Boulevard” in a Tennessee fog and I couldn’t help but think the show I’d just seen and this tour had a lot more to do with Elvis Presley than it did with Arthur Rimbaud.