The Serendipitous Dylan Incident

We’ve been spending some time in Moab, Utah, hiking the red rocks and canyons, floating down the Colorado River and viewing the natural wonders of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Little did I know when we planned this trip that one of its highlights would be a musical tribute to Bob Dylan.

Perusing event listings in the local newspaper I learned there were bluegrass concerts held every week at something called Moab’s Backyard Theatre and that one of the concerts would be a Bob Dylan 80th Birthday celebration. We decided to go. It was free, after all. What did we have to lose? (travel tip–always check the local newspapers, community message boards etc when you visit a new area; there’s treasure there you won’t find in your guidebooks and websites).

Just a block west of Main Street near the Mill Creek Parkway, the venue itself was about as homespun and sincere as you’ll ever encounter. A dirt lot surrounded by a wood fence. Simple painted backdrops, a string of lights above, and a scattered collection of plastic chairs that faced a small stage under a large cottonwood tree. We found some seats and settled in. The band, Quicksand Soup, started to play.

It was transcendent. I can’t explain why, not exactly, but some combination of the band’s skillfulness, the songs they chose to play and the bucolic setting made it wonderful. Because I was ready for wonder again, after a year too full of death and fear and vicious stupidity. By the time somewhere in the middle of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door when the singer pitched his voice into the high lonesome to repeat the last verse it felt like a great illness had started to heal.

And as we walked home, flush with the sense of community and interconnection that live music can bring, I wondered if Bob Dylan himself might have liked this concert as much or more than any of the grander events dedicated to him.

A guitar and a voice. People gather to listen. Words and melody drift across the dry evening air as other voices and timbres chime in. The sun sets. The light changes. The songs linger deep in our bones like essential minerals. They sustain.

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