Before they were The Band, Levon and The Hawks performed with Bob Dylan in Newark

This image was used on various posted advertising Bob Dylan concerts in the fall of 1965.

This image was used on various posters advertising Bob Dylan concerts in the fall of 1965.

Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson were not known as The Band until 1968. But on Oct. 2 — 50 years ago, this Friday — Bob Dylan performed with backing by these five musicians at Symphony Hall in Newark.

It was 10 weeks after the infamous Dylan-goes-electric show at the Newport Folk Festival. It was also three days before Dylan launched sessions for his classic Blonde on Blonde double album. The first session, in New York, featured these five plus Al Kooper; many other musicians would take part in later sessions. No other show took place between Oct. 2 and Oct. 5. (The Blonde on Blonde sessions will take up a large chunk of Vol. 12 in Dylan’s “Bootleg Series,” The Cutting Edge, 1965–1966, which will be released on Nov. 6 and be available in 2-, 6- and 18-CD versions.)

No known tape exists at the Newark show. But Peter Stone Brown and Bill Craig have written first person accounts of the night. Click on the Brown link and you can also see some photos, taken by Thom Cronin. For the show’s setlist, see below.

These were the days, of course, before there was a Prudential Center or a New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The 2,800-seat Symphony Hall (originally known as the Mosque Theatre) was the biggest concert venue in New Jersey’s largest city. Other artists who played there in the ’60s included The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin and Judy Garland.

There’s another Jersey aspect to the Dylan and the Band story worth mentioning. The Band fivesome spent much of the summer of 1965 performing at Tony Mart’s in Somers Point (as Levon and the Hawks), and it was there that they learned of Dylan’s interest in them.

As Helm remembered in his 1993 memoir, “This Wheel’s on Fire”:

“Halfway through August someone handed me the phone backstage at Tony Mart’s.
” ‘This is Bob Dylan calling,’ said a voice on the other end.
” ‘Yes sir,’ I said. ‘What can I do for you?’
“Long pause. ‘Well, um … uh, howja like to play the Hollywood Bowl?’
“I think I swallowed before asking, ‘Who else is on the bill?’
” ‘Just us,’ said Bob.”

Dylan and The Band continued working together, on and off, until The Band dissolved in 1976.

Here is the setlist from Newark:

Solo, acoustic:
“She Belongs to Me”
“To Ramona”
“Gates of Eden”
“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”
“Desolation Row”
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
“Mr. Tambourine Man”

With band, electric:
“Tombstone Blues”
“Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”
“I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”
“It Ain’t Me, Babe”
“Maggie’s Farm”
“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
“Ballad of a Thin Man”
“Like a Rolling Stone”

Encore:
“Positively 4th Street”

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