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Bob Dylan, a Stage-Crasher, and a 14-Year-Old Photographer
1966-02-11, The Mosque, Richmond, VA
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For the second-to-last-stop on our journey through the first week of Bob Dylan’s tumultuous 1966 tour, we travel to Richmond, Virginia. No, there are – say it with me now – no recordings. But our guest tourguide James Adams, who you may know as @bob_notes in the Twitterverse, fills in some of the gaps. Here’s James:
One of the most iconic photographs of young Elvis Presley was taken backstage at the Richmond Shriner’s Mosque in 1956. I wonder if Bob Dylan, a serious Elvis freak, was aware of that musical convergence when he played the same venue a decade later, on February 11, 1966? If not, maybe he learned of it during one of his subsequent visits to the storied venue. The name changed over the years—Richmond Mosque, Landmark Theatre, Altria Theatre—but after 1966 Dylan played the same room again in 1990, 2013, and 2015.
It’s the 1966 performance that sends me daydreaming. I’m not a Richmonder, but the city is close enough for me to drive there in a single playing of Blonde on Blonde. On an alternate timeline there’s just no way I would have missed it. I picture myself there with Dan, my very best Dylan tour buddy, and a Richmond resident. I fantasize about sitting in the dark and hearing “Visions of Johanna” for the first time. I feel the tension in the air during the intermission. I do some soul-searching and wonder if maybe I would have booed during the electric set.
Unfortunately, “it happened so long ago, I wasn’t even born.”
Luckily, my friend Warren Lowery was there, just about as close to the stage as you can get. Not only that, he brought a camera and captured what seems to be the only known photograph of the show. The image is blurry and aged, just like memories from 57 years ago. It shows Dylan with a turtleneck and a black Telecaster, flanked by Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson. It reminds me of an image from the Old West, featuring dubious men drifting from town to town wearing strange weapons and nice suits.
On the surface, it’s hard to imagine a photograph more different than the one of Elvis, taken ten years prior:
But then you look again and realize they’re identical in the sense that they both capture young and confident musicians at the height of their powers, on the cusp of something bigger than anyone could imagine. Much of the future of rock and roll stretches out from those two photographs. In Dylan’s case, it’s still being lived and written.
To add new texture to my daydreaming, Warren agreed to talk to me about his photograph and memories of Dylan’s 1966 show in Richmond. I’m thankful for his time and generosity.
James Adams: How old were you in February 1966?
Warren Lowery: I was 14 years old.
What were you in to at that age?
I grew up in rural eastern Virginia and much of my cultural exposure came by way of Mad magazine. Also, the monthly Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club and American Bandstand. Supplemented by lots of late-night AM radio.
What kind of music?
Lots of Rolling Stones, the Byrds, the Who, that sort of thing. And Dylan, of course. I had all of Dylan’s LPs by the time of his show in Richmond.
How’d you get your ticket for the show?
I sent away by mail to the Thalhimers department store in Richmond. It was $3.75 and a self-addressed envelope for orchestra seating. After that it was just a matter of waiting for the return mail.
Had you seen many concerts?
No. Dylan was my first live music concert. My parents drove the 60-odd miles from our hometown to drop me off in front of the Mosque. Later that same year they drove me and two friends to DC Stadium to "hear" the Beatles. I was a persistent young music fan!
What do you remember about the show?
I honestly remember only a few specific things. My seat was fairly close stage left. “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” stands out in my memory. I think that I'd never heard it until that performance and the imagery of the lyric has never left my memory. It's still a favorite from that era.
Anything about the acoustic set?
I would have been familiar with most of the songs during the acoustic half of the show, but I was most energized by the electric set with the mostly-Hawks.
You took a fantastic picture during the electric set!
I must have stood in the aisle to take that photo. I have no idea if I shot other pictures, or even what camera I used. Dylan’s wearing an open jacket, in contrast to some of the high-buttoned suits he was also wearing at the time.
I heard a rumor that the photo was taken during soundcheck.
I cannot imagine having the nerve to get into the venue for a pre-show soundcheck. So, it seems likely to me that it was during the show.
How was the crowd?
Well, I was an aspirational teenager from the sticks. I remember being fascinated and intimidated by the older and more worldly audience. I don't recall whether the house was full, but the Mosque's proximity to the Fan (a popular Richmond neighborhood) and Virginia Commonwealth University (in 1966 it was still the Richmond Professional Institute) surely contributed to good attendance.
We found one account claiming that a fan rushed the stage during “Desolation Row.” Any recollection of that?
For me, that’s lost in the fog of memory. It’s quite a climb to get up onto the Mosque’s stage. She must have been very determined.
What about you? Are you still a Dylan fan?
Yes! I’ve heard him perform a half-dozen or so times since that first show in 1966. And even though I’ve passed along several hundred LPs over the last few years, I still have my original copies of Dylan’s albums.
What comes to mind when you think back on the show? What impression did it leave?
I see it as foundational to my appreciation for the power of live music. Live music has the capacity to be transportive and transcendent. For 60 years I’ve sought that sensation, listening to different styles of music and performance. All of that started with Dylan in Richmond.
Thanks to Warren for sharing his memories and to James for the writeup! More Richmond ephemera below. Next stop: Norfolk.