Bob Dylan plays music alongside Bill Briggs at a performance in Utah sometime between 1965 and 1975. Dylan’s 1976 performance in Salt Lake City remains a mystery to his biggest fans; some call lost recordings of the show the “Holy Grail” of his untaped shows. (Utah State History)
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Editor’s note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com’s Historic section.
SALT LAKE CITY — Bob Dylan returns to Salt Lake City on Thursdayand some of his biggest fans are using this show to rekindle their search for any sort of recordings from his performance in Utah’s capital city 46 years ago — a show that’s almost mythical now.
That’s because that concert, held at the Salt Palace in the spring of 1976, reportedly contained an “unusual” set list featuring songs rarely performed by the legendary folk-rock artist throughout his 61-year career.
“This is probably the Holy Grail Dylan tape at this point,” said Ray Padgett, who runs a Substack site dedicated to all the Bob Dylan concerts in history. “Every other show from this tour was recorded but this one (that wasn’t) and it has all these rare performances — and was the last show of probably his most-beloved tour ever.”
Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review tour
Dylan came to Salt Lake City on May 25, 1976, in what was the last stop of his Rolling Thunder Review tour.
According to a 1976 report from the Deseret Newswhich reviewed the show, Dylan had been on tour raising money for the defense fund for Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a former boxer convicted of murder in 1967 who was in the middle of a highly publicized retrial in 1976. Though Carter’s conviction wasn’t overturned until 1985, his case was the inspiration for Dylan’s 1975 classic “Hurricane.”
But by all reports of the time, the tour was part incredible and part chaotic during its run in late 1975 and early 1976. It’s regarded today as one of Dylan’s best tours, if not his greatest, because of how it was set up, according to Padgett.
“It was sort of his traveling carnival vibe, where different guests would come out on stage; and it was very loose,” he explained.
But the tour didn’t come without some controversy. Nick Snow, the Deseret News music writer at the time, wrote that problems emerged in some cities. In Austin, Texas, for example, fans were “irate” when they found their $9 tickets — a little over $45 in today’s currency — didn’t exactly reserve them a seat. Some even picketed outside of the show because of this issue.
And the Salt Lake City show was an accident in some ways. Dylan was reportedly supposed to close the tour in Denver, but the show was moved to Utah only two weeks in advance “without explanation,” bewildering fans in the Mile High City, according to Snow. Jay Meehan of The Newspaper, a Park City outlet at the time, wrote that Dylan did spend time in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he shot a television special that would be aired later in the year on NBC.
A ‘night to remember’
All of these issues culminated in a legendary evening. Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Review crew — supported by Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Bob Neuwirth and Kinky Friedman — took a turn back in time during the last show of the tour.
“The hope of the 1960s, embodied in Bob Dylan and his Rolling Thunder Review, challenged the disillusionment of the 1970s Tuesday night at the Salt Palace,” Snow wrote in his review of the show. “And for four hours, the ’70s were driven into oblivion as the ’60s emerged.”
Even though he only said a total of about 10 words to the audience, his frisky stage manner and wholehearted performance seemed to indicate he had a good time. I know I did.
–Jeff Howry, in the May 27, 1976, edition of Daily Utah Chronicle
Utah fans listened as Baez “whimsically” belted a cover of “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas and performed an a capella version of Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” Snow wrote. Jeff Howry, a reporter for the University of Utah’s Daily Utah Chronicle at the time, added that McGuinn performed “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Chestnut Mare” from his stint with The Byrds.
Dylan then opened with a “soulful rendition” of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” according to Meehan’s report of the evening.
“If it would have ended there, I wouldn’t have been disappointed,” he wrote.
It didn’t end there, though. The ensuing set listpieced together by recountings, resulted in a show that became legendary in its own right. Dylan followed with “Gates of Eden,” a song he reportedly hadn’t played in over a decade at the time, or at least hadn’t on the unique tour. He and Baez sang “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” which Padgett says appears to be the only time Dylan has ever played the tune live.
His set also reportedly included “Black Diamond Bay,” which also may be the only time he ever played the song live. Though he played old and new hits, Howry wrote that almost all the songs he played were “rearranged or altered in some way,” adding to the uniqueness of the show.
In short, it was a slice of paradise for anyone who loves Bob Dylan.
“Dylan’s voice sounded better than ever and, even though he only said a total of about 10 words to the audience, his frisky stage manner and wholehearted performance seemed to indicate he had a good time. I know I did,” Howry wrote. “It was a night to remember.”
A 4-decade search for recordings
The only problem with the evening — at least for those who weren’t there — is that it appears the show was never recorded. Dylan’s archives, which Padgett toured in Tulsa, Oklahomashow that the musician had recorded all his other concerts throughout the tour. The archivist with the records now didn’t have anything from the Salt Lake City show in 1976.
There are some rehearsal snippets of Dyland and Baez singing “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” ahead of the concert, which helps confirm that they likely did perform it on May 25, 1976; however, it appears there was an error in trying to record the actual show.
“Unfortunately, they had sent their recording equipment back before this final show and they relied on some borrowed equipment that … didn’t work,” Padgett explained.
Do you have a recording of this Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue show?
May 25, 1976
Salt Lake City, Utah
Maybe your friend or family member made one? Is it in your basement? We want to hear from you!
— Do You Have It? (@canyoushareit) June 15, 2022
This eventually sparked a frenzy among loyal fans who either learned about the show or wanted to relive it. For example, superfans Dag Braathen and the Twitter user @dylyricus dug up a classified advertisement from a March 1977 newspaper; a California man asked for audience tapes, photos and newspaper clippings from the Salt Lake show.
The legend has only grown with time; 46 years later, the search is still on for any sort of recordings from the evening.
With Dylan returning to Salt Lake City, Braathen and @dylyricus figure now is the right time to resume the search. They launched a website and corresponding social media accounts dedicated to his effort to find any recordings of the show. Padgett, who is helping the endeavor, believes it’s possible there is a bootleg recording out there somewhere.
Technology has drastically changed concerts, for better or worse. It’s nearly impossible to see a show where someone isn’t holding up a phone to record a song or entire show these days. Yet the growth of the internet and social media is also why Padgett believes it’s possible to find someone who has a recording, perhaps lying in a basement or attic.
At this point in the search, he’s hopeful that some non-Dylan fan who just happened to record rock concerts in the 1970s may have taped it. Perhaps there’s a gold mine lying around their house unbeknownst to them. If you do have it or have any leads, the trio of Dylan fans hopes you’ll email them at email@example.com.
If not, the May 25, 1976, evening at the Salt Palace may be something that only carries on in folklore. The search will refocus on other lost Dylan recordings in that case.
“People have known this show … for decades now, and the Dylan world doesn’t have it,” Padgett said. “If the official Dylan archives can’t find it, I think at that point, this is sort of the last chance that someone is sitting on it and they don’t even realize what they have.”
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