Memories of the first ever Polish concert Bob Dylan gave in 1994.

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by Filip Łobodziński

I offer this as a humble footnote to the excellent series by Mike Johnson on the NET performances (Kia Ora, Mr. Kiwipoet!). Just a footnote because it doesn’t bring an overview of certain topics or musical motives within given legs of the Tour. Instead, it is a fistful of reflections on just one concert, and a very special one it was. For me, obviously. Apparently it was so for Bob Dylan, too. At least that’s what its local promoter told me years later.

The event took place on July 17, 1994, in the former Polish capital Kraków (Cracow). It was the first ever live appearance by Bob Dylan on the Polish soil, part of the Still On The Road 1994: Europe Summer Tour.

It was Europe, it was summer ’94, and Dylan was still on the road. But few, if anyone, expected what would happen during a concert that was supposed to be just one of many, in a country that nobody within the Dylan camp cared about much.

Dylan was to give two concerts in Poland that summer – the first in Cracow at the sports club Cracovia football (soccer) stadium, and the second in Warsaw, at the Sala Kongresowa (Congress Hall), a renowned if a bit too official location, with red-padding seats and a neo-classical decorative finish (Soviet-style, actually).

Although I’d been to splendid concerts at my home town’s Sala Kongresowa, by numerous jazz acts, by Bob Geldof et al., I opted for the plein air experience. I thought it to be much more suitable and doing more justice to my hero’s art.

The photos attached are courtesy of a Cracovia avid fan nicknamed Craco who frequented each and every event at his beloved stadium, and published his recollections on the Cracovia fans’ website terazpasy.pl.

I arrived in Cracow in the afternoon just in time to make myself comfortable on the stadium grounds, located on Józef Kałuża street. Józef Kałuża was one of the best Polish pre-WWII footballers. Ironically, his last name means ‘puddle’.

But when I was entering the premises the sky was clear albeit not sunny.

The concert started a bit later than announced. The support was Kasia Kowalska, young Polish rock singer. She played for about 20 minutes and then – more waiting.

When Dylan entered the stage, it was already dark. He began with Jokerman, his regular starter on that tour, I believe. Around the second song, Just like a Woman, the rain started falling. By the third, All along the Watchtower, it turned into a torrential storm, thunders were clashing.

Then came I Don’t Believe You and Tangled Up in Blue. Everybody on the stadium grounds were soaked to the bone. The area had turned into a huge kałuża (puddle) just as at the Woodstock festival. It was all watery and wet, muddy and dark. And the soundtrack was unbelievable.

And then – I checked the setlists for that leg and the song would not appear in other locations – Dylan changed the tune and ordered his band to play Shelter from the Storm. It was a gift to us from the guy who saw us, the 4-thousand strong audience, standing by him in spite of the cataclysm.

There were only 4,000 of us, rainy day women & men, because:

  1. Bob Dylan AD 1994 was no longer a superstar that he’d used to be,
  2. That same day Brazil was playing World Cup final against Italy on the Pasadena Rose Bowl stadium.

But still, four thousand throats and eight thousand hands is quite an army. And Bob Dylan saw it, and he knew that it was good. But of course there was little he could against the weather. It virtually made impossible for his band to perform the way they intended to. After Shelter, there was a longer break, after which the musicians returned equipped with acoustic gear. Tony Garnier had double bass, there were acoustic axes as the sound waves collided, Winston Watson played subdued percussion.

Three more songs – Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Masters of War and The Times They Are a-Changin’. And then Bob Dylan and his band were literally ordered by the tour manager to walk off the stage. The concert lasted just an hour.

Andrzej Marzec, the Polish concert promoter, told me later that Dylan had turned to him just after the gig and said: “I’ve just played my very best concert for the very best audience”. On other occasions, he apparently alluded to the event as a “metaphysical experience”.

Sure it was one for us. Never before nor after have I experienced such a spectacle where art and nature collaborated fully. When Dylan sings “you that build all the bombs” you can hear a loud crack as if to illustrate the lyrics. It was just another thunder that caused some short circuit within the amplification. Everybody had goose bumps, everyone was thrilled. No one could have orchestrated it better. There are at least two bootlegs from the concert, recorded by two English-speaking fans who travelled to that tour gigs around Europe. Their voices can be heard between the songs. They were seated on a tree and thus the sound is quite excellent, with not too much audience chat.

So I cherish the memory of that concert for several reasons.

First, it was Dylan’s first concert appearance in Poland.

Second, it was maybe not be intended to be that special, but it surely turned it out to be.

And this, his vocal delivery was extraordinary. There is strength and conviction in the performance. And the storm ‘n’ rain added to the experience. He somehow must have seen and felt that for those people it is really worth doing something extra. Hence the Shelter bonus, hence the three acoustic songs despite the flood. Hence the fierceness and passion.

I was ready to stand there and absorb his songs for much longer, of course. It didn’t matter that I was completely soaked. He sang about me that evening. “Tonight as I stand inside the rain”… “Rain falling on my shoes”… “I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”… “This is no place to hide”… “The night blows rainy”… “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone”. It all fitted. It all seemed so well timed.

You can check the music for yourselves here:

But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty of just being there.

I did not attend the Warsaw concert two days later, of course. I would not spoil everything I had felt with a pedestrian show given in comfortable conditions.


And in case you missed it: Bob Dylan, the lighter side.

If you would like to write an article for Untold Dylan please email Tony@schools.co.uk

 

 

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4 Responses to Memories of the first ever Polish concert Bob Dylan gave in 1994.

  1. Jochen Markhorst says:

    Great story, Filip. Dzięki!

  2. Filip Łobodziński says:

    Graag gedaan, Jochen.

  3. Martin says:

    Hi Filip Łobodziński, Im a fan from China, thank you very much for the sharing of this precious experience. Just would like to drop a few comment that the same situation happened in Tuebingen, Germany in the summer of 2015, open air concert during which it started pouring torrents and Dylan pulled out Shelter from the Storm for us soaked in the field, extremely moving and unforgettable moment. Your sharing reminds me of this show and thank you for that!

  4. Filip Łobodziński says:

    Hi Martin, thanx a lot for your memory. Seems like every time you turn soaked, there’s another shelter from the storm that you’re gonna hear. But I’m glad he has something to offer and comfort people when the world is soaked.

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