Not too often are you likely to hear people disgruntled at the thought of listening to a Bob Dylan song, but the freewheelin’ troubadour’s classic ‘All Along The Watchtower’ is so ubiquitous with another sixties icon that it can sometimes feel disappointing to not witness the Jimi Hendrix version. However, that doesn’t mean Dylan can’t pull it out of the bag and show why he’s still the man in charge.
One such performance came in rather difficult circumstances, too. The 25th anniversary of Woodstock Festival should have been a joyous occasion, filled with Generation-X punters all looking to cash in on the ‘experience’ of being a Woodstock. While the sixties event had been built on free love and a heaving mass of ticket holders descending on a small town for a weekend of freedom, the 1994 edition was way off the mark.
Instead of being about freedom and creation, the festival site was rammed with commercial ventures all trying to make a quick buck. It was the antithesis of the original event’s spirit and that feeling was compounded by a list of artists who hardly matched up to the otherworldly line-up that had littered the 1969 show. One name did stand out among the grunge and punk rock fodder, however, a man by the name of Bob Dylan.
While Green Day’s mudslinging set, which involved Billie Joe Armstrong and the band routinely hurling piles of sloppy mud into the audience was impressive, would be Bob Dylan who stole the show. The appearance at the namesake of the iconic festival would have meant a lot to the folk singer. Despite living so close to the original festival site, Dylan never made it to Woodstock ’69.
Dylan had suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1966 which had dramatically changed his life. In the wake of the incident, he shunned the public limelight and made music from within the confines of his own company. It also meant that while being invited and living so close to the site, Dylan wouldn’t appear at the 1969 event. Instead, he set off to perform at the equally iconic Isle of Wight Festival.
The singer did, however, accept the invite in 1994 when he was asked to perform at the event for a second time. He was even introduced as such: “We waited twenty-five years to hear this. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bob Dylan”. His presence on the stage elicited a large roar from the cantankerous crowd and did well enough to calm proceedings and he delivered a performance that would also be widely regarded as the best of the bunch.
Uncharacteristically for the time, Dylan played lead guitar in a more rock-oriented electric set and perhaps the best moment of this set came with his searing rendition of ‘All Along The Watchtower’. While the song is rightly considered defined by Hendrix’s version, this outing of the classic song is right up there with anything we’ve heard before.