This week brought good news for Bob Dylan fans who prefer to see the music legend perform in an intimate venue: He's bringing the Never Ending Tour back to Washington for a Thanksgiving-week show at Constitution Hall. Dylan and his band, who last played in the District in 2012, will take the stage on Tuesday, Nov. 25; tickets for the show go on sale through Ticketmaster on Friday, Sept. 5 at 10 a.m.
It's quite a departure from the area venues in which Dylan has performed over the past few years. He has played outdoors, hitting Merriweather Post Pavilion in two of the last three years (2011 and '13), and taken his show indoors for arena shows at the Patriot Center in Fairfax (2009), George Washington University's Smith Center (2010) and Verizon Center (2012).
But in November, he'll return to the much more quaint, if not especially small, Constitution Hall, which seats around 3,700 people. The venerable concert hall has been hosting musicians for nearly 85 years, providing an historic setting with great sightlines and comfortable seats, though with sometimes-questionable acoustics.
(Speaking of acoustics, I won't waste a lot of words on how Dylan sounds now; if you've paid attention at all over the past 25 years, you know the clear, sometimes brash, nasal delivery you hear on classic-rock radio has given way to what my colleague and fellow Dylan fan David Malitz described in 2011 as "something resembling a cranky carnival barker on a good night, a Muppet with a serious respiratory infection on a bad night.")
Perhaps you noticed that I wrote that Dylan is returning to Constitution Hall; he last played there in 1989, with shows on back-to-back nights. When I first caught wind of his fall tour, I started digging around the archive on BobDylan.com to see when and where Dylan has played in the city over the years.
His first Washington concert, if you want to call it that, was about as high-profile as it gets. Having only recently released his second album, Dylan stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, as part of the March on Washington and performed three songs: "When the Ship Comes In," "Only a Pawn in Their Game" and Len Chandler's "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."
He returned to Washington four months later to play a show at George Washington's Lisner Auditorium, and didn't surface in the District again until 1965, when he played at Washington Coliseum -- the soon-to-be-renovated arena best known as the venue that hosted the first Beatles concert in the United States. You've probably seen at least one photograph from Dylan's show at the coliseum: The silhouette of the 24-year-old singer's bushy hair provides the iconic cover of "Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits," released in 1967. (You won't find a tighter best-of collection.)
Other D.C. venues the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has hit over the last five decades:
- RFK Stadium for shows on back-to-back nights in 1986 (with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and again in 1995 (with the Grateful Dead; I was there, man).
- American University's Bender Arena in 2004.
- The Warner Theatre for two shows in 1994 and another in 2004.
- He performed at the Kennedy Center for the "All-Star Celebration Honoring Martin Luther King Jr." in 1986 with Stevie Wonder and Peter, Paul and Mary.
- And he's played three times at the 930 Club: Shows on back-to-back nights in December 1997 and another show in April 2004. (I can't for the life of me figure out why I didn't attend at least one of these three shows.)
I didn't take an incredibly detailed inventory of Dylan's suburban-Washington concert stops, but I checked on the obvious venues and others that I remembered. He's hit all of the local outdoor amphitheaters: Wolf Trap, the aforementioned Merriweather and Nissan Pavilion, now known as Jiffy Lube Live. He played three shows in the 1970s at the Capital Centre and one at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House in 1998. And he hit the minor league baseball stadiums in Frederick, Aberdeen and Bowie in the mid-2000s with Willie Nelson.
The quick musical math: That's 10 traditional venues in the city plus three songs at the Lincoln Memorial, with another six suburban spots and a handful of baseball parks, adding up to a well-traveled route for the legendary singer-songwriter.
The Constitution Hall show will cap a busy November for Dylan. In addition to his other tour dates, he has two music compilations coming out that month. For his 11th volume of the consistently amazing Bootleg Series, he's releasing "The Basement Tapes Complete" on Nov. 4. The six-disc set, featuring music recorded with the Band recorded at Dylan's home in upstate New York in 1967, has been restored from the recently rediscovered original tapes. Then on Nov. 11, "Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes," a collection of songs created using Dylan's never-recorded lyrics written during that same period, will be released. Producer T. Bone Burnett assembled a group of musicians, including Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and Jim James, to write and record music to go with Dylan's words.