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Christa Lawler, Forum News Service, Published July 06 2013

Memories of Bob Dylan as he returns to Duluth

DULUTH, Minn. – Mix Bob Dylan and his home state, and there is always a colorful story.

Before a 1970s concert in the Twin Cities, Dylan agreed to meet with just one media outlet in Minnesota and surrounding states: the Hibbing High Times student newspaper.

In 1986, the Duluth City Council decided to name a street after its native son but changed its vote a few days later.

A Duluth News Tribune reporter traveled to St. Paul in 1978 to review a concert but ended up in jail.

On Tuesday, Dylan returns to Duluth for his first concert in his hometown since 1999, when he played a show with Paul Simon in front of 20,000 fans. The Americanarama Tour, which includes Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Richard Thompson, lands at Bayfront Festival Park.

We revisit a few stories from the Dylan archives.

Scoring an interview

For a while, Pamela Coyle worried that after 23 years of working at daily newspapers she would be remembered for an interview she did when she was a 17-year-old living in Hibbing.

In 1978, Dylan allowed a single interview with a single media outlet within Minnesota and neighboring states before his St. Paul concert.

The big winner: The Hibbing High Times.

The estimated 20-minute interview turned Coyle into more than a reporter. She became the story – even years later. The Associated Press ran with the story of the high school student who interviewed Dylan, and eventually she was getting phone calls from media outlets and super fans who wanted to know more about her experience.

“It was just really weird and unexpected,” Coyle said in a phone interview from Nashville, where she now lives. “I wasn’t prepared for that level of interest from the media and his really avid fans.”

In 1998, Coyle revisited the experience with the Duluth News Tribune and said:

“I interviewed him like a 17-year-old. I asked incredibly basic questions. He was nice, very pleasant. He gave very nice short answers to my questions. It was very much a novice approach on my part.”

Coyle voluntarily left journalism in 2007 after a career that included an internship at the Duluth News Tribune, a job at the New Haven (Conn.) Register, a fellowship at Yale Law School for a master’s degree in the study of law and more than 13 years at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. She finished her career at the Nashville Tennessean.

So was the Dylan story her biggest?

“I can report that is not the case,” she said.

Bigger than Dylan: The Times-Picayune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Coyle was an assistant city editor in the role of acting city editor at the time.

“It was an amazing experience with some of the most impressive people I’ve known,” she said.

The exclusive

In 1986, then-News Tribune staff writer Bob Ashenmacher scored a rare interview with Dylan before a concert at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. A reader of Ashenmacher’s arts and entertainment coverage who knew Dylan arranged it.

Ashenmacher found himself backstage before the concert while Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dylan’s backing band, wandered around.

“It was a brief conversation,” Ashenmacher said Friday.

There was no small talk, and Dylan avoided eye contact at first.

When asked about his willingness to talk to a Duluth newspaper, Dylan responded:

“Don’t you want me to? I can go, I really can. I mean, I got things to do. I thought you wanted to speak to me.”

While the interview turned around, the concert was panned.

It wasn’t the musician’s fault, rather the venue.

“The sound was lousy” for the Metrodome’s first-ever concert, according to Ashenmacher’s review.

The experience of interviewing Dylan was a highlight of Ashenmacher’s journalism career, but not the kind of memory he regularly revisits.

“As I look back, it was very meaningful,” he said. “I’m grateful to have been able to shake his hand. It sounds corny, but he’s a great American. To say ‘Thank you’ to him was meaningful to me.”

Seen from behind bars

Things got a little rock ’n’ roll-y at a July 1978 Rolling Stones concert at the St. Paul Civic Center. A bunch of ticketless fans tried to bust past police and into the arena, according to a story in the St. Paul Dispatch. Thirty people were arrested; nine people, including a Minneapolis Star reporter, were treated for injuries following the melee.

So, before Bob Dylan’s Halloween concert at the same venue, the St. Paul Police Department said there would be no tomfoolery this go-round.

“A ‘no-nonsense’ policy will be enforced at the Halloween night Bob Dylan concert,” St. Paul Mayor George Latimer said in a story that ran in the Duluth News Tribune on Oct. 29, 1978.

Things didn’t get too crazy at the show, though 11 were arrested for scalping – including Rick Shefchik, a reviewer for the News Tribune.

Shefchik described the scene as part of his concert review:

“I held my tickets at my side, letting it be known to the arriving crowd that they were available. … As I stood at the curb, a guy in his late 20s with short blond hair, wire-rimmed glasses and a blue windbreaker spoke to me.

‘Do you have tickets for sale?’

‘Yes.’

‘How much?’

‘$20.’

‘A piece?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re under arrest.’ ”

Shefchik was loaded into a paddy wagon, taken downtown, spent time in a cell, made friends with his fellow scalpers, and was released in time to still catch a few songs at the show.

Back at the Duluth News Tribune, no one knew how his night had unfolded.

“Once it was over, I looked at it objectively and said, ‘This is a fantastic story. I might as well make a story out of it,’ ” he said. “I wrote it up, put it on (my editor’s) desk and waited to be told I didn’t have a job anymore.”

The editor’s response: “This is a helluva story. Don’t let it happen again.”

The road not taken

Today, there is a Bob Dylan Way now, but Duluth hasn’t always had a road named after the singer. In June 1986, the Duluth City Council voted to rename Harbor Drive as Bob Dylan Drive.

Less than a week later, they revoted 6-2 in favor of not changing it.

“I’ve kept a running track record of the people who’ve called me,” then-councilor Neill Atkins, one of the sponsors of the measure, told the News Tribune at the time. “And I think the last count was about 80 to 3. Against.”

The idea was hatched by organizers of the Duluth Reunion Festival, and opponents said it was designed to lure the singer to the city.

Incidentally, Ashenmacher was able to ask Dylan about the road-naming kerfuffle before a concert in Minneapolis.

“Yeah, I heard about it,” Dylan said.

“What do you think?” Ashenmacher asked.

“I really don’t know what to think,” Dylan responded. “I would think there’d be a lot of other people in Duluth they could name streets for.” (He laughed a little, according to the article.) “I think everybody who was born there should have a street named for them.”