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Being There

The Sixth Annual Austin City Limits Festival feels like home...almost

So it might have come as a shock to some when Dylan launched into "Rainy Day Women" and out came a strange and painful sound. This was way beyond the proverbial frog in the throat — more like an old Delta blues singer who'd just gargled with Sterno. The band, anchored by Austinites Tony Garnier (bass) and Denny Freeman (guitar), began to find its groove on the blues "Watchin' the River Flow." The set list alternated old favorites ("It Ain't Me, Babe," "­Tangled Up In Blue") with selections from last year's Modern Times ("Spirit On the Water," "The Levee's Gonna Break").

By the time they got to "Highway 61," another blues number, the band was really locked in the groove and Dylan's voice seemed to be loosening up. Lying on my back on the grass about 300 yards from the stage, I convinced myself that it didn't matter if this was a great show or not. What mattered is that he is still out there doing it, and all these kids will be able to tell their grandchildren that they saw the legendary Bob Dylan in his white straw hat and white-striped trousers — the stage uniform of a road-show trooper.

He encored with, of course, "Like a Rolling Stone." Forty years ago, this song asked a generation that imagined it was breaking loose from all the old rules, "How does it feel?" Now it could be the question one hears at one's 40th high school reunion. "How does it feel?" Well, it hurts. And not just my aching back. My soul hurts, because the world is as fucked up as it ever was and our country is stuck in another war that should never have been started. It's like we — our generation — never learned a goddamn thing. Walking toward the exit, I thought that Dylan, the history buff, might have predicted as much. Human nature does not change. What matters is that the show must go on.

Muse's Matt Bellamy catches some air during the British trio's ACL set. Dozens more festival photos are online here.
Dana Donovan
Muse's Matt Bellamy catches some air during the British trio's ACL set. Dozens more festival photos are online here.

But then Dylan pulled a surprise: For the first time all night, he spoke, introducing the members of the band in his antiquated, carnival-showman's accent. And then he sang one of the most beautiful songs he's ever written, "I Shall Be Released," a prayer for spiritual and psychological liberation from life's inevitable suffering. And suddenly, Dylan's voice didn't sound wrecked anymore — it sounded, well, hopeful. Even more than that, it sounded human; not the voice of a generation, the voice of one man. And I walked out smiling into the night. — Rick Mitchell

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