12:50 a.m. Sept. 12
In the long run, I drove north to do my annual story on fall foilage. But the best moments came in the short amount of time I spent in Rochester, Mn.
I had never been to Rochester. But I knew Bob Dylan was winding down his summer tour of minor league ballparks at Mayo Field in downtown Rochester. I love Dylan, I adore minor league ballparks and I wanted to see opening act Lou Ann Barton sing Texas roadhouse music with Jimmie Vaughn. Summer was a fleeting butterfly and I was chasing it with a hopeful net.
A full moon looked down over left field and the Minnesota air was crisp. A friend had driven down from St. Paul to see Dylan for the first time. I'm always kind of emotional and wound up after spending six hours in a car, but last Thursday's atmosphere combined with Dylan's set list cut straight to the heart. It seemed the songs were tailored for a lost and found mood..........
........."Forever Young," "Things Have Changed," "Highway 61 Revisited," (I drove some of 61 home), "You Ain't Going Nowhere" (also played Sunday night by a live Chicago band playing at my friend Jackie Matchbox's 50th birthday party), "Watching The River Flow," "Summer Days," "Like a Rolling Stone," of course.
Dylan was singing my road trip.
He nailed "Simple Twist of Fate" with those lines about standing in the park and neon burning bright on a old hotel, which was precisely the case with the 85-year-old Kahler Hotel on the Rochester skyline behind home plate. I didn't say a word. I turned around to look at the flickering red neon sign atop the hotel and wondered if I was reading too much into all this. It had been a difficult week. But it also had been a long time since I had attended a concert where the music connected on such a deeply personal level. I continued to let myself believe in what I was experiencing. I don't always do that.
Dylan sounded great and his band was clicking as is the case when most tours conclude. Dylan was in fine spirits. I've seen him around 25 times, and I know now he's in a good mood when he prances around the stage pointing each of his index fingers as if they are toy pistols. He's nutty that way, just like when he tells bad jokes to his drummer George Recile. I tried to remember a joke Dylan told about dogs on his XM radio show: two dogs were talking about going to a psychatrist. But one dog lamented how he will not be seeing the shrink since he is not allowed on the couch.
The ballpark is named after the Mayo Brothers, as is everything in Rochester. Is there a Mayo Brothers mayonnaise? They could sell it at the ballpark. The Mayo Brothers founded the Mayo Clinic, down the street from the park. The park has a lot of history. We were standing on the same field where Chicago Black Sox legend Swede Risberg played in the 1920s when he was a member of the McQuillan Aces. He owned a dairy farm in nearby Blue Earth. Hey Bob, why not write a song about the Swede? The adorably named Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods League now calls the park home.
I would never call any small town naive, but there were ample charming qualities about the hour or so we spent in downtown Rochester before the concert. Dylan fans gathered CJ's Midtown on Broadway. The bar is across the street from the Suk Law Firm. I'm not kidding. I took a picture. I sure wouldn't want my lawyer to suk.
Then I walked into CJ's Midtown and was knocked out by the dense clouds of cigarette smoke. I couldn't believe that, either, seeing that CJ's is a block away from the Mayo Clinic. Helllllo?? A handwritten sign declared "Happy Hour! Mon.-Sat, 8-11 a.m." That was no misprint. After morning happy hour, the day can only go downhill. CJ's Midtown has three pool tables and upcoming bands like Moon n' the Stars and Snak Attack. But we didn't hit CJs after the concert. My friend drove back to St. Paul and I returned to my Super 8 motel. I fell asleep to the rhythm of flickering neon, knowing there are brighter days to come.