Highway 61 Revisited - Watkins Family Hour
The Watkins Family Hour is a well established troupe of musicians consisting of siblings Sara and Sean Watkins (who are also in Nickel Creek), Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench, Don Heffington, Greg Leisz and Sebastian Steinberg. They’ve been hosting a monthly show in California for years and they’ve released their self-titled debut album in July ahead of a tour that included Newport Folk Festival and a three night stand in New York City at City Winery.
On August 8 2015, they returned to New York for a free performance in conjunction with Lincoln Center’s ‘Out of Doors’ and Americanafest NYC to perform Bob Dylan’s classic Highway ‘61 Revisited. Leisz was not present it seemed but guitarists David Garza and Smokey Hormel were on stage in his stead.
"Highway 61 Revisited" bursts into new life as Bob Dylan’s masterpiece is covered track-by-track by the Watkins Family Hour house band, Fiona Apple, Shawn Colvin, Pokey LaFarge, and Aimee Mann & Ted Leo at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Aug. 8, 2015.
The night began with opener, Justin Townes Earle performing as many people clamored outside Damrosch Park for a glimpse of the stage hoping to eventually be permitted to enter. After the prior weekend’s wild performance from Vintage Trouble that had packed the venue, I knew this evening of folk tunes would be more toned down but I didn’t anticipate it being almost as crowded. I guess I should have considered the weight Dylan carries. The folk legend also had a recent landmark anniversary, that of him plugging in at Newport Folk Festival fifty years ago. Newport featured a grand finale tribute, ‘Dylan ‘65 Revisited’ (another fiftieth anniversary) which featured Dawes and a rotating selection of guests (not the Watkins Family Hour though from what I saw). Jill Sternheimer and Claudia Norman, curating the summer series for the first time, may have considered that infamous occasion as they assembled the 2015 series. But even if they hadn’t specifically been brought on to play Dylan, Watkins Family Hour was a great selection as the group regularly invites friends onto stage with them pooling together all their musical talents for covers and, now, originals. Though having Al Kooper, the original keyboardist with Dylan during that period, hit all the right notes, (they were his) blurred the lines between what was a cover or not (Kooper was also at Newport).
Just as it was a Family affair on stage, it was clear there were many families watching on as people of all ages were in attendance. For the first portion of their set, Watkins Family Hour performed a smattering of non-Dylan songs, including one of my favorite Nickel Creek tunes, “Somebody More Like You” (sung by Sean), Fiona Apple’s “A Mistake” (which received a huge applause as most everything else she did) and wrapped up with Grateful Dead’s’ “Brokedown Palace”. Next up came the Dylan portion of the evening where the group and guests tackled Highway ‘61 Revisited. Sara sang “From a Buick 6”, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo sang “Queen Jane Approximately” and Pokey LaFarge appeared for “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (and then stuck around for most of the show). Somewhat unfamiliar with the album as a whole, I hadn’t recognized they were playing it out of order.
But it makes sense given that the arguably biggest song from the album, “Like a Rolling Stone”, would serve as the rousing finale. Everyone returned to the stage for a group sing-along and the audience finally got to rush up to the rail (security kept them back to avoid blocking the views of those seated). But it turns out the music didn’t end there. For an encore, Watkins Family Hour returned, declaring they would have to move forward in Dylan’s repertoire and then jumped into “Rainy Day Women” (the same closer at Newport) with David Garza singing the lead. While I enjoyed the “Rolling Stone” finale more, I wasn’t gonna complain about another song. Nor did anyone else but even after that, the audience wasn’t satiated, lingering on and demanding more. Fortunately, the perfect summer weather made an already incredible show very memorable. Folks will just have to treasure that.