Bob Dylan Covers Merle Haggard’s “Footlights”- Listen
viaMark Casserly / Youtube
Folk legend Bob Dylan, ever the enigmatic troubadour, brought his Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour to a climactic close at Boston’s historic Orpheum Theater on Sunday night.
The atmosphere was electric as fans who had been a part of the three-night musical journey eagerly awaited the final act. However, what they didn’t anticipate was a surprising deviation from Dylan’s usual setlist—a soul-stirring cover of Merle Haggard’s 1979 classic, “Footlights”.
This choice might have raised eyebrows, as Haggard had no direct ties to Boston. Yet, Dylan’s ability to weave a connection between the song and the city showcased the artist’s intuitive understanding of his audience. Listen to an audio of the live rendition below:
A night and ensemble to remember
Dylan’s rendition of “Footlights” at the Orpheum Theater was a masterclass in musical interpretation.
Seated at a baby grand piano, Dylan, flanked by guitarists Bob Britt and Doug Lancio, transformed the theater into an intimate space resonating with the soulful notes of Haggard’s composition.
The rhythmic foundation was expertly provided by Jerry Pentecost on drums and Tony Garnier on bass. Donnie Herron, a multi-instrumentalist virtuoso, added layers of richness to the musical tapestry. The ensemble’s collective skill was on full display, creating a mesmerizing experience that transcended genres and captivated the diverse audience.
Merle Haggard’s classic is a glimpse behind the glamour
Haggard’s classic hit, released as part of his 1979 studio album Serving 190 Proof, served as the poignant centerpiece of Dylan’s performance. The song itself offers a poignant glimpse behind the glittering façade of a successful musician’s life.
In the lyrics, Haggard candidly explores the challenges and uncertainties that accompany the glitzy world of an A-list touring musician. Lines like “I’m 41 years old and I ain’t got no place to go” reveal a vulnerability that is often obscured by the glamorous exterior of the music industry.
Dylan’s choice to cover this particular song adds a layer of introspection, inviting the audience to contemplate the complexities of the artist’s journey.\
A complex musical relationship between songwriting legends
The decision to cover Haggard’s “Footlights” becomes even more intriguing in light of the complex musical relationship between Dylan and Haggard. In 2015, during his MusiCares Person of the Year Award acceptance speech, Dylan openly acknowledged that Haggard hadn’t initially held his songs in high regard.
However, subsequent interviews revealed a more nuanced narrative. Dylan clarified that his comments reflected a bygone era, specifically the late ’60s when Haggard had expressed disdain for the counter-culture movement.
In later years, the two artists had reconciled, with Dylan emphasizing their friendship. This historical backdrop adds a layer of depth to Dylan’s performance, turning it into a testament to the evolving dynamics and enduring camaraderie within the realm of musical legends.
Haggard, with the help of another folk icon Willie Nelson, has even recorded Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” for the 2015 duet album Django and Jimmie.