Looking dapper in a black suit and white broad-brimmed hat, Bob Dylan came out and sang to the crowd at Dehler Park on Wednesday night that "everybody must get stoned."
Some folks had already gotten a head start, and clouds of smoke drifted over the stage as Dylan sang his opening number.
Smiling like a man with some secrets up his sleeve, Dylan and his amazing five-piece band surged through a lineup of hits that included "Like a Rolling Stone," "Working Man Blues" and "Highway 61 Revisited."
Rain clouds hovered over the venue earlier in the evening, and a few sprinkles fell during John Mellencamp's performance, but the sun broke out halfway through Mellencamp's hourlong set. By the time Dylan came on at 9:30 p.m., it felt like the temperature rose 10 degrees on the ground in front of the stage.
Dylan put down the guitar early and instead blew his harmonica and pounded the keyboards. Cigarette lighters flicked on for "Just Like a Woman," and a couple of guys in the crowd hollered, "We love you Bob."
Mellencamp opened with "Pink Houses" and tore through his hits, including "The Authority Song" and "Small Town." Noticeably missing was one of his biggest hits, "Jack and Diane." The multigenerational audience boogied down in front, singing along and almost matching the volume from the stage.
"I love it because I love outdoor concerts," said John Sillitti. "I thought the venue was good, and I hope they do more shows."
With thousands of people crowded into the park to see the show, Billings police were out in force but encountered few problems.
Sgt. Kevin Iffland said the night went smoothly, with no major incidents and a few minor ones. Iffland said police inside the park dealt mostly with medical calls. With lots of beer being sold, police also spent time checking IDs.
Sgt. Neil Lawrence said some extra officers were inside the stadium throughout the night, while officers on bikes cruised the surrounding area to make sure no one was breaking into cars. Police volunteers wrote traffic tickets for cars that were illegally parked.
Hundreds of people sat on lawns and in cars in nearby neighborhoods listening to the concert, which could be heard throughout downtown and as far away as Pioneer Park. Inside the stadium, rubber mats were laid out on the baseball field to protect the grass.
Members of the City Council attended the concert, and Councilman Denis Pitman said afterward that the city proved that Dehler Park can be used for more than baseball. Pitman said he heard that about 8,000 people attended the show.
"Tonight the city of Billings took a great step forward, showing our community that the facility that we built truly is multi-use," he said. "What an amazing sight to see so many people using the park and enjoying themselves."
Dillon Sarb and Bryce Ketterling camped outside Dehler on Tuesday night to get to the front row when the gates opened Wednesday. The 17-year-old seniors at Senior High slept under a 20-foot tree on the corner of North 27th Street and Ninth Avenue North.
"We spent the night right there, under that tree,'' Sarb said. "A security guard came by at one point and asked what we were doing. We said we were waiting to see Bob, and he said, ‘Bob who?' "
Their grit paid off, and there they were standing at the gate in the 90-degree sun when they discovered their tickets wouldn't get them in until 5:30 p.m. and the gates opened at 5 p.m. for pre-sale ticket holders. A security guard, feeling sorry for the teens, swapped out their tickets so they were indeed the first two into the stadium at 5:01 p.m. Wednesday.
Daryl Thompson, 31, and his wife, Susan, who are from Edmonton, Alberta, were on their heels. Thompson said they flew into Billings just for the concert and planned to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield while here.
"I'm a huge fan,'' Thompson said. The concert was Thompson's sixth Dylan show. The first was in 1999 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Dylan played a doubleheader show with Paul Simon.
"I think that was the ‘Time out of Mind' tour. It's great that Dylan has so many different styles," Thompson said.
Armies of food and drink vendors and clean-up personnel were stationed around the concourse. Kristi Grob prepared Pita Pit fixings from a prime spot on the concourse with a good view of the stage.
"This is pretty exciting for Billings,'' Grob said.
The Dough Rollers opened the show, followed by Mellencamp and then Dylan.
INITIAL REPORT: When you share the same name and ’fro of a superstar like Bob Dylan, and he’s playing the ballpark in your hometown, you have no choice – you’ve got to be there.
Thinking there would be competition for the coveted front row at Wednesday’s concert with Dylan and Mellencamp at Dehler Park, Dillon Sarb and his best friend Bryce Ketterling arrived a bit early – 10 p.m. Tuesday.
The 17-year-old seniors at Senior High brought a couple of blankets and one pillow and camped outside Dehler Park to be the first in line Wednesday.
“We spent the night right there, under that tree,’’ Sarb said as he pointed to a 20-foot tree on the corner of North 27th Street and Ninth Street West. “A security guard came by at one point and asked what we were doing. We said we were waiting to see Bob and he said, ‘Bob who?’’’
Their grit paid off and there they were standing at the gate in the 90-degree sun when they discovered their tickets wouldn’t get them in until 5:30 p.m. and the gates opened at 5 p.m. for pre-sale ticket holders. A security guard, feeling sorry for the teens, swapped out their tickets so they were indeed the first two into the stadium at 5:01 p.m. Wednesday.
Daryl Thompson, 31, and his wife from Edmonton, Canada, were on their heels. Thompson said they flew into Billings just for the concert and planned to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield while they are here.
“I’m a huge fan,’’ Thompson said. His wife likes the Dixie Chicks, but they were both sporting Dylan T-shirts Wednesday.
The concert was Thompson’s sixth Dylan show. The first was in 1999 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Dylan played a double-header show with Paul Simon.
“I think that was the ‘Time out of Mind’ tour. It’s great that Dylan has so many different styles,’’ Thompson said.
Thompson said he first started listening to Dylan as a teenager, something about his lyrics and his unique vocals drew him in.
“The first Dylan song I remember listening to was ‘Just Like a Woman.’ That’s kind of a bad song to listen to when you’re going through puberty,’’ Thompson said.
More than 6,000 tickets were sold to the concert, but exact numbers were unavailable at press time on Wednesday. Armies of food and drink vendors and clean-up personnel were stationed around the concourse waiting for the crowds to enter the stadium Wednesday. Kristi Grob was preparing Pita Pit fixings from a pretty sweet spot on the concourse with a good view of the stage.
“This is pretty exciting for Billings,’’ Grob said.
The Dough Rollers were set to open the show, followed by Mellencamp at 7:15 and Dylan around 9 p.m.
Kathy Sweeney, a Butte teacher and two of her grandchildren from Great Falls were down on the plastic mats on the field staking out good seats. Sweeney’s son-in-law Pete Pace, a Great Falls teacher, made a vow that if Mellencamp ever performed in Montana, he’d make it to the show.
“At first, I was supposed to be the babysitter, but they decided to bring all three kids,’’ Sweeney said.
Kids 14 and younger were admitted free and promoter Jam Productions, of Chicago, encouraged parents to bring their kids to make it a family show.
Earlier in the afternoon, sound checks by Dylan’s band and John Mellencamp and his band could be heard all the way downtown at the Alberta Bair Theater. Jody Olson, of the ABT, said she went outside to listen.
“It’s gonna’ be loud,” Olson said.