June 22, 2005

Minor League Charm

The minor league baseball stadiums might just be the last institution where 'American' and 'charm' still walk together. And that's probably why Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan's summer tour only plays minor league ballparks. I suspect with some Clear Channel promotion behind them they could easily sell out Giant's Stadium and its ilk, but god what an awful set of venues to play, listen too and see music. Instead they can't even sell out Dodd Stadium, home of the Norwich Navigators, and that's good old American charm. No worries, head up on Friday and not only can you watch the Navigator's play the Portland Sea Dogs, but you can also get a free Groucho Marx Nose n Glasses!

I-95 chewed up the oppurtunity to meet with Mr. Nelson, but squeezing next to the soundboard and watching him play in profile 10 feet away pretty much made up for that. Who else can take the stage in New Balance sneaks and still claim to be a pure entertainer. Willie loves the crowd, gives them what they want, shining, pure American charm. A throwback to when country music meant smoking joints on the White House roof and not paying taxes, not soft rock for xenophobes.

I don't think anyone in their right mind ever accused Dylan of being a performer. He makes music, any performance that emerges is purely accidental. I think he plays minor league parks to escape from the hype machine that wants to eat him up, and even then he apparently doesn't leave is darth vader black bus. The air conditioning never goes on, which must let Dylan experience the world in what seems to be his favorite manor, eavesdropping.

On stage Dylan has little presence other then that residue of celebrity he's so desperately tried to shake off. He barely left his post behind the electic organ, the guitar left to other hands. Doesn't much matter where you are on stage though with a voice like Dylan's. Out on the grass of a minor league ballclub you might think it's aged into some bonerattling perfection, he sound's like an alien telling tales of an earth he see's like no one else, unable to relate, but clearly able to communicate.

Out on the Norwich strip, or on its dying New England mill town main street, that voice seems more like a classic rock merger and aquisition, Dylan plus Tom Waits, dinosaur style. The minor league ballpark keeps its charm while main street fades because the minor league park is part of a larger machine, a feeder toward the big league hype machine. Down in Double AA baseball is still about dreams, kids who dream of making the majors, journeymen who still are happy they get paid to play baseball, these towns aren't big enough for major league egos, although the Navigators seem to have as many luxury boxes as Shea or Yankee stadium despite being drastically smaller/more intimate. Even the ads in the stadium have a bit of charm left, like the local plumbing company bought them to impress their old high school friends and maybe get some business, rather then as part of their international marketing scheme. Sure the players are all dreaming of the world series one day, but down in Double AA globalization is still a big city thing. As long as the local Wal-Mart hasn't bought any ads that is, and I think they are too cheap and ubiquitous for that...

Posted by Abe at June 22, 2005 03:35 PM