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Dylan leads eclectic festival at amphitheater

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Published:   |   Updated: June 28, 2013 at 12:18 PM

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Rain poured down on the MidFlorida Amphitheatre Thursday, sending some fans with lawn tickets running for cover, while others held hands and danced in bare feet in soaked sundresses.

The skies had cleared by the time AmericanaramA Festival headliner Bob Dylan went on stage to close the fest - a densely-packed, five-hour showcase of eclectic, we-don't-need-no-radio-play lyricism including tight sets by Bob Weir, My Morning Jacket and Wilco.

Dylan, in a white jacket and trademark hat, started with an energetic "Things Have Changed," quickly followed by "Love Sick" and "High Water." The stage was barely decorated, save for two big torches throwing an orange glow on the 72-year-old icon.

One glow that was conspicuously missing: cell phones. Dylan requested (through a woman who took the mic before he came out) that fans enjoy the show unencumbered by their devices, and most actually listened. It was a welcome ban in an age when concertgoers annoyingly watch shows through their phones' camera apps, despite their musical heroes being there live in front of them.

After all-around great performances by the earlier acts, Dylan's performance was up and down.
 
He started out with a pepped-up version of “Things Have Changed” that was so full of energy and outlaw swagger that it may have been the highlight of the set, but the energy waned quickly after that.
 
Fans were trickling out by the time Dylan got to a nearly 10-minute version of the swing tune “Summer Days” in the middle of his set (although this could have been a byproduct of an older crowd attending a show on a weeknight, as much as anything else).
 
The singer's voice, while never technically beautiful to begin with, hasn't gotten any prettier. His sing-songy whine turned gravelly with age years ago – that much I expected, and I'd even came to adore its decrepitude on 2012's “Tempest” – but this was something else. This was an almost painful growl that made his poetic lyrics mostly unintelligible by the time they reached the middle rows of the huge amphitheater.
 
Dylan's passionately reckless harmonica playing, fortunately, has remained intact, and he let it wail beautifully on “Love Sick” and “She Belongs to Me,” which were also high points, and his super-tight touring band definitely helped the show.
 
By the time Dylan closed with "All Along the Watchtower," which drew the most enthusiastic response of the night, he had the crowd back.

Wilco also got huge cheers during an excellent set that felt as if it could have gone on way longer, especially during the epic jam at the end of "I Got You," and when Bob Weir joined them to sing with Jeff Tweedy on the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil".

Earlier in the evening, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James' told the crowd his band was there to "celebrate the dawning of a new era, a new history of human kind," (a vague nod to the fall of DOMA perhaps), and eerily-timed thunder rolled as the band played the opening note of the resplendent "Wonderful."
 
My Morning Jacket also brought Grateful Dead founding member Weir back out on stage, where he played with them on a cover of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence."  His guest appearances with the other bands were some of the best moments of the whole night.

Weir started the evening with a short solo set that began promptly at 5:30 p.m., playing to an amphitheater that wasn't even half full yet, but with a solid group of tie-dyed and teddy-bear-shirted fans up front.

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