In 1969, Bob Dylan performed in concert for the first time in years at the Isle of Wight festival. The show drew thousands of eager fans, and media fanfare ahead of the fest raised expectations for his performance. In reality, though, Dylan performed for the exact amount of time he’d been contracted for, disappointing many audience members. After some outcry, two members of The Beatles, George Harrison and John Lennon, defended the performance.
The ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ singer gave a shorter-than-expected set at a festival
Ahead of the Isle of Wight festival, Dylan agreed to play a one-hour set. Per the book No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan by Robert Shelton, the musician mentioned in an interview that he might play a three-hour set, though.
When the day of the performance rolled around, the performance came far later than expected. Dylan’s set, including encores, also only stretched from 11 p.m. to midnight. The crowd didn’t disperse, as they expected a much longer show.
Concert promoter Rikki Farr addressed the audience: “I’m sorry! Dylan has gone! He came and he did what he had to do!”
Shelton noted that the end of the show prompted a rush of “tired, disappointed kids slogging back toward the ferries.” The Associated Press noted, “There was near pandemonium as outraged fans asked: ‘Has he gone? Where is he?’ Security guards with dogs raced … to prevent any trouble … no incidents and the crowd soon began to filter away.”
One angry fan even told Shelton, “Dylan, RIP.”
Two members of The Beatles defended Bob Dylan’s performance
Press coverage following the concert was conflicting, with some outlets reporting that Dylan never wanted to return to England and some saying that Dylan couldn’t wait to perform there again. Ultimately, Dylan said he was sorry to hear anyone was disappointed by the show.
“I was shattered by stories that the kids were angry because I was three hours late,” he said, noting, “I was there at 5:30 as promised. I don’t know why we were so long before going on. Ask the producers … The fans were terrific.”
Harrison and Lennon, who were also at the festival, spoke out in support of Dylan.
“The concert was marvelous,” Harrison said. “Bob did not walk off … halfway through his act. He gave a brilliant performance.”
Lennon offered a similar, though notably less glowing defense.
“He gave a reasonable, albeit slightly flat, performance, but everyone was expecting Godot, a Jesus, to appear,” he said.
The Beatles defended Bob Dylan more than once
One of Dylan’s earlier concerts also sparked backlash from fans. In 1965, when Dylan played an electric set, the Beatles lashed out at audience members who walked out because they wanted an acoustic set.
“When the jeering was going on, the Beatles, sitting in a box behind me in Albert Hall, shouted ‘Leave him alone — shut up!’ to the moaners,” journalist Ray Coleman explained.
Harrison said that the people who walked out couldn’t have been real fans.
“The people who walked out must have been idiots and they couldn’t have known the real Dylan,” he said. “It was all still pure Dylan, and he has to find out his own directions. If he felt he wanted electrification, that’s the way he had to do it. Who’s laying down rules?”