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Dylan, Nelson tour minor-league parks

Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson are batting together in a national tour of minor-league baseball parks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

If Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson were in the same lineup, who would bat cleanup?

Such are the questions worth pondering while lying on the outfield grass, the sun setting behind you and the stage set for the music legends in the opening days of their concert tour of minor league ballparks.

Among the others: What are they doing here?

Like the music itself, the tour is a slice of Americana from a time long ago, beginning in Cooperstown, N.Y., next to the Baseball Hall of Fame and continuing through stops in Altoona, Pa.; Peoria, Ill.; Sevierville, Tenn.; Sioux City, Iowa, and Lincoln, Neb.

Dylan, 63, performs relentlessly at this stage of his career and played at a few small baseball stadiums in the 1990s. He liked the idea of organizing a field of dreams tour, said Jerry Mickelson, partner in the Chicago-based Jam Productions.

“We’re bringing the music to the people and going to places that normally performers never play,” he said. “Bob likes to mix things up.”

Dylan and Nelson are also courting families, admitting children aged 12 and under for free if accompanied by a ticket-holding adult.

“We’re finding three generations of people coming to the shows — the grandparents, the parents and the kids,” Mickelson said.

A young, tattooed man sat on the grass where the Hudson Valley Renegades normally play, next to his mom.

Nelson, who has two sons in his band, was sympathetic when handed a note onstage at a Connecticut show. Little Aidan was lost, he said. He’s in good hands, but his parents should come to the stage and get him.

“My mother wanted to watch the children and I said ‘No, the children have to go,”’ said Christine Bellizzi, cradling her 3-month-old daughter, Marina Grace. “It’s a good family thing.”

Bellizzi’s 2-year-old daughter, Paloma, was off with her father to the concession stand, staffed by the local fire department.

“My last two concerts were the Wiggles and Sesame Street and it was a lot more dangerous than Pearl Jam,” she said. “It was a rough crowd. All those mothers wanted to get their kids close to the stage.”

Play ball!The atmosphere at Dutchess Stadium wasn’t entirely family-friendly; a well-trained nose could detect a whiff of marijuana smoke as Nelson sang.

At Cooperstown, Dylan donated an autographed album with his 1975 song “Catfish,” about pitcher Catfish Hunter, to the Hall of Fame. The tour is to end in September in Kansas, near the site of the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame.

An attempt to perform at the Iowa field featured in the movie “Field of Dreams” failed because the nearby cornfields made it impossible to haul in equipment, Mickelson said.

Dylan hasn’t come onstage wearing a baseball cap, but he has trotted out the same lame joke at a couple of shows while introducing a band member, saying, “He went out and got a baseball bat for his wife. It was the worst trade he ever made.”

Nelson performed first in Wappingers Falls, with a ragtag eight-member band that cultivates an air of informality. He ambled through many of his greatest hits.

Dylan, of course, doesn’t. The cleanup hitter waited until the sun has gone down to perform a set evenly divided between his legendary 1960s songs and newer material. Casual fans not expecting it were shocked to see him standing behind a piano as if he were in the starter’s blocks, driving a four-piece rock band.

But his performance was a uniquely American mix: the bluesy, roaring rock of “Highway 61 Revisited,” the pedal steel-drenched “Lay Lady Lay,” the courtly country of “Bye and Bye” and brooding folk of “Not Dark Yet.”

As he stretched out on the grass beside his 15-year-old daughter while waiting for the show to begin, Dave Kleinrock said that he probably wouldn’t have attended if it were at a more common concert venue.

“Sitting on a ballfield on a summer night can’t be too bad,” said Kleinrock.