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Flashback: Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead Play ‘Watching the River Flow’

We’re just 10 days away from the premiere of Bob Dylan’s streaming concert Shadow Kingdom. Not much is known about it, but a short clip posted last week to Dylan’s streaming accounts reveals that “Watching the River Flow” is part of the set.

The bluesy song, which features Leon Russell on piano, was recorded in March 1971 during the sessions for Greatest Hits, Vol. II that also yielded “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” It came out as a single two months later. It reached Number 41 on the U.S. Hot 100 and actually received some airplay, though it would take “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” two years later to prove that Dylan had a lot more to offer the music world than memories of the Sixties.

“Watching the River Flow” didn’t appear at a Dylan concert until late in the 1978 Street Legal tour when he tried it out at stops in El Paso, Texas, and Norman, Oklahoma. It wouldn’t surface again until June 1987 when Dylan holed up with the Grateful Dead at Club Front in San Rafael, California, to rehearse for their stadium tour. At Jerry Garcia’s urging, they ran through many songs he hadn’t touched in years, including “John Brown,” “Queen Jane Approximately,” “Joey,” and “Pledging My Time.” A bootleg of the rehearsals somehow leaked out, and you can hear their take on “Watching the River Flow” right here.

The song eventually entered regular rotation on Dylan’s Never Ending Tour set list, but he he hasn’t played it since July 15th, 2014, in Gothenburg, Sweden. Let’s hope his decision to resurrect it suggests that more surprises are in store for Shadow Kingdom. We don’t expect to hear anything truly shocking like “Changing of the Guard,” “She’s Your Lover Now,” or “Julius and Ethel,” but it would be nice to hear former Never Ending Tour favorites like “I Shall Be Released,” “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” or “You’re a Big Girl Now” that have been MIA for quite a long time.

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Let’s also hope that Shadow Kingdom leads to a fall tour. Dylan has wrapped up his last few Never Ending Tour legs with a residency at New York’s Beacon Theatre. It grows longer every year, with the 2019 stand stretching to 10 nights. After all this time off, he could probably sell out 15 or more without much difficulty.

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