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That time Tom Petty and Bob Dylan played in Paso Robles

Tom Petty, left, and Bob Dylan sing harmony during the last night of the True Confessions tour at the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles in 1986.
Tom Petty, left, and Bob Dylan sing harmony during the last night of the True Confessions tour at the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles in 1986. Telegram-Tribune

It was the best rock concert I’ve ever attended. You should have been there.

Some of you were — the main grandstand at the California Mid-State Fairgrounds was sold out.

The True Confessions Tour souvenir T-shirts had already been printed, and they didn’t include the final performance of the world tour at Paso Robles. The shirts listed the last date at the Shoreline Amphitheater the night before.

The date was added at the last minute; the opening day of the Mid-State Fair fell a day after the last scheduled tour date in Mountain View.

For me, the main draw was Tom Petty and his guitarist Mike Campbell.

Campbell could shift between languid slide riffs and percussive power chords, and he co-wrote “Refugee” with Petty. The entire band could play a dynamic range from arena rev-up to shimmering atmospheric single notes.

Petty, who died Monday, Oct. 2, was one of the most prolific songwriters of his era.

At that 1986 show in Paso, Bob Dylan and Petty each played solo sets and each played with Tom Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers. For some songs, all hands were on stage.

It was one of those warm Paso Robles days that cooled once the coastal breeze began to flow over the Santa Lucia Range. More than three hours into the show, some folks began to shiver and head out.

I got the sense the musicians didn’t want the magic to end.

Two years later, Dylan and Petty — along with George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne — would record as the Traveling Wilburys.

Now only Lynne and Dylan remain.

Mark Brown wrote this Telegram-Tribune story on Aug. 7, 1986:

Dylan, Petty open, close in Paso

It may have been Bob Dylan’s show, but it was Tom Petty who captured the mood of the evening when he sang the opening lines of his 1980 hit “The Waiting.”

“Don’t it feel like heaven right now? Don’t it feel like something from a dream?” Petty sang to a rapt crowd. “Man, I’ve never known nothin’ quite like this. Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again?”

It was the opening night of the Mid-State Fair and the closing night of Dylan and Petty’s True Confessions Tour, and the two events meshed perfectly. Traffic wasn’t as bad as fair officials feared. The night was starry and warm.

And the show?

“They were both exceptionally fantastic,” proclaimed Steve Watkins of Paso Robles, kicking back on the bleachers while the crowd left after the show.

“Oh God, it was excellent. Excellent,” said a nearly overcome Chad Dunning who had driven from King City to catch the show. “I’ll never be the same.”

The intense three-hour-long show was a little too much for some. The arena, tightly packed at the start of the sold-out show was noticeably roomier before the final notes of the set closer, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” faded away.

Layn Banks of Templeton couldn’t understand that.

“I’d listen to Dylan anytime, anywhere,” he said.

The reclusive Dylan granted no interviews and said very little on stage beyond introducing members of the band.

While Dylan’s performance was good as many of his fans expected, many were surprised at how well Petty held his own on stage with a legend.

Dylan mainly played either old songs from the 1960s or newer material, including songs from his new LP, “Knocked Out Loaded.” With the exception of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” he virtually ignored his material from the 1970s. Even some of his more familiar early songs — among them “Mr. Tambourine Man” — were hard to recognize in reworked form.

While the crowd was enthusiastic for Dylan, a more relaxed, talkative Petty brought the crowd to its feet, especially during his hit, “Refugee,” and a version of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Even two new songs from Petty’s yet-to-be-recorded new album, “Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough,” drew frenzied cheers.

“Wow, thanks a lot,” Petty said.

“It’s not often you get a hand for a new song.”

The musicians were also joined by Al Kooper, who has worked with Dylan for about 20 years. Kooper played guitar and keyboards with the band, as he did on Dylan’s new LP. Earlier in the 31-city tour the band was joined by rock stars such as Bob Seger, Ron Wood and Dave Stewart.

Judging strictly on intensity, “I’d have to give a little edge to Tom Petty. He put on a good performance,” Banks said.

“I’m prejudiced — I like Dylan” said Lauren Davin, who drove with her husband from Bakersfield to catch the show. “But I can’t argue with Petty’s show — he put on a show.”

The Davins have seen Dylan three times now, and both agreed the show at the fair was the best yet.

“The Heartbreakers are the best backup band he has had since The Band,” Joe Davin said as he finished buying the $15 T-shirts and programs.

Dylan also made a point of praising the Heartbreaker’s work.

“Anybody would sound good playing with them,” Dylan said during the applause for “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Even Dunning admitted the show lagged a bit at times. Dylan started with a series of newer songs apparently unfamiliar to many in the crowd.

But when he got to “Like a Rolling Stone”… Dunning said, shaking his head.

With the tour over, Dylan now heads for London, where he’ll begin filming a movie, “Hearts of Fire,” according to his publicist. It’ll be his first film appearance since 1976’s “The Last Waltz.”

“I’m going to make a movie,” Dylan said at the end of the show.

“Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.”

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David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942,, @DavidMiddlecamp