Did you know Bob Dylan once spent a summer in Denver as a then-unknown teenager with a fake accent, sleeping on a floors and gigging at the Satire Lounge? He was nineteen at the time. It was just a year after the young Robert Zimmerman adopted his iconic stage moniker and around the time he'd discovered folk music, Woody Guthrie and the travails and romance of hobo life. There was also the obvious Kerouac mystique. Dylan, enamored of this, yearned to shed his small-town Minnesota persona and embody a new one. What better way to do this than to hitchhike out West carrying only a guitar and a suitcase?
See Also: • #20: Beatlemania at Red Rocks • #19: Michael Jackson's secretive stay in Denver • #18: Black Flag openers Nig-Heist get arrested for nudity 1984 • #17: Einsturzende Neubauten play '86 junkyard show • #16: Radiohead's gear gets jacked in 1995 • #15: Grateful Dead's first time at Red Rocks in 1978 • #14: Marc Cohn gets shot in downtown Denver, 2005 • #13: Ray Charles causes a ruckus at Red Rocks, 1962 • #12: Denver's "Red Elvis" comes home, 1985
Denver already had a vibrant folk scene in 1960. When Dylan arrived, he met a singer and club manager named Walt Conley, a Denver native who was dialed into the local goings-on here. He was booking acts at the Satire, such as the Smothers Brothers and Judy Collins (who had graduated from East High School just a few blocks down Colfax Ave.) He was also playing gigs at a downtown venue called the Exodus, which was the place to see singer-songwriters in those days. Incidentally, Conley, who died in 2003, was given his first guitar from Pete Seeger while working on a ranch near Taos. The stuff of legend, no doubt.
If Dylan made any impression on the locals here, it was not an especially positive one. Folks were annoyed by his fake Oklahoma accent, and it's more likely Conley took pity on Dylan than admired his performance. The fact that he had subscribed completely to the hobo aesthetic (this was before "shabby chic" entered the pop lexicon) probably didn't help, either. Dylan played just a few gigs at the Satire, opening for the Smothers Brothers, before getting kicked out.
So he moved west. This time the singer played at a now-defunct bar in Central City called the Gilded Garter, a rough, shaggy venue where the locals mostly ignored him. He was in the West alright, and in a little Front Range mining town filled with the kind of rural folks Guthrie praised in song. But he was also broke, probably homesick, and having no success in Colorado.
Upon his return to Denver, Dylan was not finding life any easier. Conley refused to let him stay at his place at 1736 E. 17th (now an empty lot next to the Bocaza Mexican Grille), so Dylan rented a cheap hotel next to the Exodus, at the corner of 19th and Lincoln. He stuck around for a few weeks, made a few friends and learned some new songs. That all ended one day when banjo player Dave Hamil discovered some of his records missing. Dylan was suspected of taking them. Theoretically, the singer could have taken the records to learn some new songs from them, but considering some were Broadway show tunes albums, this was unlikely.
Hamil and Conley went to Dylan's hotel to confront him, and, being locked out, called the cops. When they showed up, they found the records in an alley three stories below Dylan's hotel window. No one pressed charges, though Dylan was so upset that he was crying when being interviewed by the police. He decided it was time to leave.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music