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Bob Dylan’s First NYC Gig: April 11, 1961

A young Bob Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City

He blew into town on a cold January day in 1961, slammed the door of his car, walked into Café Wha and landed a gig that night. That’s the legend, anyway. Truth is that he slogged around uptown hustling for gigs in the Theater District for months before the Village beckoned. But once he found his stomping grounds, he was launched. And it did not take long for the fertile environment of the South Village scene to nurture and lift Bob Dylan to the heights of his greatness.

Dylan with Fred Neil and Karen Dalton at Cafe Wha Photo courtesy of the estate of Fred McDarrah

On April 11th, 1961, Dylan played his first official “gig” at Gerde’s Folk City. Gerde’s was first located at 11 West 4th in a building that no longer exists. Originally an Italian restaurant that specialized in spaghetti lunches, it became one of the foremost American music clubs until its closing in 1987. Dylan opened for John Lee Hooker, and played for a two week stretch.

Gerde’s Folk City 11 West 4th Street

Logan English, American folk singer, playwright, poet, and actor, was the MC at Gerde’s at the time and was instrumental in securing the gig for Dylan. His widow, Barbara Shutner remembers the day:

My husband Logan English and I met Bob Dylan at Bob and Sid Gleason’s house… One night we were all sitting around and Woody [Guthrie] said something like, “Play something” to this kid sitting on the couch. The kid was Bob Dylan, and he sang and it was just beautiful. So Logan said, “I’m working at Gerde’s. I’m the MC. We’ll get you to play there.” So that Monday night, Bob came in and did his first set.

His setlist at Gerde’s reportedly consisted of “House of the Rising Sun,” “Song to Woody,” “Talkin’ Hava Negeilah Blues,” and two others, identified only as “unknown Woody Guthrie song” and “a black blues,” according to New York magazine. A year later on April 16th, 1962 Dylan debuted the song “Blowin’ in the Wind” at Gerde’s. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bob Dylan’s lyrics for “Blowin’ in the Wind” scribbled on a scrap of paper

Back to present day, Bob Dylan finally accepted his 2016 Nobel Prize in literature in a private ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden on April 1, 2017 after months of silence, mystery, and speculation.

You can take a walking tour of Dylan’s South Village haunts with GVSHP’s curated Google map.

“After weeks and weeks of hanging around
I finally got a job in New York town
In a bigger place, bigger money too
Even joined the Union and paid my dues.”

“Talkin’ New York” 1962

4 responses to “Bob Dylan’s First NYC Gig: April 11, 1961

  1. God, I actually saw him then. Until now, I had no idea it was his first gig. I just remember thinking, who is this skinny kid and do you call that singing?

  2. He didn’t do gigs uptown – he was a male prostitute who almost got killed by one of his Johns

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