"I was smiling so much it was like I was on ecstasy," says Fredrik Wikingsson. "My jaw hurt for hours"
Yesterday afternoon around 3:00 p.m. 41-year-old Bob Dylan superfan Fredrik Wikingsson walked into Philadelphia's Academy of Music, took a seat in the second row and prepared to watch his hero play a concert just for him. "At this point I still thought I was about to get Punk'd," he says. "I thought some asshole would walk onstage and just laugh at me. I just couldn't fathom that Dylan would actually do this."
This wasn't Punk'd, and within 10 minutes of Wikingsson taking his seat, the lights dimmed and Dylan took the stage alongside his touring band. Playing to an audience of one, they abandoned their usual repertoire and played Buddy Holly's "Heartbeat," Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill," Chuck Willis' "It's Too Late (She's Gone)" and a blues jam that Wikingsson has been unable to identify. "I was smiling so much it was like I was on ecstasy," he says. "My jaw hurt for hours afterwards because I couldn't stop smiling."
The incredible concert was part of an ongoing Swedish film series Experiment Ensam (Experiment Alone), where people experience things completely alone that are usually reserved for large crowds. Past films focused on lone people at comedy clubs or karaoke bars. The filmmakers thought a lot bigger for this one and made arrangements with Dylan's camp for the private show, paying him an undisclosed amount of money. "I have no idea how much it was," says Wikingsson. "But it was probably more than he gets for a normal gig."
Wikingsson's friend Anders Helgeson is the director of Experiment Ensam, and when he told him about the Dylan concept he begged to be the subject. "I had an endless series of meetings where I managed to convince people my extreme fandom made me the best candidate for the enviable task," he says. "I'm very passive and I always picture myself as the guy that wouldn't be able to save himself on a sinking ship. I'd just lay down and die. I have no real ability to grab the moment, but when I heard about this I thought, 'For once, I have to stop everything in my life and go for something.'"
The day before the show, Wikingsson, a popular TV personality who lives in Stockholm, walked around New York's Greenwich Village with a camera crew and visited famous Dylan landmarks. On show day, he found himself so nervous he wasn't able to eat. "I was a fucking wreck," he says. "Part of me was thinking, 'Maybe this won't happen and it'll be for the best. I don't want to impose on Mr. Dylan. I don't want him to stand there and be grouchy, just hating it.'"
When he walked into the theater, he had the surreal experience of being able to pick any seat in the house. He went with a seat in the middle of the second row. "I thought the first row might freak him out," Wikingsson says. "I was like a guy picking the next-to-most expensive bottle of wine in a restaurant, which is a very Swedish thing to do. I figured the second row would be ideal. Malcolm Gladwell would probably have all sorts of theories about this."
The light dimmed 10 incredibly anxious minutes after he walked in. "It was completely dark and empty," Wikingsson says. "Then a guy walks onstage and started talking to the lighting guy. Turns out it was Dylan and he nodded at me. There wasn't any ceremony at all. He just started talking to his bassist and drummer about how they were going to start the first song."
Dylan's set list has been remarkably rigid over the past year, centering largely around songs released in the past 15 years. Covers are extremely rare, so Wikingsson was delighted when the show began with "Heartbeat." "I liked Buddy Holly before I liked Dylan," he says. "I felt like Christmas morning."
He broke out into applause when the song finished. "Nobody took notice of me," he says. "I figured that maybe it just sounded phony or weird. During the second song, 'Blueberry Hill,' I realized I had to say something. It was just too weird. I screamed out, 'You guys sound great!' That caused Dylan to burst out laughing. Now, I have two kids and their births were great, but him laughing onstage at some lousy fucking comment of mine was unbelievable."
At the end of "It's Too Late (She's Gone)" Dylan performed a harmonica solo. "I always detest people that automatically holler and applaud every time he breaks out the harmonica," says Wikingsson. "But I found myself almost weeping when he played the solo. He could have just ended the song without the solo, he wanted it to be great."
The show wrapped up with a blues song. "It's still a big mystery to me," says Wikingsson. "This will probably be a embarrassing for me because it might be a well-known blues song. I'm sure when I get the tapes I can figure out what it was. When the show ended Dylan said, 'Swing by anytime.' He was highlighting the fact this was a weird thing that will never happen again. It was just so fucking great."
Dylan played a public show that night, but Wikingsson decided to not go. "It would be weird and nothing could top this," he says. "To be honest, I went to a karaoke bar with the production guys and sang my throat out. I selected all Dylan songs, but they just had these crappy Byrds versions."
Wikingsson's private Dylan show was filmed by eight cameras, and a 15-minute documentary of the event will hit YouTube on December 15th. "Fans might detest the fact that I'm sitting there," he says. "But it's going to be really cool and great looking. The sound was just incredible."
He's also going to talk at great length about the experience on his popular English language podcast, The Filip and Fredrik podcast.
Now that the whole experience is behind him, Wikingsson has one final dream: "I want Dylan to release an official Columbia EP of the concert called Songs for Fredrick."