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Tulsa's Bob Dylan Center is a fitting tribute to the legendary singer

Bob Dylan Center Photo by Getty Images for The Bob Dylan Center

A hundred years from now, schoolkids will be taught about The Beatles and a few other 20th-century pop music icons. One will be Bob Dylan. In the 1960s, the scrappy kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, picked up a guitar and revolutionized pop songwriting with classic tunes like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” 

This past spring, as the 81-year-old musician toured sold-out concert halls, a dynamic new museum opened to honor his legacy. The 3-story Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a Dylanalia Valhalla that showcases a wide range of artifacts, from handwritten lyrics and rare recordings to weathered, Dylan-blown harmonicas.

Bob Dylan Portrait

Photo by Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Why Tulsa? In 2016, Dylan sold an estimated $20 million worth of personal memorabilia to the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation’s namesake is not only an Oklahoma oil and banking tycoon but also “the patron saint of Tulsa,” according to Bob Dylan Center Director Steven Jenkins.

Nine years ago, Kaiser opened another center in Tulsa’s Arts District dedicated to beloved Dust Bowl songwriter Woody Guthrie. Dylan adored Guthrie’s music, so the Bob Dylan Center makes a fitting neighbor. And far more than a rock-star museum mausoleum, the Bob Dylan Center feels alive. In fact, it aims to inspire the counterculture artist in all of us. As Jenkins put it, “The center is all about tapping your own creative potential.”

As a dedicated Bobcat (as hard-core fans are known), I thought I’d seen it all. But the treasures on display brought a tear of joy to even my jaded eye. When you visit, don’t miss these prized artifacts. Adults, $12.

Read more: Explore America’s musical heritage on a road trip through the South

Handwritten lyrics

Lyrics notebook

Photo by Getty Images for The Bob Dylan Center

Many fans consider Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks to be his masterwork. The center has 2 pocket-size notebooks containing Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for nearly every song on the album, set down in a scrawl you may need a microscope to read. Luckily for visitors, both notebooks are open to the lyrics of the album’s classic lead track, “Tangled Up in Blue.”  

Washburn acoustic guitar

Tanglewood EA-45 Electro Acoustic guitar

Photo by Getty Images for The Bob Dylan Center

Throughout his 60-year career, Dylan has mostly strummed Martin and Gibson acoustic guitars. But in the early 1980s, he took a shine to Washburn guitars, including this Tanglewood EA-45 Electro-Acoustic cedar-top beauty, which is pictured on the cover of his 1984 album, Real Live.

1965 Newport Folk Festival leather jacket

Leather Jacket

Photo by Getty Images for The Bob Dylan Center

In ’65, Dylan famously outraged his staunch folkie followers when he plugged in a Fender Stratocaster and “went electric,” blasting the Newport Folk Festival crowd with a set kicked off by a blistering “Maggie’s Farm.” On his back was this black leather jacket, now wrinkled with age and soaked in rock ’n’ roll history.

Read more: Take a music road trip across Texas

The tambourine


Photo by Getty Images for The Bob Dylan Center

The instrument that inspired Dylan to write one of his most beloved tunes, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” is a tambourine-like Turkish frame drum with jingle bells attached to the inside. Musician Bruce Langhorne played it on an early-1960s recording session, where Dylan recalls the drum being “as big as a wagon wheel.” The drum skin, streaked black from decades of hand slapping, now sits behind glass and jingle jangles no more. But it gave us a classic song that Dylan wisely didn’t title “Mr. Turkish Frame Drum Man.”

Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Eli Ellison has attended 48 Bob Dylan concerts and counting.

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