MANKATO — When Ryan Dittmar first picked up a guitar at 15 or 16 years old, it was to learn the song, "I Want You."
When Nancy Tesmar came down to Mankato during her high school days to party with the boys she knew down here, they boogied to Bob Dylan albums.
And when Larry Groen heard Bob Dylan was coming to Mankato, he knew he had to score a ticket without his wife, who doesn't like Dylan's music.
"Bob's a legend," Groen, 63, of Algona, Iowa said. "Not to mention a Nobel Prize winner."
Groen was among several thousand Dylan fans who turned up at the Mankato Civic Center Thursday to hear the folk maestro work his magic onstage.
Dylan, 78, came to Mankato for the first time in 23 years as part of his current fall tour across North America. The Mankato show is his only Minnesota stop.
A Dylan concert can still pack a venue. City Center staff say Thursday's event sold out in less than three weeks, though they released a few more tickets Thursday morning.
People interested in capturing memories of the concert found themselves enjoying Dylan the old-fashioned way: Dozens of signs posted inside the Civic Center proclaimed no photography or video recording was allowed during the concert.
Yet people tried anyway, as Dylan and his five-piece band jammed through 19 hits spanning his career.
"It was amazing," Kristin Fischer, of Mankato, said. "It was better than I thought. I didn't know what to expect."
Willow Matteson hadn't expected to see Dylan earlier Thursday — she was in Mankato for a financial workers conference — but she passed by a poster advertising the show and was surprised to get good tickets about 15 rows from the front.
Both Matteson and Fischer agreed Dylan's sound and musical genius shined compared to modern-day electronic or pop music.
"It was real music, you know what I mean?" Fischer said. "Original music played exceptionally well."
For some, the concert was a chance to revel in Dylan once again. Yet many in the audience said it was the first time they had ever seen the man once known as Robert Zimmerman.
"These guys aren't old enough to keep coming around," said Groen, who came to his first Dylan concert more than five decades after he first became a fan. "I'm going to make sure that this is somebody I'm going to see while I still have a chance. This is the one I've been waiting for."
It was also Tesmar's first Dylan concert. The 73-year-old Richmond woman still remembers getting turned on to Dylan's albums while she and her friends hung out with the Mankato boys.
"They were playing these Bob Dylan albums, and I really liked them," Tesmar said. "So I went out and bought my first Bob Dylan album and I've been buying them ever since."
Tesmar Groen and other older audience members say they're glad to see Dylan now, though a few wish Dylan would have made more of an effort to tour in Minnesota during his younger days.
"He never came to Minnesota when he was younger," Tesmar said.
"He was a gigantic artist," said Dee Simon, 73, of Hinkley.
Simon and her sisters, Francine Hedberg of Rochester, 69, and Stephanie Adams of Mankato, 60, knew they had to make Thursday a "sisters night" to see Dylan since they grew up to his music.
"It's a lifetime opportunity just to see him," Hedberg said.
"I'm glad he didn't forget Minnesota," Adams chimed in. "He did the right thing coming back."
Dittmar, 34, grew up in Mankato on Dylan's music. He can quote verses, compare Dylan albums ("Blonde on Blonde" is the best album ever, according to Dittmar) and speak at length about what Dylan's music means.
"We've all got that one artist that speaks to us the most," Dittmar said. "For me, it's Dylan."
The feeling is mutual for Eryn Ollila, a 22-year-old Duluth woman who said she grew up with Dylan's music because her dad is a huge fan. This is Ollila's first time seeing Dylan, along with Alexander Prouse, 22, of Duluth.
"We've been texting him all night, updating him, and he told us to 'Get in line soon!'" Ollila said with a laugh.
For Ollila and Prouse, seeing Bob Dylan is a chance to soak in some nostalgia. As Prouse puts it, Dylan's music is a glimpse of a past they never really got to see or experience. Ollila said the experience is an emotional experience for her, since she's so close with her Dylan-loving father.
"It's a nice connection to have with my dad, even though he's not here right now to hear it," she said.