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The Day Dylan Went Electric

The Day Dylan Went Electric

By the summer of 1965, there were signs that Bob Dylan had entered a new phase of his career. The wild-haired troubadour had traded his everyman garb for sunglasses, trendy suit jackets and pointy-toed boots, and he was beginning to distance himself from his reputation as a protest singer and folk balladeer. Just five days before the Newport Folk Festival, he released “Like a Rolling Stone,” a six-minute-long single that combined stream-of-consciousness lyrics with electric guitar and catchy organ riffs. The tune was already in circulation on the radio, but Dylan had yet to perform it with a live band. As far as the diehard folkies gathered at Newport were concerned, he was still a solo acoustic act.

Dylan’s first appearance at the 1965 festival came on Saturday, July 24, when he performed with his usual acoustic guitar and harmonica at a Newport songwriter’s workshop. Both the crowd and the festival’s organizers assumed he would play a similar show at the event’s star-studded Sunday night concert, but Dylan—seemingly on a whim—had decided it was time for something new. After leaving the stage on Saturday, he assembled keyboardist Al Kooper and members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and stayed up until dawn rehearsing for an electric rock ’n’ roll show.

Dylan’s new amplified sound made its live debut the following night. After being introduced by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, the 24-year-old strode onto the stage carrying a Fender Stratocaster guitar and wearing a leather jacket. As a confused audience of 17,000 fans looked on, he and his band roared to life with a manic rendition of the song “Maggie’s Farm” off his recent album “Bringing it All Back Home.” Guitarist Mike Bloomfield took the lead with a jarring electric guitar riff, while Dylan leaned into the microphone and shrieked the opening lyrics, “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more!”

The song’s aggressive tempo and Bloomfield’s distortion-laden guitar hit the audience like a shockwave. Some cheered, but a significant portion began booing, and the outrage only grew after the band transitioned into “Like a Rolling Stone.” This wasn’t the Dylan the folk purists in audience had paid to see. To them, it was a musical betrayal—proof that he had abandoned the authenticity of folk for the glitz and glamor of rock ’n’ roll. As the set continued, portions of the crowd erupted with jeers and scattered cries of “sellout!” and “get rid of that band!” The scene was even more frantic backstage. Rumors would spread that festival organizer and folk legend Pete Seeger was so dismayed that he grabbed an axe and tried to wreck the sound system. The tale is little more than a myth, though Seeger later said that he did fume, “If I had an axe, I’d cut the cable right now!”

Just how hostile the response really was—and why—has since become a matter of considerable debate. Many witnesses, Seeger included, maintained that the booing was due more to the poor sound quality than the shock of seeing Bob Dylan picking away at a Stratocaster. The audio mix at the outdoor venue was far from ideal, and Bloomfield’s guitar was turned up so loud that it drowned out Dylan’s lyrics. “I was furious that the sound was so distorted, you could not understand a word that he was singing,” Seeger later said.

Others were no doubt miffed about the set’s short length. The night’s schedule was already crammed with artists, and Dylan and his band had only managed to rehearse a few songs. After finishing “Like a Rolling Stone” and plodding through a third tune, they abruptly unplugged their instruments and left to muted applause and a fresh chorus of boos. In a desperate effort to calm the raging crowd, Yarrow pleaded for Dylan to grab his acoustic guitar for a brief encore. Dylan reportedly wasn’t happy about the request, but he returned and played solo versions of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” before finally leaving the stage for good.

Dylan’s entire set had consisted of just five songs—and only three of them electric—yet it was seen as having massive implications for his future as an artist. In the days that followed, music journalists debated whether he was selling out his audience for a chance at pop stardom, and many criticized the electric gig as a shameless attempt to appeal to the youth culture. “Dylan now sings rock ’n’ roll, the words mattering less than the beat,” wrote the Providence Journal. “What he used to stand for, whether one agreed with it or not, was much clearer than what he stands for now. Perhaps himself.” Likewise, many of Dylan’s fellow folk musicians considered the blaring electric tones contrary to the spirit of Newport. “You don’t whistle in church,” singer Theodore Bikel told a reporter, “you don’t play rock ’n’ roll at a folk festival.”

The controversy would continue to haunt Dylan when he went on tour a month later. His shows—which included both electric and acoustic sets—were often met with boos and pleas for the return of the “old Dylan.” One man even screamed “Judas!” at him during a concert in England. There was no denying the quality of the material, however, and it wasn’t long before most of the audience got onboard. Dylan’s next rock album, “Highway 61 Revisited,” was hailed as an instant classic, and “Like a Rolling Stone” became his first hit single. By the time his album “Blonde on Blonde” was released in 1966, many former critics were forced to admit that electric instruments had not dampened his flair for writing rebellious songs or poetic, quotable lyrics.

The Newport Folk Festival wouldn’t be the last time that Bob Dylan reinvented himself, but it is now remembered as a pivotal juncture in his career. It was the moment when he proclaimed his artistic independence and helped usher in a new era of lyrics-driven rock ’n’ roll. That didn’t mean he wasn’t affected by the criticism he received from the folk community. Dylan had never planned on causing a rift by picking up the electric guitar, and the booing he received during his 1965 set reportedly left him shaken. While he later returned to his acoustic roots on subsequent records, he wouldn’t appear at Newport again for another 37 years.


The Night Bob Dylan Went Electric

O n the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in black jeans, black boots, and a black leather jacket, carrying a Fender Stratocaster in place of his familiar acoustic guitar. The crowd shifted restlessly as he tested his tuning and was joined by a quintet of backing musicians. Then the band crashed into a raw Chicago boogie and, straining to be heard over the loudest music ever to hit Newport, he snarled his opening line: &ldquoI ain&rsquot gonna work on Maggie&rsquos farm no more!&rdquo

What happened next is obscured by a maelstrom of conflicting impressions: The New York Times reported that Dylan &ldquowas roundly booed by folk-song purists, who considered this innovation the worst sort of heresy.&rdquo In some stories Pete Seeger, the gentle giant of the folk scene, tried to cut the sound cables with an axe. Some people were dancing, some were crying, many were dismayed and angry, many were cheering, many were overwhelmed by the ferocious shock of the music or astounded by the negative reactions.

As if challenging the doubters, Dylan roared into &ldquoLike a Rolling Stone,&rdquo his new radio hit, each chorus confronting them with the question: &ldquoHow does it feel?&rdquo The audience roared back its mixed feelings, and after only three songs he left the stage. The crowd was screaming louder than ever&mdashsome with anger at Dylan&rsquos betrayal, thousands more because they had come to see their idol and he had barely performed. Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, tried to quiet them, but it was impossible. Finally, Dylan reappeared with a borrowed acoustic guitar and bid Newport a stark farewell: &ldquoIt&rsquos All Over Now, Baby Blue&hellip.&rdquo

Dylan at Newport is remembered as a pioneering artist defying the rules and damn the consequences. Supporters of new musical trends ever since&mdashpunk, rap, hip-hop, electronica&mdashhave compared their critics to the dull folkies who didn&rsquot understand the times were a-changing, and a complex choice by a complex artist in a complex time became a parable: the prophet of the new era going his own way despite the jeering rejection of his old fans. He challenged the establishment: &ldquoSomething is happening here, and you don&rsquot know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?&rdquo He defined his own transformation: &ldquoI was so much older then, I&rsquom younger than that now.&rdquo He drew a line between himself and those who tried to claim him: &ldquoI try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants me to be just like them.&rdquo And he warned those wary of following new paths: &ldquoHe not busy being born is busy dying.&rdquo

In most tellings, Dylan represents youth and the future, and the people who booed were stuck in the dying past. But there is another version, in which the audience represents youth and hope, and Dylan was shutting himself off behind a wall of electric noise, locking himself in a citadel of wealth and power, abandoning idealism and hope and selling out to the star machine. In this version the Newport festivals were idealistic, communal gatherings, nurturing the growing counterculture, rehearsals for Woodstock and the Summer of Love, and the booing pilgrims were not rejecting that future they were trying to protect it.

Elijah Wald is the author of Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties. His ther books include The Mayor of MacDougal Street, inspiration for the film Inside Llewyn Davis Escaping the Delta, about the myth and music of Robert Johnson and How the Beatles Destroyed Rock &rsquon&rsquo Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. He has won a Grammy Award, an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award, and the American Musicological Society&rsquos Otto Kinkeldey award has taught blues history at UCLA and travels widely as a speaker on popular music. He lives in Medford, MA.


July 25, 1965: Dylan Goes Electric at the Newport Folk Festival

When young folk sensation Bob Dylan took the stage on July 25, 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, a crowd of nearly 100,000 waited expectantly. What nobody could have anticipated, however, was that by the time the set was over, Dylan would lose the support of many fans who had come to love him while simultaneously opening the floodgates to his career as a rock superstar.

It was during that concert, 45 years ago today, that Bob Dylan plugged in his electric guitar, an action that would alter the landscape of American popular music for generations to come. On that day, as boos, shouts and cries for “the old Dylan” rose above the music, Dylan departed from his acoustic roots and ventured into the realm of rock ‘n’ roll, a genre generally disdained as commercial and mainstream by Dylan’s bohemian peers of the 1960s American folk music revival. In doing this, the artist forged the way for the folk-rock genre, merging his lyrical songwriting style with the hard-driving sounds of rock.

Dylan started off in rock ‘n’ roll bands as a child, and first played folk music in coffeehouses when he began his studies at the University of Minnesota. His first recordings—Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changin’, and Another Side of Bob Dylan—all embodied the folk genre, with favorites such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” But in 1965, six months before the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home, which featured a distinctly rock ‘n’ roll feel. Although some fans weren’t exactly thrilled by the stylistic shift, it wasn’t until the Newport Folk Festival that the full reality of Dylan’s new music set in.

There is much disagreement over why Dylan’s performance that day caused such uproar. Some—Dylan himself included—attribute a portion of the audience’s reaction to the poor sound quality of the performance. (Dylan was unable to do a sound check prior to taking the stage.) Some, like singer-actor Theodore Bikel, faulted Dylan for “making a tactical mistake” by not playing a few acoustic songs before picking up the electric guitar. Still others believed the media portrayed the crowd’s reaction as more hostile than it truly was. But while all of these theories may be valid in part, most agree that more than anything else, Dylan’s use of the electric guitar jeopardized the purity of the folk revival, which didn’t bode well for the future of American folk music.

In 1966—only one year after Dylan went electric at the Newport and subsequently recorded the rock anthem “Like a Rolling Stone”—artist Milton Glaser produced an iconic poster of Bob Dylan, which can be found in the collections of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. (The poster was featured in the June 2010 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.) Inspired by a silhouetted self-portrait by Marcel Duchamp, the poster depicts Dylan with rainbow hair contrasted by the black profile of his face. The psychedelic aesthetic of the poster is in keeping with a line of rock ‘n’ roll images that defined the era. While Dylan’s going electric may have initially made him into a pariah of the folk community, his move towards fusing folk with rock ‘n’ roll, beginning 45 years ago at the Newport Folk Festival, was perhaps the single move in his career that catapulted him to the far reaches of rock stardom.

About Jess Righthand

Jess Righthand is a former editorial intern at Smithsonian. She writes about music, theater, movies and the arts.


Remembering When Bob Dylan Shocked The World By Going Electric, On This Day In 1965 [Videos]

An annoyed Bob Dylan took the stage on a Sunday night at the Newport Folk Festival on this day in 1965 and did something that would forever change the way the world viewed him: he plugged in his guitar.

What followed was a set of music that would offend his fans and friends alike and fundamentally change the way the singer-songwriter viewed his art. Debates over exactly whether they were booing the startling change in presentation and style by the belove though notoriously possessive audience favorite, the terrible audio mix that made Dylan’s deft lyrics unintelligible, or simply how short Dylan’s set was have raged ever since that fateful night. Whatever the cause, the result was one of the most infamous concerts in modern history.

It was Dylan’s third straight appearance at the festival, and his previous sets at the Newport Folk Festival had helped the quickly rising star become the leading artist of the folk movement. America was in yet another seemingly endless series of wars abroad, while racial tensions and protests were sparking across the nation. Dylan’s forceful acoustic style and fiery lyrics decrying the state of the world were tailor-made for the scared and the angry. With his own popularity surging and folk music gaining prominence on radio stations and college campuses around the country, Dylan was a leading voice of his generation—and that voice, like the times, was a-changin’.

Established in 1959, the Newport Folk Festival quickly grew into a juggernaut thanks to founder George Wein, who had already built the Newport Jazz Festival into a success. Wein’s work promoting the jazz community had earned him considerable love and respect from the music world, so when he reached out to folk luminary Pete Seeger and Theodore Bikel to help create the event, he found them both eager to help bring the burgeoning genre to the people. Through their efforts, artists like Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez and the artists who had influenced them rose to prominence. Dylan’s own rise in the scene owed no small thanks to his star turns at previous iterations of the fest.

Listen to Dylan’s acoustic take on “North Country Blues” from his 1963 Newport Folk Festival appearance below:

Bob Dylan – North Country Blues – Newport Folk Festival 1963

And here he is performing “Mr. Tambourine Man” the following year:

Bob Dylan – “Mr. Tambourine Man” – Newport Folk Festival 1964

In March of 1965, Dylan released his first album of amplified music, Bringing It All Back Home, featuring one side of electric songs including classics like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Maggie’s Farm”. The second side was in his more recognizable acoustic style, with classics “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. The electric tunes marked the more attention-grabbing alteration to his style, though another change was causing some fans to take notice: Dylan was showing a distinct move away from protest material, which had been a heavy part of his songbook, and towards more introspective songwriting. Clearly, he was an artist who was not going to be resting on his laurels and was ready to challenge both himself and his audience. However, neither side of the equation could fully anticipate the visceral reaction to come.

Roadie Jonathan Taplin, who had been on hand during Dylan’s Saturday appearance for a series of workshops at Newport Folk ’65, tells the story of Dylan’s decision to change up his approach for the following night’s show. Of all people to inspire an incident of this nature, it was noted field music archivist and music historian Alan Lomax, whose work had helped spread the folk, bluegrass, and mountain music he so loved. When Lomax introduced the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he was less than respectful. Dylan had worked with the members of the band, took umbrage, and decided to show the festival his new sound on the following night.

Dylan recruited an ad hoc band featuring the rhythm section of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, drummer Sam Lay and bassist Jerome Arnold, alongside Barry Goldberg on piano and two of the musicians who appeared on the recently recorded and released single, “Like A Rolling Stone”, Mike Bloomfield on guitar, and Al Kooper on organ. Taking over a pair of rooms at a nearby mansion rented and used by Wein, the band spent a few hours on Saturday night preparing for the next night’s ride into infamy.

Ditching the plain work clothes he had favored as onstage wear until then, Dylan appeared clad in all black, head to toe. Festival emcee Peter Yarrow brought Dylan out to massive cheers from the eager audience, mentioning the short amount of time Dylan had to play. Dylan plugged in his Fender Stratocaster and, with a wink to his band, launched into his first public set of electrified music since high school.

The reception to the first notes of show opener, “Maggie’s Farm”, was both instantaneous and intensely divided. Adding fuel to an already burning fire, there were massive issues with the sound mix, particularly Dylan’s vocals. Given that his lyrical prowess was such a large part of his acclaim, the jolt of the rock music backers and garbled words ignited a large portion of the crowd into angry outbursts that rattled Dylan and his impromptu band.

Check out the chorus of boos and cheers for yourself in the video of “Maggie’s Farm” from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival below:

Bob Dylan Goes Electric at Newport Folk 1965

Not letting the negativity stop him, Dylan launched into his new amplified single, “Like A Rolling Stone”. Following an unpopular opener with an unfamiliar tune further angered the nay-sayers in the audience. Not only was Dylan playing electric, he was apparently going to be playing songs they hadn’t even heard yet. Managing only one more song, Dylan and the band left the stage to growing hostility, as even those cheering him began to turn against him for leaving the stage so soon. Yarrow implored Dylan to return, and after a few minutes, the singer-songwriter returned to the stage—alone, with an acoustic guitar.

Unprepared for performing acoustically, Dylan was forced to ask the crowd for a harmonica in the proper key. After just two short songs in his more familiar and crowd-friendly set-up, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”, he left the stage to an uproarious cheer and calls for more. Those hopes for more music from Dylan that night, and indeed for decades to come, would be in vain for attendees of the Newport Folk Festival. Pete Seeger even commented that he wanted to cut Dylan’s cables with an axe. Speaking on his disillusionment, Dylan has since said, “I expected something negative from the crowd, but hearing Pete was so mad hurt me worst of all.”

Reception to Dylan’s new direction remained split over the months to come. At his Forest Hills Stadium show in Queens later that year, fans rushed the stage and pelted the band with fruit. The always-spirited Dylan took the backlash as a challenge, a chance to prove the strength of his material by winning over the doubters.

Given his status as one of modern music’s greatest icons, it is safe to say he accomplished that mission. Taking into account the repeated references to the events of that day, in both song lyrics and interviews over the next decade, it was clear that the landmark show was something of a touchstone for Dylan. Dylan’s decision to add this dimension to his sound would lead to the most productive period of his career, including his legendary collaboration with The Band.

Facing that negative response was essential to Dylan’s strengthening as an artist and his progress as a creator, while blazing the trail for those who would follow. His success in reinventing himself and transcending expectations would inspire other artists to follow their own musical paths, regardless of tradition and expectations. Rock music was a relatively newborn art at that point in time, and performers like Dylan brought variety, nuance, and depth to the sound that had been previously ignored. Rock and roll could be something more than the background to dances and a way to rile up teens… it could have something legitimate to say, and say it well.

Information for this article was gathered from the book Dylan Goes Electric, Wikipedia, and the film, Festival.


The Day Dylan Went Electric

This past weekend, the 2015 Folk Festival took place once again in Newport, RI. July 25 also marks the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s plugging in his guitar at Freebody Park in Newport and blasting out “Maggie’s Farm” before introducing “Like a Rolling Stone.” To many in the audience—folk purist and political activists—it was an outrage of unthinkable and unforgiveable proportions. Without question, writes NPR, it was a turning point in music history.

In Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties, music historian Elijah Wald explains that it was more complicated than Dylan just going electric.

There always was friction in the folk scene between the people who really believed that this music should be done authentically, should be done right, and people who just thought, “You know, this is fun music, let’s do it however we want. Let’s do it in ways that are fun.” There were a lot of people on the purist side who thought the pop-folkies were taking great music and turning it into tripe. And there were plenty of people on the other side who thought the purists were being, you know, a bunch of silly prigs.

Dylan had come to Newport like he always did, with an acoustic guitar, planning to sing his songs and go home. But, as it turned out, the Butterfield Blues Band was there, and Al Cooper (sic) was there, and Al Cooper (sic) and Mike Bloomfield — who had just joined the Butterfield band — were the main players on “Like a Rolling Stone.” He pulled it together at the last moment. They did one rehearsal the night before. It was a complete surprise. Dylan thought of it maybe 24 hours before everyone else heard it, but it was a surprise for him, too.

That was the weekend that Lyndon Johnson fully committed the United States to victory in Vietnam. The civil rights movement was falling apart. SNCC [The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee] — which was the group that had brought all the kids down for Freedom Summer the previous year — now was throwing all the white members out, and the new chant was “black power.” That communal feeling of the first half of the 󈨀s was getting harder and harder to feel like it was all going to work and the world was going to be a better place.

It’s easy to forget that what most of us think of as seminal events of the sixties—the Vietnam War, the hippies, the drugs—happened after 1965. Read more of Arun Rath’s interview with Elijah Wald on how Dylan’s going electric was the defining moment for the birth of rock and of clashing cultures in America.


Fifty Years Ago This Summer: When Dylan Went Electric

Fifty years ago last month, Bob Dylan sent shockwaves through the music world, appearing at the hallowed Newport Folk Festival with an electric guitar and a wailing, electric backup band. Those events have inspired raucous debate among folk and rock music fans ever since: Was Dylan’s performance the epitome of rock-and-roll rebellion, or had he merely sold out to a vulgar pop commercialism?

Todd Haynes’ stunningly surrealistic Dylan biopic, I’m Not There told the story one familiar way, but with a twist: First we see Dylan’s band with their backs to the audience the Electric Dylan character was played by Cate Blanchett, who won an Oscar for her gender-bending performance. When they turn around to face us, they are wielding machine guns instead of guitars. A rail-thin personage in work clothes – clearly representing the folk icon Pete Seeger – proceeds to chop the electrical cables with his axe. For many in the folk music world, the day was apparently just that traumatic and Seeger’s response is often described that way. But what really happened and what did it all mean?

Now, the brilliantly contrarian music writer Elijah Wald has a new book-length account of those events, including all the heady years leading up to that crucial moment in folk and rock history. Wald is known to many as the editor/producer of Dave Van Ronk’s memoir of the folk scene, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, last discussed in this space as a central inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ 2013 film, Inside Llewyn Davis. Wald’s own revisionist histories of popular music include a book on Robert Johnson, wherein he explains how Johnson was not quite the iconic Delta blues pioneer we generally picture, but rather became one after his songs were popularized during the 1960s. In a book unfortunately titled How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll (he’s a dedicated skeptic, but not anti-Beatles), Wald revisits the story of 20 th century popular music in the US, showing how what we think we know about various musical trends is often considerably at odds with what people understood at the time, and how frequently the real stories behind key musical influences simply defy popular wisdom.

In researching Dylan Goes Electric! Wald seems to have examined virtually every available interview, film clip, and concert review from the period leading up to Newport 1965, and of course added numerous interviews of his own. His account is gripping, always thought-provoking, and compels us to rethink much common wisdom about the evolution of folk and rock music. He begins with the story of Pete Seeger, the guiding light of the Newport festivals, who of course gained national fame as a member of the Weavers, shortly before they were blacklisted in 1953. However the group’s highly polished, show-business approach to folk music begat legions of imitators, who often valued showmanship over authenticity and typically lacked the Weavers’ unwavering political commitments.

When Seeger and Theodore Bikel joined with promoter George Wein to create the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, their commitment was to draw on the huge popularity of acts like the Kingston Trio and the Brothers Four to help support appearances by scores of folk traditionalists. Audiences would flock to Newport to see the most popular groups, and also be exposed to an astonishing array of traditional folk and blues styles, performed in their most authentic voices, as well as by a new generation of rather traditionalist-minded interpreters. Along with stage performances, Newport featured entire afternoons of workshops where fans and practitioners of various styles could play together and learn from each other, not to mention the countless late-night song swaps around innumerable campfires.

After just a couple of years, a new generation of singer-songwriters began to take center-stage, and of course Dylan was the brightest light of them all. Dylan first made his mark on the Greenwich Village folk scene with his singular interpretations of traditional folk and blues styles New York Times reviewer Robert Shelton described him early on as “mopping up influences like a sponge.” But it was as an original songwriter that Dylan first made his mark on the wider culture, as more commercially palatable versions of songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” made chart-topping hits for Peter, Paul and Mary and so many others. Dylan’s political songs often reflected a unique empathy for a wide cast of characters, and more thoroughly politically-minded stars like Van Ronk and Joan Baez were quick to take him under their wing. Indeed Dylan fast became an icon of poetic authenticity in a folk scene that was often as attuned to the latest pop trends as any of today’s myriad rock subgenres.

So it was truly stunning when Dylan broke the mold and appeared at Newport backed up by members of the Chicago-based Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Or perhaps it wasn’t. Indeed electric guitars were not at all unheard of at Newport. Blues, gospel and country stars had played electric guitars many times at the festival, from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters to Pop Staples and members of Johnny Cash’s band. The 1965 festival had earlier featured an electric set by the Chambers Brothers, and Mimi and Richard Fariña – backed by Bringing it All Back Home electric guitarist Bruce Langhorne – actually got people dancing naked in the rain four summers prior to Woodstock.

Indeed, the “British invasion,” epitomized by the incomparable popularity of the Beatles, had dramatically altered a lot of people’s tastes in music. Wald convincingly argues that versions of folk and blues classics by the likes of the Animals and the Rolling Stones often had a lot more integrity than, for example the Kingston Trio’s long run of Broadwayfied folk hits. For many popular audiences, folk music was more about its lack of rough edges than its intelligence or its politics Simon and Garfunkel in their heyday sold more records than Dylan and the early Stones combined. And with Dylan already more popular in England than here in the States, music industry moguls even began to see him as the harbinger of a potential counter-invasion.

So what really happened that iconic Sunday in Newport? According to Wald, the first huge controversy of that weekend surrounded the Butterfield group’s earlier appearance. Apparently Butterfield’s set, part of an extended blues showcase emceed by Alan Lomax, itself seemed louder and rawer than most anything heard previously at Newport. Lomax was reportedly so irate that he literally got into a fist fight with promoter Albert Grossman, who of course also represented Dylan, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, and countless other stars of the folk (and later rock) music world. Was Dylan’s electric set actually Grossman’s act of revenge? Perhaps, although electric organist Al Kooper was perhaps already en route to Newport to accompany Dylan on the closing Sunday evening of the festival. A few other things appear to be true: the band was under-rehearsed, only having played with Dylan for one late-night jam session on Saturday night. Also, at Dylan and guitarist Mike Bloomfield’s insistence, the amps were turned up very loud. Wald reports that for those sitting onstage or near the front of the audience, Dylan’s voice may have been all but drowned out by the distorted amplified instruments.

Widely available film footage of Dylan’s performance suggests an energetic and focused, albeit brief set of music, starting with a rousing and rocking version of “Maggie’s Farm,” which had already been performed (acoustically) that weekend by Richie Havens. On both “Maggie’s Farm” and “Like a Rolling Stone” Dylan’s voice is as clear and sharp as on the original recordings, but that may not have been the experience of everyone in the audience. The band – especially the traditional Chicago blues rhythm section – was not all that familiar with Dylan’s style of music, and on the third and final electric number – an early version of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” – Wald suggests that the band began to fall apart. Were some audience members booing just because it was too loud and distorted, as Seeger suggested in several later interviews (of course there was no axe involved), or simply because Dylan had gone electric? Or was it mainly because his set was so short, albeit longer than anyone else had played that evening? When Dylan returned with a (borrowed) acoustic guitar and finished with “… Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the response was more uniformly enthusiastic. Some audience members heard hardly any booing that evening, and Wald says that various edits of the concert film appear to have boos spliced into the electric set that actually occurred when emcee Peter Yarrow insisted that there was no time for Dylan to return to the stage.

Wald’s interviewees suggest that both Dylan and Seeger were quite devastated by the experience. However Dylan apparently became quite used to being booed, describing his very mixed reception at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens just a month later as “fantastic … a real carnival.” Barely a year later, he virtually disappeared from public stage for another eight years, reportedly due to the aftermath of a serious motorcycle accident.

So what did it all mean? Wald’s last chapter takes us on a fast-paced journey through some of the ways the music continued to evolve after that iconic Sunday night. For some folk music purists, the 1965 Newport Festival represented nothing less than the triumph of raw commercialism over the people’s music, perhaps even the displacement of the early sixties’ communitarian ethic by a strident and narrow individualism. One festival insider wrote that “Hope had been replaced by despair, selflessness by arrogance, harmony by insistent cacophony.”

But clearly there was much more to it than that. In many ways, 1965 was the key turning point from the idealistic and relatively safe (for middle class white kids) early sixties, to the late sixties era of alienation, overt rebellion and widespread urban uprisings. LBJ escalated his ground war against Vietnam that summer, and just two weeks after Newport, the Watts ghetto started to burn. No longer did anyone believe that the good people of America were ready to turn their heads and hear the cries of the oppressed. Perhaps Dylan’s Newport set was the perfect expression of the coming generational divide. It also represented a clear break between the pop sensibility of early sixties rock-and-roll and the more diverse and sophisticated rock music that followed. “The instrumentation connected [Dylan] to Elvis and the Beatles,” Wald suggests, “but the booing connected him to Stravinsky.” Perhaps, as he states, “it was the dawn of the world we have lived in ever since.” Clearly no one has told the story better.

Brian Tokar is an educator and activist, based in Vermont. He is the author, most recently of Toward Climate Justice (New Compass, 2014), and his new book, an international compilation titled Climate Justice and Community Renewal (coedited with Tamra Gilbertson), will be issued by Routledge next spring.


5. He Had a Legendary Sulking Session

After painstakingly crafting his image and telling bald-faced lies even to the people who loved him, Dylan was incensed at the Newsweek article. According to one of his biographers, he “exploded with anger” and went “underground” for weeks on end after the article, refusing to see almost anyone. But as we now know, this was just the beginning for Dylan.

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History detectives may have found Bob Dylan's legendary electric guitar

London, July 13 (ANI): The Fender Stratocaster that Bob Dylan brought on stage on the night he "went electric", which is the most hated guitar in folk music history, has allegedly been found in a dusty attic bolthole after 47 years in hiding. Even after nearly five decades away from the public eye, it appears the instrument is still a slave to controversy after a row broke out between a TV show and Dylan himself over who actually possesses the original. If the authentic "Dylan goes electric" guitar ever went on the open marketplace, experts say it could fetch as much as a half million dollars. Now American prime-time hit The History Detectives say the New Jersey daughter of a pilot who flew Dylan to appearances in the 1960s found the guitar in a family attic.hey have billed the guitar as the centrepiece of next Tuesday's season premiere of PBS' History Detectives, and the show said it stood by its conclusion that Dawn Peterson, has the right instrument. But a lawyer for Dylan claims the singer still has the Fender with the sunburst design that he used during one of the most memorable performances of his career. "This is not just kinda cool. This is way cool," the Daily Mail quoted guitar expert Andy Babiuk as saying. "We all love Bob Dylan, but this is really a pinnacle point not just in his career but for music in general. "I don't think music in the 1960s would have been the same if Dylan had not gone electric," he said. Victor Quinto briefly flew music stars like Dylan, The Band and Peter, Paul and Mary around during the 1960s. Dawn Peterson, his daughter, said Dylan left the Fender behind on an airplane and Quinto took it home. With his acoustic songs of social protest, a young Bob Dylan was a hero to folk music fans in the early 1960s and the Newport festival was their Mecca. But he was met with cries of 'Judas' when he launched into Maggie's Farm on stage on July 25 1965, backed by a full rock 'n' roll band. Bringing an electric guitar and band with him on-stage was more than an artistic change, it was a provocative act. She was told that her father contacted Dylan's representatives to get them to pick it up, but no one ever did. Quinto died at age 41, when his daughter was 8, and she treasures any remaining connection to her dad. The guitar was in her parents' attic until about 10 years ago when she took it. Peterson had no idea about its history until a friend of her husband's saw it and mentioned the possible Newport connection. After unsuccessfully trying to verify it on her own, she turned to 'History Detectives' about a year ago for help. "When I heard it, I was like, 'Yeah, right'," Elyse Luray, a former Christie's auction house appraiser and auctioneer who co-hosts the PBS show, said. But there were intriguing clues. Peterson's father left behind an address book that included a phone number for 'Bob Dylan, Woodstock'. Luray showed the guitar case to a former Dylan roadie who recognized the name of a little-known company that Dylan had formed at the time stencilled on its side. A sheaf of papers with handwritten song lyrics was in the guitar case and PBS took them to an expert, Jeff Gold, who said the handwriting matched Dylan's. The fragmentary lyrics later appeared, in part, on songs that Dylan recorded but rejected for his 1966 'Blonde on Blonde' album. Luray took the guitar to Babiuk, an appraiser of instruments who consults for the rock hall. He took the guitar apart to find a date written inside (1964) that made its use in Newport plausible. He drew upon blown-up color photos from Newport to compare the wood grain on the guitar Dylan played that day to the one in his hands. He's confident it's a match, likening the wood grain to a fingerprint. (ANI)

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When Dylan Went Electric: Historic Newport Stratocaster to be Auctioned by Christie’s

The 1964 Fender Stratocaster guitar that was played by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965. Christie&rsquos estimates the guitar will bring between $300,000 and $500,000. I expect it to sell for more like $1 million.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Christie&rsquos of New York will auction the 1964 Fender Stratocaster guitar that was played by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965. The guitar is expected to bring between $300,000 and $500,000.

Stratocasters of this vintage without notable provenance regularly sell for $30,000 or less. Apparently, rock &rsquon&rsquo roll provenance demands a premium price.

Stratocasters with impressive provenance have sold for impressive prices before. In June 1999, Christie&rsquos sold Eric Clapton&rsquos 1956 Strat for $497,500. In 2004, another Clapton Strat sold for $959, 500. Both of these sales were to benefit the Crossroads Centre, a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center founded by Clapton. A third Strat autographed by several celebrities (including Clapton) was sold in 2006 for $2.8 million to benefit the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. If rock &rsquon&rsquo roll provenance is worth big bucks, rock &rsquon&rsquo roll provenance attached to a cause is worth even more. But what about the Dylan Stratocaster? What makes this guitar so valuable? It&rsquos not autographed, and it&rsquos not being auctioned to benefit a cause.

Dylan&rsquos performance at Newport was a defining moment in the history of Rock &rsquon&rsquo Roll, so says Rolling Stone magazine.

Auction pundits say that the guitar&rsquos value is tied to its place in rock &rsquon&rsquo roll history. Rolling Stone Magazine marks Dylan&rsquos performance at Newport one of the &ldquo50 Moments that Changed the History of Rock &rsquoN&rsquo Roll.&rdquo Perhaps that&rsquos true but this Strat&rsquos place in history and the price that it might bring at auction is not the most interesting part of this story. In my opinion, the real story is how the guitar came to be in this auction in the first place.

In 1965, the Newport Folk Festival was in its fifth year. The four-day festival featured a who&rsquos-who of the period&rsquos folk music luminaries: Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Maybelle Carter, and Peter, Paul & Mary among them. A flyer from 1965 lists the performers for the four-day event, but the flyer doesn&rsquot list the program lineup contemporary accounts place the performers in a different order.

A master of ceremonies for the event was festival organizer and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, whose field recordings of ethnic music are archived at the Smithsonian Institute. The duty of introducing The Paul Butterfield Blues Band fell to Lomax, and folk purist Lomax&rsquos introduction of Butterfield&rsquos electric ensemble was less than enthusiastic.

Jonathan Taplin, a &ldquoroadie&rdquo (equipment handler) at Newport, says that Dylan was extremely irritated by Lomax&rsquos remarks. Dylan is reported to have said: &ldquoWell (expletive deleted) them if they think they can keep electricity out of here I&rsquoll do it.&rdquo

Dylan, who had always performed solo accompanied by acoustic guitar and harmonica, threw together an impromptu band consisting of guitarist Mike Bloomfield, bassist Jerome Arnold, drummer Sam Lay and organist (and future founder of the band Blood, Sweat and Tears) organist Al Kooper. One quick rehearsal was all they had time for before their performance.

Dylan&rsquos Newport back-up band: (standing from left to right) Mike Bloomfield, Jerome Arnold, Dylan. At organ: Al Kooper. Seated at left: unknown.

When Dylan appeared onstage for his second performance at &rsquo65s Newport Festival, he no longer looked like a &ldquofolkie.&rdquo He sported an orange shirt buttoned at the collar, a black leather jacket, and boots. Slung over his shoulder was the &rsquo64 Strat. No one these days knows where the guitar came from it may have been Dylan&rsquos or it may have been borrowed. Dylan and his backup band opened with &ldquoMaggie&rsquos Farm.&rdquo The crowd was mostly quiet during the performance, but when the song ended the mixed polite applause was broken by a solid wall of booing. A video of this performance is available at iTunes.

The trailer for the Bob Dylan DVD &ldquoThe Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival&rdquo shows an interview with an audience member that sums up the crowd reaction to Dylan&rsquos performance: &ldquoWho needs him anymore? He&rsquos accepted&mdashhe&rsquos a part of&mdashyour establishment&mdashforget him.&rdquo

A 1965 flyer for the Newport Folk Festival.

Dylan fans say that this performance changed the course of rock &rsquon&rsquo roll forever. I don&rsquot agree in 1965, the British Invasion was well underway, and groups like The Rolling Stones and The Animals were already repurposing American blues for pop radio. If anything was changed by Dylan&rsquos performance it was the folk music scene, which never quite recovered from Dylan&rsquos &ldquotraitorous act.&rdquo The Newport Festival fell on hard times after 1965 and had ceased operations altogether by 1970, not to re-appear until 1985. The wake of Dylan&rsquos Newport performance paved the way for the folk rock groups of the mid-1960s like The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. These groups were an addition to, rather than a change in, the course of rock &rsquon&rsquo roll.

After the Newport Festival, Dylan is known to have used the Stratocaster several more times, in recording his &ldquoBlonde on Blonde&rdquo album and with Robbie Robertson&rsquos group, The Band. Then, the guitar went missing, along with at least two other guitars. Dylan believed they had been stolen.

Upon the death of her father, New Jersey-ite Dawn Peterson found a Stratocaster guitar and hard-shell case in her father&rsquos attic. The case was printed with the words &ldquoAshes and Sand Inc.&rdquo In the case were handwritten pages of song lyrics.

In the mid-1960s Peterson&rsquos father, Victor Quinto, had been a private pilot for Dylan&rsquos manager Albert Grossman and transported many of Grossman&rsquos clients to gigs. At some point, Quinto found that three guitars had been left on his plane. According to Peterson, Quinto contacted Grossman about the guitars &ldquoseveral times&rdquo but no one ever came to pick them up. So, the guitars stayed at the Quinto home, and 47 years later, the Strat is re-discovered. It is unknown what happened to the other guitars found on the plane.

Dylan recording with the Stratocaster.

Quinto family tradition told that the Strat was Dylan&rsquos guitar, and last year Peterson contacted the staff at the PBS show &ldquoHistory Detectives&rdquo to validate her claim. Dylan&rsquos current attorney, Orin Snyder, says that Dylan denies that the guitar is the &ldquoNewport Strat.&rdquo As the History Detectives&rsquo investigation progressed, attorneys for both Dylan and Peterson discussed their concerns.

The guitar was inspected by vintage instrument specialist Andy Babiuk, who disassembled the guitar to verify the age of the parts, and then compared the wood grain of the guitar body and neck with the corresponding grain in photo enlargements of the Newport Strat. Wood grain, says Babiuk, is like fingerprints: no two pieces of wood are exactly alike. Babiuk says that he is &ldquo99.9-percent sure&rdquo that the guitar is the Newport Strat.

A former Dylan roadie confirmed that the labeling on the guitar case&mdash&ldquoAshes and Sand, Inc.&rdquo &mdashreferred to the company Dylan organized to run his tours. The name of the company was unknown to anyone but Dylan&rsquos inner circle.

History Detectives also sought the advice of Dylan memorabilia expert Jeff Gold to authenticate the handwritten lyrics. Gold says that the handwriting and style are that of Bob Dylan, and are &ldquoobviously real.&rdquo

The History Detectives episode is here:

The experts at Christie&rsquos have reviewed the evidence and agree that the guitar is Dylan&rsquos Newport Strat. Dylan&rsquos attorney and Peterson have reached an agreement about the ownership of the guitar. The auction will proceed as planned.

Will the guitar bring the hoped-for $500,000? In my opinion, this price is low. The $500,000 amount is merely an anchor to start the bidding. I believe that this guitar will bring closer to $1 million. We&rsquoll find out on Dec. 6, and once the results are in, I&rsquoll report back.

Wayne Jordan spent more than 40 years in the music business as a performer, teacher, repairman and music store owner. In 25 years of musical instrument retailing he has bought, sold, rented or repaired thousands of pianos, band & orchestra, combo, and folk instruments. Wayne is currently a Virginia-licensed auctioneer and certified personal property appraiser. For more info, visit Wayne Jordan Auctions .


Words in This Story

boov. to make a sound that shows dislike or disapproval of a performance or action by someone

genren. a particular type or category of literature or art

mainstreamadj. largely acceptable and widespread

trendn. a general direction of change: a way of behaving, proceeding, etc. that is developing and becoming more common

confrontationn. a situation in which people, groups, etc., fight, oppose, or challenge each other in an angry way

rupturen. a break, opening or area of damage

emergev. to rise or appear from a hidden or unknown place or condition: to come out into view


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