It’s been 50 years since Bob Dylan strolled on stage at the Newport Folk Festival, plugged in an electric guitar, and infuriated his flock.
“By 1965, Bob Dylan was the leading songwriter of the American folk music revival. The response to his albums The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are a-Changin’ led the media to label him the ‘spokesman of a generation’. In March 1965, Dylan released his fifth album Bringing It All Back Home. Side one features him backed by an electric band, while side two features him accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. On July 20, 1965, he released his single ‘Like a Rolling Stone‘ featuring a rock sound. On July 25, 1965, he performed his first electric concert at the Newport Folk Festival, joined by guitarist Mike Bloomfield and Barry Goldberg of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Some sections of the audience booed the performance, leading members of the folk movement to criticize him for moving away from political songwriting and for performing with an electric band, including Irwin Silber and Ewan MacColl. Dylan continued his trend towards electric rock music on his next two albums, Highway 61 Revisited (August, 1965) and Blonde on Blonde (June, 1966). On subsequent tours throughout 1965 and 1966, his electric sets (now backed by The Hawks) were often met with derisiveness from the audience, crowds became particularly acrimonious during a British tour, including an oft-cited incident in Manchester, where a member of the crowd shouted ‘Judas!’ at Dylan. … According to Jonathan Taplin, a roadie at Newport (and later a road manager for the acts of Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman), Dylan made a spontaneous decision on the Saturday that he would challenge the Festival by performing with a fully amplified band. Taplin said that Dylan had been irritated by what he considered condescending remarks which festival organiser Alan Lomax had made about the Paul Butterfield Blues Band when Lomax introduced them for an earlier set at a festival workshop. … In the documentary footage, both boos and cheers are heard a few bars into Dylan’s first song, ‘Maggie’s Farm‘, and continue throughout his second, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Dylan and his band then performed ‘Phantom Engineer’, an early version of ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry‘. … Poor sound quality was the reason musician Pete Seeger, who was backstage, gave for disliking the performance: he says he told the audio technicians, ‘Get that distortion out of his voice. It’s terrible. If I had an axe, I’d chop the microphone cable right now.’ …”
Guardian: Dylan Goes Electric! by Elijah Wald review – when Bob took a Stratocaster to the Newport folk festival (Video)
NPR: 50 Years Ago, Bob Dylan Electrified A Decade With One Concert (Audio)
DailyMotion: Like a Rolling Stone (Live @ Newport Festival, 1965)
YouTube: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival (Live), Subterranean Homesick Blues
YouTube: Bringing It All Back Home
W – The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966