There is something truly magical about music festivals. Regular rules don’t seem to apply, and the distance between creatives and consumers is incredibly thin. It’s why festivals like Woodstock, Bonnaroo, and Altamont all have popular documentaries peeling back their layers. The same can be said for Newport Folk Festival and the fateful night of July 25, 1965, when Counter Culture icon Bob Dylan was set to perform. With four albums under his belt and a troubadour wisdom gained from years on the road, he was no stranger to the art of performing. Yet,
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
He settled in New York City in 1961, and performed in clubs around Greenwich Village. It was there that the artist met record producer John Hammond, and began work on his debut album, Bob Dylan, which was released the next year. His politically charged lyrics took the growing counterculture by storm, and social activists began adopting his songs as anthems for their causes. He was the figurehead for a generation, but all he wanted to be was a singer of songs.
Newport Folk Festival
By 1965, the curly-haired musician already had four successful albums and multiple chart-topping hits. He was raking in royalties from songs he had written and popularized by acts like Peter, Paul, and Mary and the Kingston Trio. He had performed at the Newport Folk Festival before, and was prepared to do the 12-minute set that had been allotted to all performers.
On the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan stepped onto the stage with a Fender Stratocaster guitar in hand, plugging it into the sound system and shredded one of the loudest sets performed thus far at the folk festival. The mics had been turned down because of the band’s volume, so the crowd’s precise words could not be registered, but it is said to have been a cacophony of jubilant cheers and enraged booing. Dylan did what Dylan does best—caused up a stir.
Dylan Goes Electric
The night Dylan performed with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival became notorious. Folk purists were outraged by the introduction of the electric sound in their musical venue, and political activists were concerned that their everyman spokesperson was “selling out”—what would this mean for their politically charged anthems? Others praised Dylan’s evolution and enjoyed his heavy influences as they reflected the harder rock ‘n’ roll that was to come. Many thought it was Dylan’s way of making a statement against (or for, depending on the person) society and the music industry. Perhaps it was, in some way. Just a year prior, the singer said in an interview with
Bob Dylan created and rehearsed his electric set merely 24 hours before the performance.