Newport Folk Celebrates ‘65 Revisited
Thursday, July 23, 2015
50 Years ago this summer, an event in Newport, Rhode Island changed the course of folk music and American popular culture. In an unexpected shock to the folk music establishment, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan plugged in - he “went electric” impacting the direction of popular music for years to come.
There are several events scheduled at this year’s Newport Folk Festival to commemorate the occasion, including a Sunday session with author Elijah Wald as well as a musical celebration of the event on Sunday evening with surprise unannounced guests.
Dylan Goes Electric
Two new books shed more light on this topic that has been memorialized over the years. The first is titled Dylan at Newport, 1965 – Music, Myth and Un-Meaning, written by Rhode Island author Ed Renehan. In his book, Renehan discounts many of the myths that have grown up around the legendary event. It’s a concise take on the subject and a great read, highly recommended as a primer on the topic. Its available in hard copy or e-book here.
The second book, just published last week, is penned by music writer Elijah Wald, who will be presenting a workshop at the Folk Festival on Sunday. Dylan Goes Electric is a more in depth read that covers the background and impact of that memorable day. In an interview with GoLocalProv, Wald noted that he wrote the book “to sort out what happened with Dylan at Newport.”
Boos and Cheers
The most notable legend has always been the claim that Dylan was booed by the folk conscious crowd.
“One night I happened to find myself in the middle of one of those arguments-was he booed or wasn’t he?” wondered Wald.
On that issue, the author confirms a few details:
“There is this myth that everyone at Newport was booing--a few people were, and that was news, but many more were cheering. And there is the myth that the people booing were ‘folk purists.’ The fact is, as far as I can tell, the people who were most disappointed were not the purists who liked Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt; they were the people who liked Peter, Paul and Mary and loved Dylan as the guy who wrote ‘Blowin' in the Wind.’”
Wald addresses other controversies, including the idea that playing the electric guitar was something new for Dylan.
“He not only had been a rock 'n' roller in high school, but had released a hot rockabilly single ("Mixed-Up Confusion") in 1962, between his first and second LPs.” Around this time, Dylan’s classic “Like a Rolling Stone,” had just been released and was climbing the charts.
Stories and legends have arisen over the years – no, Pete Seeger did not try to chop the electric cables with an axe, although he did have reservations about the performance. He later explained the poor sound mix was part of the problem; indeed, others present had the same concern.
Dylan himself “seemed to enjoy the controversy and even the hostility. It seems like he was getting tired of just going up onstage by himself and singing his songs--and he was certainly eager to escape the mantle of being "the voice of a generation"--so both the change in his music and the way people reacted seem to have invigorated him,” remarked Wald.
“Dylan has never stopped liking and honoring folk music; he was trying to extend the tradition, not to destroy it, and in hindsight I think most modern folk musicians continue to think of him as a major figure in their world.”
Wald will be presenting his book and leading a discussion on “the night that split the 60’s” at a special workshop on the Museum Stage on Sunday July 26 at Noon. Don’t miss it!
The Folk Festival also has a special program planned for the final performance on Sunday July 26, the last day of the Festival. The commemoration of Dylan going electric is called ’65 Revisited, where a secret all star line up of contemporary artists is scheduled to play. As for who’s going to show up, it’s the best kept secret in America right now, although the Festival has announced that Dylan himself is not expected to be there. We’ll let you know as soon as we hear.
Ken Abrams reviews Roots, Rock, Folk and Blues for GoLocal. E-mail him here. And plan to follow GoLocalProv all weekend long for Folk Festival photos and updates.
Related Slideshow: 10 “Don’t Miss” Acts at Newport Folk
The Newport Folk Festival is around the corner and we've got our picks for the Top 10 "Don’t Miss" acts. From classic rock superstars to up and coming locals, check out our slide show for some of best the Folk Festival has to offer. The three day festival runs July 24-26 at Fort Adams State Park.
Roger Waters needs no introduction. He’s the well known co-founder of Pink Floyd, simply one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. He’s planning a special show on Friday designed specifically for the Newport Folk Festival. His set begins at 6:30 PM on the Fort Stage. It should be pretty spectacular.
Calexico is a critically acclaimed Americana band that blurs the boundaries between Folk, Rock, and Tejano creating a sound with a unique Tex-Mex vibe. The core of the band is made up of songwriter/lead vocalist Joey Burns and drummer Jon Convertino. They’ve been together almost 20 years and return to the Festival with an impressive new release Edge of the Sun. Catch them Friday on the Quad Stage at 2:50 PM.
Haunt The House
Festival rookies and local favorites Haunt the House will bring intense songwriting and organic harmonies to the Harbor Stage on Friday. We are anticipating a break out performance from one of Rhode Island’s top Americana/Folk acts, led by Will Houlihan. Get there early Friday as they are officially the first band on the Harbor Stage beginning at 11:00 AM.
Cincinnati’s Heartless Bastards are a garage rock band making their first festival appearance this year. The band, often compared to The Black Keys, is led by female vocalist Erica Wennerstrom. They’re scheduled to play the Harbor Stage on Friday at 5:00 PM. For more Bastards, check out their rockin’ new release Restless Ones.
The award for lyric of the year so far for 2015 goes to Aussie upstart Courtney Barnett who channels Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, the ghost of Kurt Cobain and the edgy sincerely of Liz Phair.
“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional I promise to exploit you. “
The lyrics from “Pedestrian at Best,” a tune from her critically acclaimed new album Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit. She’s got a folky acoustic side to balance her grungy rock sound. Don’t miss her on the Quad stage Saturday at 2:55 PM.
Jason Isbell may be the best songwriter in America right now. His story telling is eloquent and his characters are gut real. Clearly, his deep Alabama roots connect him to the great American singer-songwriter tradition. He returns to Newport Saturday with his new release Something More than Free, out a week before the festival. Catch him on the Fort Stage at 2:35 PM.
Leon Bridges just oozes classic R&B. He’ll bring some Memphis Soul to the Quad Stage at 1:35 PM on Friday. He’s got it all – good looks, retro inspired threads, and a smooth voice reminiscent of Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. Hear more on his new album Coming Home and check him out at Newport!
Hozier made a big splash on the Harbor Stage at the 2014 Folk Fest just before he was “discovered” the mainstream media and the public. (We told you he was going places...) He’s become a superstar over the past year behind his award winning anthem “Take Me to Church.” Don’t be surprised if he is joined once again by the Berklee Gospel and Roots Choir, a festival highlight last year. He plays the Fort Stage at 4:45 PM Sunday.
Jon Batiste & Stay Human
New Orleans native Jon Batiste and will be playing both Newport Folk and Newport Jazz this year, only the second act ever to play both festivals. (The Preservation Hall Jazz Band did it in 2012.) Batiste has had quite a run since last year’s Jazz Festival, as he was recently announced as the new bandleader for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Don’t miss his set Sunday on the Fort Stage at 12:40 PM – you’ll see what all the buzz is about.
There is a lot of excitement this year for the final event on Sunday dubbed “65 Revisited.” The event will commemorate the night Bob Dylan “went electric” stunning the Folk crowd 50 years ago. Surprise guests are expected, but there is little to no chance that Dylan will appear. (Although the Festival claims that an invitation is extended every year.) Dylan has never been the sentimental type to say the least. We’ll tweet the surprise guest(s) as soon as we hear. It starts at 6PM Sunday.
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