Newport Folk Festival Kicks Off 50 Years Since Bob Dylan Went Electric

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The Newport Folk Festival kicks off Friday in Rhode Island. It has a long history of folk, blues and roots music performances. Among the most memorable and controversial occurred 50 years ago, when Bob Dylan took the stage.

On that night, half a century ago, Dylan was playing a Stratocaster electric guitar. Backed by Al Kooper and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he tore through a blistering version of "Maggie's Farm."

Many in the crowd booed. As the story goes, die-hard folk fans were outraged — betrayed by Dylan's sudden embrace of hard-driving electric rock 'n' roll. According to some accounts, the iconic folk musician and activist Pete Seeger grabbed an ax and tried to cut through the cables to silence the racket.

Elijah Wald, a Medford-based musician and writer explores this pivotal moment in folk rock history in his new book, "Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties."

Wald begins with this question: "Why does what one musician played on one evening continue to resonate half a century later?"

Elijah Wald will present on "Dylan Goes Electric" at the Newport Folk Festival Sunday at 12 p.m. at the "museum stage."


Elijah Wald, American folk blues guitarist and music historian. His new book is "Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties."


The New York Times: Review: ‘Dylan Goes Electric!’ Considers Folk, Rock And A ’60s Divide

  • "Saturday night is the 50th anniversary of Dylanageddon: the night Bob Dylan savaged the Newport Folk Festival by making loud, electrified noise at a sanctuary that had never been thus sullied."

Slate: To See Which Way The Wind Blows

  • "The congregation of folk music purists hissed, booed, threw bottles, and drove Bob Dylan from the stage, while the movement’s patron saint Pete Seeger had to be restrained from taking an ax to the power cables. And nothing was ever the same."

The Boston Globe: Author Captures Moment In Bob Dylan, Music History

  • "It was 50 years ago this Saturday that Dylan’s electric performance was greeted with boos, disbelief, and a few cheers. To piece together his account, Wald, who was just a boy at the time of Dylan’s piercing performance, listened to tapes, watched film footage of the festival, and talked to festivalgoers."

This segment aired on July 24, 2015.


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