Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dylan Goes Electric 7-25-65





On July 24, 1965, Dylan was back on the Newport stage for the third year in a row performing three acoustic songs. On the same day, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band drew a big crowd at a blues workshop and stunned them with a fiery performance, despite a dismissive introduction from folklorist Alan Lomax. Albert Grossman was pondering managing the band, and the snub by Lomax led to a wrestling match between him and Lomax. Dylan had already recorded “Like a Rolling Stone,” which entered the charts as a single the week of the festival, with Butterfield’s guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, and Al Kooper. Dylan asked the Butterfield band and Kooper to back him for a set the following night at Newport. From the time he ravaged the Hibbing High School stage with a spirited Little Richard imitation to his latest groundbreaking accomplishments, Dylan dared to advance confidently in the direction of his own dreams.

 What happened the following night shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But this was Newport, the spiritual retreat of folk music. On July 25, Dylan seized the stage with a brash electric band. Consequences be damned!

 Dressed like a pop star in a leather jacket, tight, black pants and pointy boots, Dylan’s fashion statement clashed with audience expectations based on his humble attire from past festivals. The music thundered and there were reports of the sound mix being awful, although just the shock of Dylan playing with a band was too much for the ears of Lomax and Pete Seeger to bare. Seeger threatened to cut the power cables with an axe. There are so many versions of what happened that the story has become folklore. If there was an axe or not, is not as significant as the idea of Seeger wanting to wield an axe because the music of an artist he had great admiration for disturbed him. And even though Dylan was blazing forward without regrets, he was devastated when he heard of Seeger’s reaction.

Out in the audience there was turmoil and a certain amount of booing. Tales of the booing are legendary, but the tape reveals a brisk and explosive performance of “Maggie’s Farm” to kick off the electric set. Bloomfield’s quick-picking licks surround but don’t swallow Dylan’s precise singing. This was aggression unleashed, jarring even for those who enjoyed amplified music. The only person unaffected by the flood of emotions appeared to be Dylan, who, on the surface, handled his first live performance with a band as if he’d been down that road a thousand times before. The raging sound crashed to its conclusion and was met with a mixed chorus of applause, boos, and chatter. Dylan closed the set out with “Like a Rolling Stone” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”

The crowd was disappointed. The gripes were many. Dylan had gone electric. He was a capitalistic sell out, the sound quality was poor, and the big star of the festival played a brief set and split. Peter Yarrow brokered a peace agreement and coaxed Dylan to come out for an acoustic encore. Dylan borrowed a guitar from Johnny Cash and threw the crowd a couple of bones; “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” At a post-concert communal dinner for the musicians in a nearby mansion, Dylan was visibly shaken by the turbulent night. To try and ease his mind, Dylan’s friend, folksinger Maria Muldaur, asked Bob if he’d like to dance. Dylan replied, “I’d dance with you, Maria, but my hands are on fire.”   
Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate  


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