How Should Dylan’s Newport Electric Set Be Recognized This Weekend?

Bob Dylan in 1963

This coming weekend, the Newport Folk Festival will mark the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s historic electric set with a secret lineup on Sunday entitled “65 Revisited.” Dylan’s set, which won both praise and boos from the Newport crowd, is frequently noted as a moment when rock became the zeitgeist of the 60s.

In his new book, Dylan Goes Electric, author Elijah Wald goes in-depth on the details of the night in an effort to clear up some of the speculation that has circulated for years. Many have suggested that the booing could have been because Dylan’s set length was too short or because the sound was bad. Legends have also suggested that Pete Seeger was going to rip the cables – or cut them with an ax – out of offense of the statement. Wald notes that the set was just as long as others, so that probably wasn’t the reason for boos. Everyone seems to agree that the sound was bad as multiple band members had just learned the songs and it was simply loud – louder than anything else that day. Seeger insisted that it was the sound for him.

Regardless, as Wald noted in a podcast with the Festival released last week, the set allowed Dylan to make it clear that Seeger and the traditional Newport lineup was no longer cutting edge. Folk songs and Newport represented the past and rock was the future.

So, how do you recreate or even recognize that in a set this weekend? Will Dylan come back for a few songs? Festival Producer Jay Sweet says that that is not the plan (and anyone that’s heard Dylan play live in the last few years would remind you that a Dylan return would probably be disappointing anyway).

I asked Wald how he thought Dylan should be recognized on Sunday.

“The whole festival these days feels to me like a tribute to the spirit of Dylan’s music in 1965, the idea of updating folk, blues, country, and rock ‘n’ roll traditions to fit the spirit of the times. As for the crowd reaction, which is what made his electric set legendary, I suppose the audience could celebrate the anniversary by greeting the performers with a mix of wild cheering and boos, but I’m not sure how that could be arranged.”

I’d say that’s unlikely. Without any intel from the Festival, my prediction and hope is that a few artists absent from the lineup will make an appearance and join with others on the bill in performing Dylan songs from ’63, ’64 and ’65. These will be artists of Newport past and present, the old, the young, the electric and the acoustic. Personally, I hope for a lot of Dylan ’63 and ’64, but you’d expect that from a guy with a blog called grass clippings.

If you look at the schedule, there are multiple unannounced sets on the main Fort stage on Friday and Saturday as well. I’d say that Festivarians can expect some more surprises this weekend that we’ve seen in past years.

Either way, we’re just a few days out from my favorite weekend of the summer.

Stay tuned for more previews of the weekend all week. See you at the Fort!

Bob Dylan at Newport – 1964

Bob Dylan at Newport – 1965