Fifty years ago, on July 25, 1965, legendary musician Bob Dylan courageously plugged in an electric guitar during his set at the Newport Folk Festival and changed rock and roll forever.
Some saw his decision as grandiose and innovative, while others saw it as ugly and controversial and even booed the rock legend, but one thing is for sure – Dylan single handedly changed the course of music history that night. A rift was formed in the folk rock community and its effects can be felt to this day.
And yesterday, on the last night of the Newport Folk Festival’s “65 Revisited” event, Taylor Goldsmith held up the Fender Stratocaster that Dylan played in ’65 and told music fans: “This guitar that I’m holding has been on this stage before”.
Both Dylan and Goldsmith played “Maggie’s Farm” on the instrument, one of Dylan’s electric blues masterpieces. Goldsmith and the rest of his band, the Dawes, were some of the official celebrants at the event. They were accompanied on stage by Al Kooper, the musician who played Hammond organ for Dylan 50 years ago during the same festival.
Dylan’s famous Fender Stratocaster was actually sold two (2) years ago at an auction for about a million dollars, but Goldsmith managed to get it on a loan for the event.
The Dawes were only one of many bands and musicians who participated at the “65 Revisited” and honored, celebrated and idolized Dylan and his tunes. Other famous contemporary names present at the event were Jason Isbell, Blake Mills, Shakey Graves, the Lone Bellow, the Felice Brothers, Lord Huron, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn.
Some belong more in the rock genre, while others sit a lot more comfortably in the folk genre, but they attended the Newport Folk Festival to pay homage to a man who still inspires them, even today.
Some of the festival standouts included Laura Marling, a calm and captivating British folk singer who had to borrow her equipment from other bands due to travel difficulties that also left her without one of her band members, and Sturgill Simpson, a bluegrass, country and honky-tonk group.
Soul was represented by Leon Bridges, while postpunk was represented by Courtney Barnett.
The Saturday crowd went ecstatic when James Taylor turned out to be the unannounced headliner. He played a brief set full of greatest hits like “Carolina on My Mind”, a song which he also previously played during his 1969 Newport Folk Festival set.
Friday was another gift for music lovers as My Morning Jacket first played their own set, then went on to back legendary rocker Roger Waters during his set.
Waters started out by sitting at the piano and playing a brand new ballad titled “Crystal Clear”. There were some intended but welcomed parallels between Waters’ new song and the 1965 Newport Folk Festival which saw Pete Seeger play a recording of a baby crying and asked the crowd to reflect on the state of the world. Waters treated the crowd to everything from Pink Floyd songs to John Prine songs to a cover of Dylan’s massive hit “Forever Young”.
To this day, Dylan’s 1965 brief set from the Newport Folk Festival remains one of the most debated moments in music history.
Elijah Wald, guitarist, gave a statement explain that the problem at the time was not only that Dylan was playing an electric guitar, but that his style was incorporating a broad variety of influences into a “confluence of conflicts”.
It could be described as pop music but also as roots music, it had commercial confections as well as communal creations, and contained shades of escapism as well as social involvement.
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