It was July 25, 1965 when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. Who could have ever imagined all the stories and counter stories that would come from the simple act of playing an electric guitar?
“It’s the single most defining point in the history of modern popular music,” said Clinton Heylin, the author of six books about Dylan. “Dylan split the music world in half that day, and in a single gesture created what we now know as rock music.”
The Newport performance began a period of hostility between Dylan and some of his audience. On the stage that historic day was Mike Bloomfield on electric guitar, Barry Goldberg on piano, Al Kooper on organ, Jerome Arnold on electric bass and Sam Lay on drums. Three of the backing musicians were members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Dylan opened with three songs that day. Maggie’s Farm, Like a Rolling Stone and Phantom Engineer, which evolved into It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry. Then, having been coaxed back on stage, he concluded with It’s Over Now, Baby Blue and Mr. Tambourine Man.
It was a tense day for Dylan, who had no idea his actions would become a defining moment in the history of rock and roll. There are hundreds of reminiscences about that day—many inconsistent. Dylan didn’t care. It would be another 37 years before he would play again at Newport.
To see the Dylan appearance in full, check out Murray Lerner’s Festival, a DVD that chronicles Newport from 1963 through 1965.