Bob Dylan's Electric Folk Hits Newport: Let's Go!

This night in 1965, they were watching Bob Dylan. They were listening to something else.

Bob Dylan's Electric Folk Hits Newport: Let's Go!

ON THE BALMY EVENING of Sunday, July 25, 1965 in the scenic surrounds of Fort Adams, Rhode Island following a gentle bluegrass set from 62-year-old country singer, Cousin Emmy, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival, accompanied by two organists (Barry Goldberg and 21-year-old Al Kooper) and three wired representatives from a group of electric agitators known as The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: bassist Jerome Arnold, drummer Sam Lay, and their hunch-shouldered 22-year-old lead-guitarist, Mike Bloomfield. Miss Emmy had played a gentle comic set, just what the sound-system was set up to deal with. The audience were in a mellow mood, and looking forward to an extra performance from Dylan following the brief three-song acoustic workshop performance he'd offered up the day before.

Following the announcement from Master of Ceremonies Pete Yarrow that "the person that's going to come up now has a limited amount of time... His name is Bob Dylan", there follows one of the most dizzyingly and unruly rock performances ever captured on film, a public presentation that still sounds weird and out-of-time to this day.


Right from Dylan's opening cry of "Let's go!" the whole three-song electric performance buzzes with a nervy feral power. From the opening number, Maggie's Farm, Dylan glows with a proud candescent arrogance as the band chug machine-like, Kooper's liturgical organ drone pushes at the limits of accepted folk amplification while Bloomfield's lead electric repeatedly spits out what might best be described as a kind of razor-edged swarf, joyous guitar noise somewhere five years down the road of little ol' 1965.

Retellings of Newport '65 focus on the booing that accompanied the performance – were they jeering electric Dylan, the weedy Newport sound system or a mixture of both? – but what remains in the reviewing is the near hysterical mood of excitement that buzzes around Dylan and band, the sound of a group of people being roused to an particular emotional response they may never have actually experienced before.