On the 25th July 1965, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performed at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric band. His dramatic shift away from his traditional instruments of acoustic guitar and harmonica was said to have, “electrified one half of his audience, and electrocuted the other”.
Dylan came to prominence in the early years of the 1960s with songs that chronicled the social situation in the USA at the time. Labelled as the “spokesman of a generation” by the media he had released four acoustic albums in the first three years of his recording career. But, in March 1965, Bringing It All Back Home indicated a new direction for Dylan. While one side of the record maintained his acoustic roots, the other side featured an electric backing band.
Dylan’s appearances at the Newport Folk Festival reflected his album releases. In 1963 and 64 he had been the poster boy of acoustic folk alongside female musician and on-off romantic partner Joan Baez, but on the night before his appearance at the 1965 festival he decided to go electric. Gathering together a group of musicians from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he frantically rehearsed a short four-song set that was performed on the Sunday evening.
Accounts of the performance, and the crowd’s reaction to it, differ. While some claim that the crowd were hostile to Dylan appearing with an electric guitar, others say that the booing was a response to the short set and poor sound system. Whatever the case, Dylan going electric marked a watershed moment for both the folk and rock music scenes.