Dylan at Newport

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BOBDYLAN-NEWPORT65.gif

I received the Dylan at Newport DVD for Christmas and if you are a Dylan fan it is absolutely fascinating. It’s a little over an hour long and shows Dylan’s multiple performances at the 1963, 1964, and 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Of course everyone knows the story of Dylan “going electric? at the 1965 Newport Fest, and the DVD shows that moment, but there are other key points in Dylan’s career shown on the DVD.

The DVD is so interesting because we get to see a snippets of Bob Dylan from when he was a little-known folkie to the time when he was verging on superstardom and Like a Rolling Stone was entering into the public conscience.

The DVD opens with Dylan’s performances in 1963. At this time he’s not well known except for a few old-line folkies in Greenwich Village and Cambridge. This is the Dylan that was still aping Woody Guthrie, wearing workshirts and dirty boots. This was actually Dylan’s introduction to a larger audience as Joan Baez, who at the time was the queen of folk music, invites Dylan on stage during her set to sing one of Dylan’s “message? songs. There are a couple of other scenes of Dylan performing at one of the myriad of workshops that were part of the Festival.

By 1964, Dylan was getting notice beyond the cafes of Greenwich Village and was popular for his protest songs such as Blowing in the Wind. We get to hear a version of Mr. Tambourine Man that was sung before it was ever released. We also get to see how Dylan is starting to impact popular culture as a number of other Newport participants are performing Dylan songs. The 1964 section ends with an absolutely stunning version of Dylan singing Chimes of Freedom. Dylan just throws himself into the performance and you get goosebumps at how good it is. The audience felt the same as they literally refuse to allow Odetta to take the stage as they keep on cheering for Dylan. You can see at this point that Dylan was becoming much bigger than the folk music genre that he was pigeonholed into.

Finally 1965, Dylan goes electric. By this time, Dylan had left behind the folkies and was performing Rock and Roll. Like a Rolling Stone had been out for a couple of weeks and was charging up the charts. Although he was still performing acoustic sets, he had also been working with a band playing electric sets as well. Besides the Beatles, there probably wasn’t a more popular musician. I’ve always loved the introduction to Dylan before the electric set, I think it’s Joan Baez (I could be wrong) and after a short introduction talking about “the voice of the generation" she ends her introduction with “you know him, he’s yours….Bob Dylan!?

Dylan comes out with the Paul Butterfield Blues band and is wearing a black leather jacket. The then tear into Maggie’s Farm. Lore has it that Pete Seeger tried to cut the electric cords with an axe because he claimed no one could hear the political lyrics due to the loud guitars. Problem is, at least for the DVD viewer, the words are quite clear. Now the recording could be from the mixing board so Seeger may be right, but the viewer can hear the lyrics. After Maggie’s Farm they do Like a Rolling Stone. After the performance you can hear booing, you can hear cheering too, but to the DVD viewer, there is booing.

God, how I wish they had a camera off stage because apparently it was chaos. The camera shows Paul Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary on-stage imploring the crowd the cheer for Bob to come back. Eventually Dylan does come back with an acoustic guitar and tears (or sweat) visibly streaming from his eyes. Dylan ends the performance with a strong version It’s All Over Now Baby Blue and the concert ends.

If you’re a Dylan fan and have even passing interest in Dylan’s performances at Newport, this DVD is a must. Some of the performances are truncated but it is still a thrill to see what has been described in thousands upon thousands of words. Dylan’s Newport performances are part of music history and it is a heady time for the millions of us who didn’t get to see those performances live but are still able to experience them.

Below is the You Tube of Dylan playing Maggies Farm at Newport 1965;


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