Credit: William ClaxtonToday marks the 50th anniversary of a landmark event in rock history, when Bob Dylan “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Dylan played a brief set with a backing group of blues-rock musicians, which reportedly drew boos from a segment of the audience who felt the singer/songwriter was turning his back on traditional music.

By the summer of ’65, Dylan was widely considered to be the most important songwriter of the American folk revival, beloved by folk purists for his poetic lyrics, as well as his adherence to acoustic music. However, the singer/songwriter had begun incorporating electric instruments into his recordings, with his then-most recent album Bringing It All Back Home, released in March of ’65, featuring an electric and an acoustic side, and his fully electric, just-released single “Like a Rolling Stone” climbing the charts.

At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Bob took the stage with a Fender Stratocaster and, accompanied by Paul Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Mike Bloomfield, drummer Sam Lay and bassist Jerome Arnold, as well as keyboardists Al Kooper and Barry Goldberg, proceeded to plug in and perform three songs. While Dylan played — which featured “Maggie’s Farm,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Phantom Engineer” — a segment of the audience began to boo. Dylan eventually left the stage and returned with an acoustic guitar to play “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Bob, who also had performed at Newport in 1963 and ’63 would not return to the festival for another 37 years.

Dylan’s 1965 Newport performance may have divided the singer/songwriter’s fan base, but many consider it an influential event that signaled the bringing together of the folk world’s political and poetic sensibilities and rock music’s amplified sound, thereby helping to transform the music that would be embraced by the counterculture as the ’60s progressed.

To close out this year’s Newport Folk Festival, a special performance commemorating Dylan’s 1965 appearance is scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 26. Dubbed “’65 Revisited,” the performance will feature an as-yet-unannounced lineup of guest artists. Festival organizer Jay Sweet tells Rolling Stone that Dylan was invited to take part in the event but declined. With regard to the artists that will be participating, Sweet says, “The best way we could represent it would be to bring the younger generation and have them interpret what happened in their own respects.”

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