Monday, July 25, 2005

A very crazy thing

Today is the anniversary of the day when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965

Some newspaper articles claim that Alan Lomax got in a fistfight with Dylan's manager Albert Grossman over Dylan's set, feeling it an offense to traditional folk. The two did have a fistfight, but it was over Lomax's introduction to the Paul Butterfield Band, not about Dylan.

Nick Gravenites: In July of 1965, the Butterfield Band was going to play the Newport Folk Festival. After the festival, they were going to record in New York. So Paul, of course, was very excited and ready to go. When Butterfield’s band was introduced, it was almost an insulting introduction by Alan Lomax. I mean, he insulted them onstage. It was something like, "Well, they’ve got this band from Chicago. Some people feel that white people can’t play the blues, and some people feel they can—you make up your own mind. Here they are." It was like—why didn’t you just say "fuck you" while you’re at it?

Michael Bloomfield: Alan Lomax, the great folklorist and musicologist, gave us some sort of introduction that I didn’t even hear, but Albert found it offensive. And Albert went upside his head. The next thing we knew, right in the middle of our show, Lomax and Grossman were kicking ass on the floor in the middle of thousands of people at the Newport Folk Festival. Tearing each others’ clothes off. We had to pull ’em apart. We figured, "Albert, man, now there’s a manager!" We used to call him "Cumulus Nimbus"—he was such a vague guy. It was so hard to understand what he was saying. The Gray Cloud. (via "If you love these blues")

The other legendary story is that Pete Seeger looked for an axe to cut the sound cable during Dylan's set. Seeger has always denied the charge. According to an interview published in Gadfly magazine, Seeger claims he said to the person doing the sound, "Clean up that sound so we can understand the words," and they shouted back, "No, this is the way they want it." I said, "Goddamn it, if I had an ax, I'd cut the cable." (via

Theories on the crowd reaction to Dylan's set include...

1) The sound mix was so muddy that people boo'd. See above.

2) The booing was directed at emcee Peter Yarrow, who upset the crowd when he warned them that Dylan's set would be held at the standard length given to all Newport performers. Bruce Jackson's article, where that theory is propounded and includes a transcript of Yarrow's left-handed introduction of Dylan can be found here.

3) The band - which was essentially an unrehearsed pickup band - was terrible.

4) There was no booing at all.

Dylan at a press conference later that year in Berkeley, California, said of Newport, "I did a very crazy thing."

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