#4 – Bob Dylan’s “Newport” 1964 Fender Stratocaster
Bob Dylan performing at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965
Let us set the stage:
It’s 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.
As part of the “American folk music revival” that had been going on for the better part of 20 years or so, folk music is at its all-time high in terms of popularity, and basically the face of it all is Bob Dylan.
Dylan was received incredibly well by concert-goers at the Newport Folk Festival in both 1963 and 1964. The 1965 festival, however, is the one people are still talking about to this day due to what is now considered the “Electric Dylan Controversy.”
Dylan, known for his acoustic folk sound, uncharacteristically performed his ’65 set backed by a fully electric band. One could assume this was inevitable due to the fact that Dylan’s music had already been incorporating electric guitar and other electric instruments with his album Bringing It All Back Home and subsequent single “Like A Rolling Stone.” However, the move to perform with an all-electric band was a last minute decision that might of actually been more of a middle finger to the organizer of the Newport Folk Festival, Alan Lomax.
According to Jonathan Taplin, a roadie at the festival at the time, Dylan wasn’t pleased with the way Alan Lomax introduced the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at a previous workshop at the festival. Dylan considered some of Lomax’s remarks condescending, and his thinking then became “Well, fuck them if they think they can keep electricity out of here, I’ll do it.” According to Taplin, Dylan decided on a whim on Saturday night that his Sunday night set the following night would be electric.
Then the controversy begins.
Dylan took the stage the following night scheduled between two decidedly traditional folk acts, and performed his all-electric set. The crowd, as can be heard on some of the live footage from the festival, reacted with a mixture of both cheers as well as boos. The controversy, and the part that people argue about the most, lies in the reasons behind the crowd reacting that way.
Some people think it was traditional folk fans booing because they didn’t want to hear electric music at their festival, while others like folk singer Pete Seeger thought it was aimed at the festival itself due to extremely poor audio quality. (There’s an untrue, albeit entertaining story that Seeger had an axe and wanted to cut the chords to Dylan’s performance it sounded so bad). Others think it was because Bob Dylan’s set was incredibly short, clocking in at around a brief fifteen minutes.
We think Dylan was booed most likely from a combination of all three of these factors, but as we mentioned a large portion of the crowd cheered him as well.
The electric guitar Dylan used that night was a 1964 Fender Stratocaster, as can be seen here:
Bob Dylan’s 1964 Fender Stratocaster from his Newport performance
Perhaps the coolest part of the story is how the guitar ended up at auction.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, Dylan left the guitar on a private plane, after which the pilot reached out to Dylan’s management but had never heard anything back. So, the pilot kept the guitar, which stayed in his family for almost 50 years until it was authenticated when his daughter Dawn Peterson brought it on the show History Detectives on PBS.
Bob Dylan’s 1964 Newport Fender Strat sold at auction for $965,000, surpassing Clapton’s “Blackie” as the most expensive guitar of all time.