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Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  381 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
One of the music world’s pre-eminent critics takes a fresh and much-needed look at the day Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, timed to coincide with the event’s fiftieth anniversary.

On the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan took the stage at Newport Folk Festival, backed by an electric band, and roared into his new rock hit, Like a Rolling Stone. The audi
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 14th 2015 by Dey Street Books
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Wald's focus is the night Dylan took the stage at the 1965 Newport Jazz/Folk festival, backed by most of the Paul Butterfield Blues band, and "electrified one half his audience and electrocuted the other." Newport principally had been acoustic (and, if not, featured only electrified ethnic folk music, e.g., Cajun). But Dylan cranked the volume up to "11". It is true, as described in Alex Ross's book on 20th Century music, and the surviving film (turned into a brilliant documentary by Scorsese) t ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
He had such promise—Pete Seeger on Bob Dylan

He was “gooder” than the others—description of Pete Seeger

Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties, by Elijah Wald, is a stool on three legs. It's the story of early Bob Dylan, his art and commerce, it's the story of the Newport Folk Festival during the period when it gave the imprimatur to politically conscious sixties pop music, and it's also the story of Pete Seeger, who was as much the founder of the Newpor
Bonnye Reed
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: baby boomers
Recommended to Bonnye Reed by: Dey Street Books
Shelves: keepers
I received this ARC from Dey Street Books and Elijah Wald. Thank you for allowing me to read this excellent book!

This book was extremely long (350 pages) and does a little back and forth time jumping through the years of the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, but all in all it was an excellent read, and by the end you feel like a spectator of The Night that Split the Sixties. And you will appreciate your understanding of the rolls of many other personalities involved the the resurgence of Folk mu
James Klagge
Sep 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, history
I liked this more than I thought I would. It tells a story about the evolution of the folk movement, Dylan's development, and their intersection in Newport in 1965. I knew some of the story, but learned a lot that I did not know. There are various ways to tell that story, and the author did a good job of filling them out. In a few words, Wald put the climax like this (p. 301): "it was the iconic moment of intersection when rock emerged, separate from rock 'n' roll, and replaced folk as the serio ...more
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: music-writing
Elijah Wald has nothing but praise for musicians trying to make a buck; his Dylan book bloats with the self-satisfaction of a job well-paid. Fifty years ago, the Newport Folk Festival 1965 stretched out over three days; clocking in at 309 pp., Dylan Goes Electric! has 103 pp. per day. In analysis, the question is only whether Newport '65 merits its centrality within rock criticism as an event in the counterculture. Answer: No. Wald can't answer that, it's no way to pitch a book. To argue such ac ...more
Disclaimer first: I received a copy of this book free from the publisher.

I am a fan of Dylan's writing as well as Seeger's. I was born a bit after this infamous night, but I was raised on this music. I never felt my allegiance pulled to one side or the other. I blame/credit my parents for this. Obviously they never felt they could only be fans of one or the other either.

There wasn't a whole lot of new information in this book. Most of it I've either heard watching documentaries about the folk fe
May 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
A terrific and fascinating look at Folk Music and the event that almost singlehandedly brought it down.

Folk was the music of the people, popular (to the chagrin of some of its practitioners) and important. Pete Seeger, a disciple of Woody Guthrie, was its gatekeeper. And Bob Dylan was seen as the next standard-bearer.

But Dylan is nobody's hero. The iconoclastic singer/songwriter showed up at Newport and plugged in. The rest is legend (and some of the legend is wrong), but that moment marked the
C. Michael
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties
Elijah Wald
368 Pages
ISBN: #978-0062366689
Dey Street Books

Critic Elijah Wald might best be termed a critical anthropologist/archeologist of American Music, reexamining what has previously been written, seeking that which has not, and, by widening his net of inquiry, providing a new and broader musical landscape from which to draw previously unconsidered conclusions. Wald is the author of some 12 books, tw
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
An important story about a great musical progression. The author analyzes the end of the folk movement, by centering on Bob Dylan through 1965 and his famous story at Newport Folk Festival. A big theme is authenticity especially of folk, versus shallow audience taste for re-hashed Kingston Trio songs and copy-cat pop-rock songs. Albert Grossman is an interesting, villainous figure who produced many commercial pop talents including Dylan whom he encouraged to go electric. I enjoyed the history, a ...more
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Bob Dylan's explosive and polarizing appearance on the closing night of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival is the vortex of this engagingly-told history of the rise and fall of the early-1960s American folk music phenomenon. Dylan's performance is legendary because he played an electric guitar (an instrument non grata among many folk purists) and was backed by a heavily amplified blues/rock band (including several members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band), offending many traditional folk music fan ...more
Brad Hodges
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

"On the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in black jeans, black boots, and a black leather jacket, carrying a Fender Stratocaster in place of his familiar acoustic guitar. The crowd shifted restlessly as he tested his tuning and was joined by a quintet of backing musicians. Then the band crashed into a raw Chicago boogie and, straining to be heard over the loudest music ever to hit Newport, he snarled his opening line: “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s
Matt Schiavenza
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's one of the most familiar stories in the annals of rock: Expected to play an acoustic set at the Newport Folk Festival, as he'd done in previous years, Bob Dylan instead unleashed a set of incendiary electric rock music to the hysterical dismay of the crowd. And with that folk was dead — and modern rock was born.

Well, it didn't really go down quite like that. But what did happen forms the subject of this informative, well-written, and entertaining account of how folk and rock became entwined
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
I enjoyed this book. While Wald covers Dylan and the '65 Newport Festival, there is a lot more here. He goes into depth on the late 50's/early 60's folk revival including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and many others. He discusses the various factions that sprung up during the period (i.e. the "preppy groups such as the Kingston Trio versus the singer songwriter types such as Dylan). He also discussed the Newport festival prior to '65 and how Dylan's appearance really capped off the end of the traditio ...more
Michael Anderson
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent summary of the evolution of folk music into the 60’s, focusing on Pete Seeger, the Newport Folk Festival, and Dylan’s use of electric guitars in 1965. I’m not sure the controversy wasn’t mostly created by the media. After reading this, I watched the performance on the DVD, The Other Side of The Mirror, Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, and, though there may have much post-production work in preparing the video, I enjoyed the music and arrangements. I guess too much time has ...more
Robert S
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, music, nonfiction
Dylan Goes Electric! contains several stories packed in under 400 pages.

One story is the rise of Bob Dylan, his role in the folk genre, and his moving away from it.

Another story is the story of Pete Seeger, the place of the folk genre in the 1960s, and the purity of music.

An additional story is the one of the Newport Folk Festival, particularly its rise and fall.

Wald does an excellent job keeping the book interesting while giving some good insights into a part of music history that typically get
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written account of how the Folk Revival of the '50s and early '60s mixed with Rock 'n' Roll and became Rock, with Bob Dylan as the catalyst. The author really knows the folk music of that era. Towards the book's end, Wald's explication of the music's transformation becomes somewhat repetitive.
Richard Lesses
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent research of a real Rashomon. It seems like Elijah is writing as Pete Seeger (the way he is portrayed in this book), who, like Elijah, never had a problem expressing himself and his feelings. Elijah consciously avoids falling into reifying and deifying, which is really easy to do on this topic.
If you or or your parents were alive in the 1960s, read this book.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great history of two men's lives and mentalities and how they shaped American music.
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Occasionally muddled with too much minutia, but a solid read for Dylan fans.
Ted Lehmann
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Music lovers
Dylan Goes Electric by Elijah Wald

Reading Elijah Wald's Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan & the Night that Split the Sixties (Dey Street/Harper-Collins Publishers, 2015, 368 Pages, $28.99/13.00) reproduces in wonderful, eye-opening detail the environment of the Newport Folk Festival during July of 1965 when Bob Dylan appeared on stage on Sunday evening fronting an electric band, sang three rock songs, and the world changed. To place the momentous events of Newport into the social
victor harris
Aug 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
When Dylan broke into " Maggie's Farm" with electrical accompaniment at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, it marked a cultural dividing line. The " purists" viewed Dylan as a traitor for purportedly abandoning his folk roots (of Pete Seeger vintage) and joining those with corrupt commercial leanings. Others saw it as just another phase in music evolution as folk was transitioning to folk-rock. Dylan was actually rather bewildered by it all as he didn't regard himself as folk or this or that ge ...more
Richard Levine
Oct 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
From the title, you’d expect this book to be about the third night of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when Bob Dylan played a short set of three songs with electric amplified instruments, and (according to legend) was booed off the stage by disappointed folk fans. And it is. But fortunately, it’s about a lot more as well, as Wald does a really fine job of taking the reader through the years leading up to that night, when the “folk revival” was a major movement in American popular music. Pete See ...more
Andy Love
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are a Dylan fan, or if you just have an interest in music history, this is a fantastic read.

The specific night it centers on is the infamous 1965 Newport folk festival performance when BD made clear the division between the folk scene in which he'd come up and the emerging rock 'n roll scene he had by then embraced.

What is great about this book is that even though the book builds to and centers around one particular night, the writer of the book does a stellar job of laying out a full pic
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
As a history of folk music, or even the Newport Festival in general, this is a great a chronicle of when Dylan played Electric at Newport, this is terrible. The author does an excellent job putting together the book, and remaining relatively bias-free on a heavily opinionated topic. But the description and title are incredibly misleading. They both imply that the focus will be split between a few titles, but that the main focus will be on Dylan and his direction towards a more modern ...more
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
It is a very good read, and takes some angles I was surprised at, specifically The Beatles, but others as well. I gained an appreciation for Pete Seeger. Most I'd read just left me with a bad taste in my mouth about where he was coming from and what he was about. I knew his general past (with Woody, and his fight for Leftist ideaology), but he seemed a stick in the mud, and this really brought his full, and at different times in his life, inconsistent quotes, into focus. I particularly liked thi ...more
Sep 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Tells the story of that night at Newport. The accounts of what happened vary quite a bit, with some saying they couldn't hear Bob's voice, some saying the sound was OK, some saying the audience booed, etc. Wald shows that a lot of what you experienced depended on where you were, given the relatively primitive outdoor sound systems of the time, and especially one that was mostly designed for folk music. A lot of the confusion was also about Bob's short set, and bad scheduling. The Seeger with the ...more
Jul 05, 2015 marked it as to-read
I had a rock show on AM radio when Highway 61 came out and the scrawny little bigot of a "Program Director" just came friggin unglued and BANNED it after I played some of it on the air. And the morning jock took a look at the cover and called Dylan a faggot. Right then I knew I was onto something... If the "Adults" hated it, it couldn't be all bad - I mean, they were the ones off snuffing all my friends in 'Nam, right?

Anyway... Hearing that those fruity folkies had booed Dylan when he plugged in
Michael Ritchie
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent book which is only sort of about its title topic, the night in 1965 when Bob Dylan provoked a mini-uprising at the Newport Folk Festival by plugging in with electric instruments rather than acoustic. Wald points out that the real problem wasn't the electric guitars, but the horrid sound mix and the fact that his backing musicians had been gathered in a hurry and hadn't had much rehearsal time. But at least half the book is a history of American folk music as a popular genre, and the ro ...more
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot of interesting facts from this book, but it was because of being part of the choir. It was interesting to me because I was a folk song obsessed guitar player and singer during the period in the book. I’m not sure if this book would appeal to anyone other than a Bob Dylan fan, or folk music fan. It was enjoyable reading the behind the scenes activities of all the folk singers I admired. Bob Dylan moved on from folk music in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, and so did many people ...more
Mary Alice
This is a good background book on the folk scene in the sixties and earlier. I learned a lot about Dylan, his influences and his predecessors, especially Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. I certainly didn't recognize all the names, but I did live through the sixties, and the book made me want to read more and understand folk. An interesting concept was the notion that folk originated with southern blacks, and that whites were only imitating, and not really capable of creating folk moments. Still, f ...more
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Elijah Wald is a musician and writer, with nine published books. Most are about music (blues, folk, world, and Mexican drug ballads), with one about hitchhiking.
His new book is a revisionist history of popular music, throwing out the usual critical conventions and instead looking at what mainstream pop fans were actually listening and dancing to over the years.
At readings, he also plays guitar an

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“What happened at Newport in 1965 was not just a musical disagreement or a single artist breaking with his past. It marked the end of the folk revival as a mass movement and the birth of rock as the mature artistic voice of a generation, and in their respective halves of the decade both folk and rock symbolized much more than music. Fifty years later both the music and the booing still resonate, in part because Dylan continues to be an icon, in part because the generation that cared then has continued to care—but also because the moment itself has become iconic. This book traces the strands that led to that moment, sometimes seeking to untangle them, sometimes emphasizing how tangled they remain, sometimes suggesting where later chroniclers may have imagined or added strands that did not exist or were not visible at the time, sometimes trying to explain, sometimes trying to make the story more complicated, sometimes pointing out how different a familiar strand can seem if we look at it in a new light.” 0 likes
“To blues purists, the Chambers Brothers, Lightnin’ Hopkins—even, at a stretch, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry—were authentic exponents of an ethnic folk culture, while Bloomfield, Butterfield, and Bishop, talented as they might be, were interpreters. That Butterfield had two black musicians in his band proved he was genuinely linked to the tradition, not that he was genuinely part of it.” 0 likes
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