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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  491 ratings  ·  94 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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Start your review of Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties
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
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A truly superb rendering of the intersection of the folk music scene of the 1960s and rock and roll music, and a terrific look at the music and career of Bob Dylan at that time. This book is an essential for fans of rock music history and roots music.
Apr 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, audiobook
I enjoyed this story of Dylan’s folk concert surprise. Wald opens with a tease of the event to be fully described later – Dylan rocking. The author then dives into the history behind the event, with extensive bios of Dylan and Pete Seeger, name dropping dozens of others in the folk firmament in the late 50s and early 60s. Wald covers the business aspects, including concert promoting, as well as the music aspects. I found the variety of perspectives really helped set the stage for what was to fol ...more
Allan Heron
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent look at the events that unfolded at Newport in 1965 looking at the path that lead to that tumultuous day, and the impact of it since then.

It shows a much more complex picture than the myths surrounding it would suggest. As such, a book to be read by those for whom myths and legends are all too often misdirection from a more powerful and interesting understanding of events.
Juhani Heino
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Important book, very important. I browsed it in October, gotta read it better soon.
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
May 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommended, own
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
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
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
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, t
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
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
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
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 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
As a Newporter, I was on spot for the folk festivals in the 1960s. They were great fun; we heard some fabulous musicians from all walks of society. Dylan was a fan favorite of course, and his electric set did produce a lot of controversy and division. As far as I was concerned any Bobby was good. But not all agreed. :)

This book is not as much about Bob than about the Folk Festivals themselves. Yes, Dylan was a focal point, but there was much more to them, and it is all here. From folk dancers,
Jun 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
While about eighty percent of the book was dedicated to kind of rehashing each of the Newport Folk Festivals leading up to the infamous Dylan event in 1965, and a lot of the main ideas were emphasized over, and over, and over again, by the time Wald got to describing the actual weekend on which the show occurred he was firing on all cylinders. I don't think I've read writing about a singular musical event that was so thorough and engrossing as his depiction of Dylan's "electric" show in Newport. ...more
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
May 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
10 stars! This is much more than a book about Bob Dylan. In fact you needn't even be a fan to enjoy and appreciate it.

This is a tour of American music, culture and politics. The individuals, movements and interactions are fascinating.

This was when lyrics suddenly became important. When the new left and rugged individualism split with the old left. Exuberance and creativity blossomed.

I see (or hope for) a similar split in our future. Our former rebels have become the establishment, urging conform
Robert S
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, music, history
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
Adam Carrico
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's definitely an enjoyable read for anyone who is a fan of early Dylan, Pete Seeger, Newport Folk Festival, and the Great Folk Scare. The analysis and context of folk pop groups becoming mainstream in the early 60s helps flesh out the true meaning behind an iconic moment in rock and folk history. I'm giving it five stars because even though I knew a lot of the information already, I couldn't stop reading. The comprehensive look at the first few iterations of the Festival is probably the best p ...more
Esteban Stipnieks
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
fascinating history explains the back story I lived with as a kid my father had Peter Paul and Mary along with a Kingston Trio album I grew up in the folk revial and Texas outlaw movement late 70s were my early childhood....the book provided a great deal of understanding to the musical cross-currents I grew up with but did not reaction after reading teh book was OH as I understood all the details and my own growth as a musical forty plus it put my musical tastes fr ...more
Oct 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This maybe had a little more performance detail than I would ever need but it's a very readable, very thorough look at the Newport Folk Festival and the events that led up to and came after Dylan's big electric night at the Festival. Wald really puts the evening in context - musically, politically, socially, racially - with a deep understanding of many of the personalities involved. As much a book about Dylan (or Seeger) and music, it's about the changes that the 60s brought. Excellent cultural ...more
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
The author has a good understanding of the folk revival movement, which typically gets neglected in retellings of the fabled history of 20th century American and American-influenced music. The factions of the mid-'60s folk scene are still relevant as artists and listeners perennially wrestle with questions of new technology, commercialism, authenticity, social conscience, and the role of the individual artiste. ...more
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. ...more
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.
Bob Andwood
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Abundant content about the development of folk music in the 50's and 60's. Tons of background about the influence of Dylan and Seeger. And the shot heard round the world when Dylan plugs in at the '65 Newport Folk Festival and ushers in electric folk rock and blues. ...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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“The Beatles were particularly prominent examples, and Dylan’s central position in rock history is rooted in that brief period when he and the Beatles were running neck and neck. He released Bringing It All Back Home in the spring of 1965, Highway 61 Revisited that summer, and Blonde on Blonde a year later. Rubber Soul, the first Beatles album conceived as a cohesive artistic statement, was released in December 1965, followed by Revolver seven months later. In commercial terms the Beatles were in a different league: on the American market, they released four LPs of new material in 1965 and two in 1966, and each spent more than five weeks at number one on Billboard’s album chart, while Dylan would not have a number one album until the mid-1970s. But they were evolving from teen-pop hit-makers into mature, thoughtful artists, with Dylan as their acknowledged model. McCartney recalled playing him a tape of their new songs when he came through London in the spring of 1966: “He said, ‘O I get it, you don’t want to be cute anymore!’ That summed it up. . . . The cute period had ended. It started to be art.” 1 likes
“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
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