The Newport Folk Festival started in 1959 as a spinoff of the Newport Jazz Festival, a long running fixture at Newport Rhode Island. There are 4 stages at Fort Adams State Park with the seating area ovelooking the water and Jamestown Bridge. It’s a beautiful place for a concert.
The Festival has a history of introducing new artists and launching careers. Bob Gibson introduced then-unknown Joan Baez in 1959. Baez in turn introduced then-unknown Bob Dylan at the 1963 festival. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash (who later introduced Kris Kristofferson in 1969), and many others also got their first big exposure at Newport.
It was the 1965 Newport Folk Festival that will be remembered as the day of change or maybe the beginning of the end for Folk Music. Bob Dylan was by then the one of the biggest folk stars and a Festival headliner. On July 25th Bob Dylan performed 3 of his hit traditional folk songs with acoustic instruments. Then he strapped on a Fender Stratocaster and ripped through a high energy set of electric amplified rock accompanied by Mike Bloomfield and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Dylan played 3 electric numbers, “Maggie’s Farm”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, and “Phantom Engineer”. The folk crowd was shocked and the boos may have outnumbered the cheers, but all together they were reported to be louder than the sound of the electric guitars. Dylan left the stage for a while and later came back to perform a few more acoustic numbers.
It was later debated whether the boos were from the shock of electric at the traditional acoustic festival, or that the quality of the electric sound was lousy. Others believe that it was because Dylan was held to a tight time allotment and they wanted more.
Whatever the reason, it was a watershed moment in the evolution of rock. Dylan got a similar reaction at his next concert at at Forest Hills Stadium. The crowd was split, half loved it, half wanted the old Bob Dylan back. They weren’t going to get him back.
As a side note, in 2005 The Pixies, a heavy duty alternative rock band best known for punk rock, played an acoustic set at Newport. Sort of like a reverse Dylan.
The Newport Folk Festival is still running. The format has changed a few times, but every summer, the world’s greatest folk artists meet, play, introduce new artistst and show off new works at Newport.