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Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan

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Dylan at Newport

The Newport Folk Festival was renowned for introducing a number of performers who went on to become major stars, most notably Joan Baez (who appeared as an unannounced guest of Bob Gibson in 1959), and Bob Dylan, whose first Newport appearance in 1963 is generally regarded as his premiere national performance. Dylan became the artist most famously (and infamously) associated with the festival. In 1963 and 1964, Dylan was accompanied by Joan Baez. When he appeared there in 1963, people may not have known him but they certainly knew his songs. At that moment, Peter, Paul, and Mary were enjoying massive success due to their popular cover of Dylan's "Blowin In The Wind". He was almost unknown when he came as Joan's guest, but Bob Dylan left Newport '63 a star.

The Other Side of the Mirror is the wonderfully entertaining documentary about Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival 1963, 1964, and 1965. In this, we see Dylan as the acoustic folk performer making the transition to rock and roll.

Probably the most important reason to view this documentary, however, is to observe Dylan’s visual, vocal and professional transformation during this short two year period. In 1963 Dylan is dressed in the de rigueur work shirt and denim jeans with an unmade bed of a hairdo. His voice is, to be kind, reedy and scratchy, and his songs sung at that time are things like Blowin’ in the Wind (done here with Baez and others in an incredible finale) and With God on Our Side (with Baez) reflecting the influence of traditional folk themes and of a style derived from his early hero Woody Guthrie. These performances send chills up and down my spine.

Newport 1964 is a transition. The hair is somewhat styled, the outfit more hippie than traditional folk garb, the voice is stronger reflecting the established fact that he is now ‘king of the hill’ in the folk world. And he sings things like the classic "Mr. Tambourine Man" that give a hint that he is moving away from the tradition idiom. Ironically, he performs "Mr. Tambourine Man" at the protest songwriting workshop.
Newport 1965 gives us the new Dylan. The one that once we think we have him pegged slips away from us. Here we get no mixing it up with Baez or other folk singers but a rollicking blues band to play Maggie’s Farm and the-soon-to-be-anthem Like A Rolling Stone. Then back to acoustic with It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and Love Minus Zero, No Limit. All done in a very strong and confident voice that says here it is, take it or leave it.

This film, seemingly consciously, shies away from an investigation of any of the controversies of the time concerning the direction of Dylan’s work. Pete Seeger’s only shot on film was to introduce Dylan at the 1964 festival. The most controversial subjects addressed seem to be whether or not it would throw the schedule off to give into the crowd and have Dylan play longer. This film will go a long way in solving any lingering controversy about whether Dylan belongs in the folk pantheon.

We have all heard the stories about the madness that ensued when Dylan appeared on stage at Newport '65 with his electric guitar in hand, and a blues band behind him. The audience was outraged that their folk hero went "rock and roll" at such a sacred festival; Pete Seeger even tried to cut the power with an axe! Yes, they're all great stories...but none of them are true. Personally, I've never believed that the boos that day were directed toward Dylan because of the actual music he was playing.

This is what is on the tape made on stage at Newport, Rhode Island, on the night of July 25, 1965:

YARROW: One, two. Can I have some volume on this microphone? Hello. One, two. Ladies and gentlemen, at this time there's a little microphone setup to be done. Cousin Emmy's a gas, right?

[laughter, applause]

There's someone that's coming on to the program now, as a matter of fact, the entire program tonight was designed to be a whole group of small performances. You know I will be performing later with the group that I'm a part of, you know. [Yarrow was a member of a pop-folk group named Peter, Paul & Mary.]

[light applause]

And we are all limited in the time that we can be on stage for a very specific reason. The concept of the program tonight is to make a program of many, many different points of view that are together and yet without the huge expanse of the performing of any group. We will be very limited in time and so will each person who comes up. The person who's coming up now

[a single note from each string of an electric guitar struck by someone apparently checking the tuning]

Please don't play right now, gentlemen, for this second. Thank you.

[three more guitar notes]

The person who's coming up now is a person who has in a sense

[two brief bursts of feedback hum]

changed the face of folk music to the large American public because he has brought to it a point of view of a poet. Ladies and gentlemen, the person that's going to come up now

[Yarrow pauses a long time, drawing it out; a few hoots at the pause from the audience]

has a limited amount of time

[very loud booing and yelling, shouts of "No, no, no"]

his name is Bob [pause] Dylan

[enthusiastic and sustained cheering and applause from the audience that had watched the electric band set up and which was now watching Dylan plug in his own electric guitar]

[a minute or so of noises of things being moved around, levels checked, voices talking about where to set things. No hoots, jeers, calls, or yells from the audience.Minutes 0:00—7.32  on the tape]

DYLAN AND GROUP: "Maggie's Farm,"

[applause, retuning, a voice says "Ready?" a little more tuning, Dylan says "Okay." 7:32—8:25]

DYLAN AND GROUP: "Rolling Stone" 8:25—14:19

[applause, returning, murmur of musician's voice, 14:19—15:03]

DYLAN AND GROUP: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry," 15:03—18:26

[applause, musician's voices saying "Let's go, man, let's go."Sounds of movement, which I take to be Dylan and the band moving off the stage, followed by audience yelling "No, no, no." 18:26—18:44]

YARROW: Bobby was


Yes, he will do another tune, I'm sure. We'll call him back. Would you like Bobby to sing another song? I don't know where he is.

[huge applause, happy yelling. "Yes, yes, yes."]

Listen, it's the fault of the, he was told that he could only do a certain period of time.

[audience yells]

Bobby, can you do another song, please? He's going to get his axe.

[audience chants: "We want Dylan, we want Dylan."]

He's coming.

[audience continues chanting: "We want Dylan. We want Dylan."]

He's going to get an acoustic guitar.

[audience continues chanting at the same level: "We want Dylan. We want Dylan."]

Bobby's coming out now. Yes, I understand, that's okay. We want Bobby, and we do. The time problem has meant that he could only do these few songs. He'll be out as soon as he gets his acoustic guitar.

[audience continues chanting: "We want Dylan. We want Dylan." Then bursts into enthusiastic applause. 18:44—20:26]

[bit of microphone hum, harmonica testing, Dylan says "Peter, get" then a few words I can't make out. Tunes guitar. Dylan says, "You got another one?" A bit more tuning, mumbled conversation, occasional sounds from the audience 20:52—22:42]

DYLAN: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" 22:42—27:37

[applause 27:37—28:32, someone in the audience yells "Tambourine, Bobby." Someone else yells, "Tambourine Man." Dylan says, "Okay, I'll do that." Tunes, fusses. Dylan says, "All right." 29:13]

DYLAN: "Mister Tambourine Man," 29:13—35:29

[applause. Dylan says "Thank you very much." Audience calls "More, more."  35:29—35:40]

YARROW: Bob Dylan, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Bob. Thank you. The poet, Bob Dylan. Thank you, Bob. [audience continues applauding through this.] One, two. One, two. Thank you, Bob. Ladies and gentlemen, the next group that's coming up

[audience: "No! Bob!" Boos. Rhythmic clapping.]

is the group from which all this music started. You know the tradition of blues in our country originally came from the African tradition and the African tradition

[boos and rhythmic clapping continue]

Ladies and gentlemen, Bob can't come back. The African tradition, when it was brought over originally, was brought over into the deep South, and the music became, to a large extent

[boos and yells continue]

Ladies and gentlemen, please be considerate of Bobby. He can't come back. Please don't make it more difficult than it is. (35:40—37:04)

All the booing you can hear from the stage is in response to things Peter Yarrow said, not to things Bob Dylan did.

It was Peter Yarrow who first started drawing attention to what guitar Dylan was using. He twice said that he was coming back with an acoustic guitar, and he stressed it each time. I remember wondering at the time why Peter was making such a big deal of what instrument Dylan was going to use.

I've heard people say that Dylan himself gave proof of how upset he was at the boos when he came back to do those encores with that acoustic guitar rather than two more electric songs with the Butterfield group. Nonsense: Dylan and the blues band did three songs together because that was all the songs they'd prepared to perform together. They hadn't prepared more because they'd been told beforehand by us Newport board members that three songs was all they'd be allowed to do.

I think that this was just another story from Dylan's much talked about career that got blown out proportion.

Bob Dylan at Newport
Some of the other fantastic performers who made an appearance at the festival through out the years:
Richard and Mimi Farina with Al Kooper, 1965
Mississippi John Hurt, 1965
Son House, 1966
Eric Anderson, 1966
Bob Gibson, 1966
Tim Hardin with Harvey Brooks, 1966
Ramblin' Jack Elliot, 1966
Phil Ochs, 1966

"Bob Dylan freed your mind,
like Elvis freed your body."

Visitors since April 16, 2006: