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Fifty years ago, the well-loved musician Bob Dylanplayed at the Newport Folk Festival and was widely booed. The audience mayhave been unhappy but Dylan’s performance helped change the direction ofmusic and culture in the United States.

The mid-1960s were a time of great change. One such place of change was the world of folk music. Music legend Bob Dylan became a symbol of changewhen he moved from acoustic to electric guitar.


In this 1963 file photo, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan perform at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island.

Rock music historian Elijah Wald has written a new book about the change. It is called "Dylan Goes Electric."

"There was a moment in the early sixties where you could look at the Billboardcharts and seven of the top 10 albums were folk records. And Joan Baez,Peter Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, all had huge, huge, huge number-onerecords."

And then this happened: The “British Invasion” introduced the world to theBeatles and grew a huge fan base for rock music. That worried many folkmusicians, says Elijah Wald.

"In 1964, the Beatles had hit. By the summer of 1965, a lot of people in the folkscene were sort of feeling like their world was threatened."

They hoped that Bob Dylan would come to the rescue. Dylan was a majorartist in folk music, a powerful songwriter and unusual singer.

In 1965, Dylan was booked to perform at the Newport Folk Festival in RhodeIsland. He had performed at the festival in 1963 and 1964 with folk singer JoanBaez. The crowd was expecting to see a similar show, with a traditionalsound like this.

Instead, a new Dylan sound came from the stage.

Bob Dylan had gone electric, and the followers of folk music were not pleased.

“When Dylan went electric, I think one of the issues was the feeling that -- waita minute, he's gone over to the enemy."

At first the Newport audience was quiet, seemingly in shock. Then, the crowdbegan to boo.

Folk lovers had looked to Bob Dylan to save their movement from rock androll. But, author Wald says Dylan felt differently about the music genre.

"Dylan had always liked rock and roll and Dylan didn't think of rock and roll asstupid music."

In fact, Dylan was a Beatles fan. He later said that from the first time he heardthe Beatles he knew "they were pointing to the direction where music had to go."

"Honestly, once the Beatles hit, I think the writing was on the wall. But whenDylan went with the Beatles on that one: that was that. That was essentiallythe end of the folk scene as a huge mainstream pop trend."

Beyond the music, Dylan's performance that night also marked a turn inAmerican culture.

"Before 1965 was really a different world, and it's the '60s of the Civil RightsMovement, and of folk music and of joining arms across the generations andacross the races. And after 1965 it's the world of rock…I'm not saying thatDylan created that change, but I do think that the confrontation at Newporthappened because it was symbolic of that much larger confrontation, and has been remembered because it really is sort of the moment of rupture wherethe new '60s emerged."

I’m Caty Weaver.

Eric Felten reported and wrote this story from Washington. Caty Weaveradapted it for VOA Learning English. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

boo– v. to make a sound that shows dislike or disapproval of a performanceor action by someone

genre – n. a particular type or category of literature or art

mainstream– adj. largely acceptable and widespread

trend – n. a general direction of change: a way of behaving, proceeding, etc. that is developing and becoming more common

confrontation– n. a situation in which people, groups, etc., fight, oppose, orchallenge each other in an angry way

rupture– n. a break, opening or area of damage

emerge – v. to rise or appear from a hidden or unknown place or condition: tocome out into view

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