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BOB DYLAN

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This article is stolen from the New York Times
August 5, 2002

Dylan, Once a Newport Heretic, Returns to Folk Festival Cheers

By JON PARELES NEWPORT, Aug. 4 ,2002. This time, nobody booed. Bob Dylan returned in triumph to the Newport Folk Festival on Saturday, to the cheers of a sold-out crowd of 10,000 people.
Dressed like a biblical prophet in a cowboy suit, wearing a good guy's white hat, he revisited four decades of his own songs, from 1962's "Blowin' in the Wind" to 2001's "Cry a While," and through them he reached back even further: to back-alley blues and mountain gospel, to rockabilly and string bands.
Mr. Dylan, 61, sang with serene defiance, grizzled humor and flickers of tenderness; an occasional grin broke through his deadpan. As if implying that this was just another gig, Mr. Dylan spoke only to introduce the members of his nimble, rollicking band. But the folk festival that once treated Mr. Dylan as a heretic had long since been remade in his image.
Mr. Dylan's last appearance at a Newport Folk Festival, on July 25, 1965, was the night he took the stage with an electric guitar and a blues band and started an uproar. It became a mythic and much-contested turning point in rock.
By 1965 Mr. Dylan had become the most important songwriter to emerge from the folk revival. Widely varying eyewitness accounts of the 1965 festival differ over why and how much he was booed: perhaps because of a loud sound system or a short set, more likely because he dared to rupture folky purity with rock instruments and ambitions. (A bootleg tape captured cheers.)
Although Mr. Dylan had already released the album "Bringing It All Back Home," with electric songs on one LP side and acoustic ones on the other, and the single "Like a Rolling Stone," the Newport appearance incited denunciations by old-line folkies, who fulminated that he was deserting the cause of well-meaning agitprop. And so he was: he had a mainstream culture to transform, forever raising the stakes for what could be said in a rock song.
Saturday's set here at Fort Adams State Park began with Mr. Dylan and his four-man band playing acoustic instruments and harmonizing like an old-timey string band; they sang a folk song, "Roving Gambler." Four songs later, when Mr. Dylan, Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell switched to electric guitars and Tony Garnier picked up an electric bass, one smart aleck shouted "Judas!," as an English concertgoer had in 1966. Other fans yelled "Plug it in!," as if atoning for Newport's past. But to get booed by this crowd, Mr. Dylan would have had to present himself as a hip-hop act, embracing something seen (incorrectly) as the younger generation's commercial rubbish.
The lineup for the 1965 Newport Folk Festival included bluesmen, gospel groups, fiddlers and banjo pickers alongside Mr. Dylan and fellow Greenwich Village songwriters. Through the days there were workshops on how to play dulcimer, autoharp, mandolin or fife; it was a do-it-yourself movement. Pop stardom was alien territory.
Robert L. Jones, who scouted rural talent for the 1960's festivals and who became the producer of the revived Newport Folk Festival in 1985, said that big draws like Joan Baez and Mr. Dylan subsidized the original festivals by working for the same fees as other performers. He said Mr. Dylan was paid $150 for Newport in 1965, $50 each for two workshops and the notorious concert; he did not disclose this year's fee. Much of the folk revival's do-it-yourself spirit reappeared in punk and collegiate rock in the 1970's and 80's, with a similar cast of self-taught musicians and hipster record collectors and equally righteous accusations of selling out.
Kate McGarrigle said, "It's kind of like sex. We've all done it, we just haven't done it together."
But they all seemed mild-mannered next to the thorny, cantankerous Mr. Dylan. Typically inscrutable, he wore a false beard as well as a long wig under his cowboy hat to send long straight locks dangling past his ears. A golden statue sat on his amplifier, perhaps to remind the audience he had won an Oscar. Was he singing a quietly venomous "Positively 4th Street" as a decades-later sneer at the Newport that had rebuffed him? Did he sing a bluesy "Desolation Row" for its line about "playing the electric violin"? Was he singing "Not Fade Away" to boast about his long career, or just to enjoy the New Orleans backbeat of George Ricelli's drumming? He wasn't saying. Unlike the majority of folkies then and now, Mr. Dylan has no interest in seeming kindly. He deals in paradox and apocalypse, revenge and sorrow, and he's continually revamping his songs. "Wicked Messenger," from the subdued "John Wesley Harding" album, became a vehement blues stomp; "Subterranean Homesick Blues" became an electrified hoedown, while "Blowin' in the Wind" was a weary elegy, short of self-righteousness. The band played lilting quasi-Appalachian music and raunchy blues; it swung the rockabilly rave-up of "Summer Days" and howled through "All Along the Watchtower." To Mr. Dylan and his band it was all folk music, all deep-rooted mongrel Americana; they were a folk festival in themselves, with no distinction necessary between unplugged and plugged-in, folk and rock. His music long since vindicated, Mr. Dylan was still pushing himself.

source New York Times



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