Bob Dylan's 1965 Newport Folk Set Proved He Was the 'Greatest Poet' of His Generation

Front page of the Village Voice, August 5, 1965
Front page of the Village Voice, August 5, 1965
The Village Voice archives

Since 1959, the Newport Folk Festival has sprawled alongside Narragansett Bay for one weekend in late July (or early August, depending on the year) for the sake of celebrating the best and most beloved talents in modern folk music. The soundtrack for the first few renditions of the festival in Rhode Island featured mainly banjo, acoustic guitar, and fiddle, but Bob Dylan made history in 1965 when he opted to leave the soft strumming in the Village and plugged in for an electric set that would go on to become one of the most iconic moments in American rock 'n' roll history.

It's been fifty years since Dylan Went Electric, and from there Newport Folk has gone on to challenge the definition of folk music as we know it, booking a lineup that grows increasingly diverse with every passing year and moving steadfast rock 'n' rollers like Jack White to tears. At the time the crowds — which reached 76,000 strong in 1965 — weren't convinced: Dylan's hard left turn into a new sound infuriated some Newport Folk patrons, and the Voice's correspondent on assignment, Arthur Kretchmer, rolled his eyes at the fact that "the greatest poet of this young generation" was more or less met with a resounding chorus of boos for bringing rhythm and blues to a crowd that wasn't ready to hear it.

Kretchmer also predicted the future — or at least had a strong inkling that that one set would go on to solidify Dylan's place in popular music history. "The irony of the folklorists and their parochial ire at Dylan's musical transgressions is that he is not Guthrie or the Shangri-Las, but this generation's most awesome talent. And in 60 years you will read scholarly papers about his themes (terror, release) and the images (so similar to the disharmonies and exaggerations of a William Burroughs). And those learned men will be benefited by the most comprehensive set of readings that any poet ever provided."

Here's Kretchmer's review of Dylan's 1965 set, which will be revisited at Fort Adams on July 26. Newport Folk hasn't confirmed what its plans for the " '65 Revisited" set are, exactly; the only guarantee is that the talent assembled (which will include some of the bigger names from the festival's 2015 lineup, to be sure) will do its damnedest to re-create Dylan's '65 set. Whether or not they'll do the greatest poet of Kretchmer's generation justice remains to be seen, but high hopes abound for "Maggie's Farm" and more.

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