50 years later, Dylan’s electric guitar returns to Newport
The guitar that Bob Dylan used to go electric at the Newport Folk Festival 50 years ago is back in Newport.
“Dylan’s guitar is home,” festival producer Jay Sweet said through a spokeswoman Friday, the opening day of this year’s three-day outdoor festival.
Dylan used the Fender Stratocaster in his performance on July 25, 1965, when he strode on stage in a leather jacket and launched into the song “Maggie’s Farm.” The performance drew a mix of boos and cheers from the audience, from some who were thrilled by the performance and others who felt abandoned by someone who until then had been best known for singing protest songs with an acoustic guitar.
The moment is considered one of the most important in rock history.
Jim Irsay, owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, bought the guitar in 2013 for $965,000. It was the most expensive guitar ever sold at auction. The curator of his rare guitar collection, Chris McKinney, brought the guitar to the festival Friday, toting it with him as a carry-on a commercial flight, he said.
This weekend’s festival is paying tribute to Dylan’s performance in a number of ways, including a still-secret lineup of around a dozen musicians on Sunday that will not be revealed until they step on stage. The festival is also hosting a discussion of a book out this month that examines the performance, and what led up to it, “Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties,” by Elijah Wald.
Organizers say they also hope the guitar can be played this weekend, although it has not been played in public in 50 years. It’s not clear yet who will play the guitar, although Sweet has said repeatedly that while an invitation was extended to Dylan, he would not be coming to the festival this year.
The last time he played at the Newport Folk Festival was in 2002.
“It (the guitar) is such an important part of musical history, and Dylan was our generation’s Shakespeare, so it’s our way to give back and share,” Irsay said.
A pilot who transported Dylan soon after the performance found the guitar on his plane and tried to return it to Dylan without success. His daughter auctioned the instrument.
Sweet asked McKinney to make sure it was in playable condition, so he checked through the instrument and changed the strings. The original ones Dylan used were thought to have still been on the instrument. Even though it hasn’t been played in decades, it still sounded good, McKinney said.
“It’s actually a good playing guitar,” he said.
McKinney said he plans to bring the guitar to the book discussion on Sunday. He said musicians also will be invited by the festival to speak on a film about Dylan’s 1965 performance and play the guitar if they wish.
He said Irsay would be thrilled if any musician wants to play the guitar onstage at this year’s folk festival.
“In his mind, they’re made to be played,” McKinney said.
This story has been corrected to show the last name of the Colts’ owner is Irsay, not Isray.