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Will Bob Dylan make history again in Newport?

Bob Dylan

A history lesson. When Bob Dylan played at Newport in 1965, he changed the course of music history. I know, it sounds like hyperbole. But looking back, over the course of popular music, hyperbole is easy to spot. When you eye its EKG, you can see the biggest blips, largely by studying what came before and what followed. It happened in 1956, and in '65, '69, '77, and '91. Can you guess what those moments were?

Up until the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, folk music consisted primarily of the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the singer-songwriter movement in Greenwich Village. The sounds were acoustic in nature, strummed wooden boxes led by singers more interested in the plight of politics and labor unions than palpable feelings of the heart.

Dylan fell comfortably into that mold. He was discovered in the Village by the visionary John Hammond of Columbia Records, who made possible his 1962 debut Bob Dylan and the surprise 1963 hit The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. By the time he sang at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, he was already being hailed as the very definition of the new protest singer, a standard-bearer for what was to come. Certainly his early work justified all the acclaim: "Song to Woody," "Blowin' In the Wind," "Masters of War," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." He fulfilled that promise and surpassed expectations with The Times They Are A-Changin' in 1964 and also showed there was more than protest in his agenda with the bittersweet "Mr. Tambourine Man" -- a hit he generously gave to Roger McGuinn and the Byrds.

That day in 1965, though, when he took the stage in Newport, stands as a defining moment in Dylan's career and of rock music in general. Rather than approach the polite, prototypically intellectual folk music crowd that gathered regularly in Newport with his protest poetry and acoustic guitar, Dylan defied them, slammed into them, with a barrage of electric noise, courtesy of Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield and their searing blues-rock guitars. A portion of the audience -- some say a majority, others who were there say less so -- was upset at Dylan's "switch" from folk to rock. Regardless, word traveled fast among the folk crowd and discontent followed Dylan at subsequent shows for more than a year.

Some say it was mostly folk purists who'd read about the Newport incident and joined the hate bandwagon. (Though Dylan's hard time at Newport is only preserved in the song "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35," the painful transformation gets full documentation on Live 1966.) The audience during this time was clearly divided between folkies and rockers. The polarity of their response actually increases the passion and intensity of the performances. At one point on Live 1966, unruly members of the audience tried to halt Dylan's performance by clapping in hostile unison. You hear all the stomping, booing and the now-famous cry of "Judas" from one audience member, and Dylan's ironic retort: "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" And he fires off another round of electric rock.

Well, 37 years have passed since that tumultuous time and Dylan never returned to the Newport. Until now. No one knows exactly why. Perhaps he felt he had made his mark. Indeed, the festival's brand name has reverberated with his impact since that very day. Now decades down the road, the man has lost much of his vigor. While he still rules over the world of the real folk blues in his own very silent way, the years have sapped his vitality, despite the occasional brilliance of his recent recordings.

But that doesn't diminish the importance of his appearance this year in our little town on the bay. It'll be a great treat to see him. Indeed, most of us there on Saturday didn't have the privilege of watching him batter the crowd on that day in '65. One wonders if there will be a few old Dylan vets there from that storied day, heckling him from the back rows. Perhaps they still have a bitter taste in their mouths. That would be funny.

NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL PREVIEW. Are you going to Newport? If so, you know that Dylan and Arlo Guthrie headline, depending on which day you go. Saturday, which is very sold out, also features Shawn Colvin, Jonatha Brooke, John Gorka, the Waifs, and Rosie Ledet. On Sunday, $45 gets you Dar Williams, Bruce Cockburn, fiddle fireplug Natalie MacMaster, sublime gospel blues dudes the Blind Boys of Alabama, folksinger Richard Shindell, and powerhouse popper Melissa Ferrick.

There are also three other stages at the Festival this year. There's the Borders Stage, which will present high-quality singer-songwriter-type folks. On Saturday you get the lovely Maura O'Connell and the wry Slaid Cleaves at the top, and on Sunday Shindell and pro bluegrasser Laurie Lewis. And don't miss the Hackberry Ramblers on Sunday. There will be a Roots Stage with some young and promising performers. On Saturday you can see Mark Erelli and Josh Ritter, among others, while Sunday stars the Resophonics and Maybe Baby.

There's a Family Stage, too, for the kiddies, a tented area with music and dance performances, puppetry, singalongs, storytelling, and crafts. And it's only $5 for kids under 12. That should ease the price-pain just a little.

WANDERING EYE. Word to Jason Kendall and a quick recovery. The poor guy got flattened while riding his bike downtown a couple of weeks ago. Hit and run. Blacked right out, no memory of what happened, though the pain is quite real. Separated shoulder and collarbone, bad road rash and various other contusions, the kinds of things only Vicodin can help. He and his band the Deterrents will be put on hold for a month. "Could you let people know why our shows have been canceled?" he asks. Our thoughts are with him for a full and speedy recovery.

On Friday (the 2nd) at the Green Room, the Midnight Creeps kick off their summer tour, hitting nine states with 12 shows, including the Beer Olympics party in Atlanta. Then they'll come home for a week and a half, just long enough to record their debut studio full-length that will be coming in the fall on Rodent Popsicle Records. After that, back on the road for Holidays In the Sun followed immediately by a tour with Funeral Dress and Carpo Regime. But for starters the show at the Green Room should be a good one, with the Creeps sharing the bill with the awesome Fast Actin' Fuses, Philly's Dead Empty, and Boston's Sugabomb.

There are a bunch of free shows this weekend, which is another good thing about summer. Planet Groove plays two of them, one at Johnston Memorial Park on Saturday from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday down in Wickford on the docks from 12 to 2 p.m. Details on their www.Planet There's another free one on Friday night at Waterplace Park, an evening of Celtic music and dance featuring Pendragon with step dancers Kevin Doyle and Kieran Jordan. Special guest will be East Greenwich native and flute player Skip Healy. Finally, there's a Latin Jazz show Sunday afternoon featuring Dan Moretti's Brazilia at the North Beach Pavilion down in Narragansett. The show starts at 3 p.m. Check for details.

If that ain't enough, on Saturday (8/3) you can help out a great cause and enjoy 10 bands for $10 at the Literacy Volunteers of America's Rock 'n' Read benefit, from 3 p.m. on through the night at the Blackstone in Cumberland. The full lineup is on the site: You have three chances to catch the Shivers this weekend. On Thursday (the 1st) they hit the New Wave in New Bedford, on Saturday they hold forth at the Bon Vue in Narragansett, and if you're in the mood for a road trip, they will be playing the Elbow Room in NYC on the 8th.

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Issue Date: August 2 - 8, 2002