50 years on, Bob Dylan's electric guitar comes back to Newport

  • AP
  • Updated: Jul 25, 2015 16:37 IST
Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter and writer. He is famous for songs such as Like a Rolling Stone, Positively 4th Street and Blowin in the Wind. (bobdylan/Facebook)

The Fender Stratocaster guitar that Bob Dylan used at the Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island in America 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 electric guitar in his performance on July 25, 1965, when he strode on stage in a leather jacket and launched into the song Maggie's Farm.


In this June 10, 2014 photo, Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay holds in Indianapolis the Fender Stratocaster guitar that Bob Dylan played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Irsay purchased it at auction for just under $1 million. Festival producer Jay Sweet said through a spokeswoman Friday, July 24, 2015, the opening day of this year's three-day outdoor festival in Newport, R.I., that the guitar had returned to the festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the performance when Dylan first went electric on stage. (AP)

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 (July 24 - 26) 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 in July 2015 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.

Organisers say they also hope the guitar can be played through the festival, 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.

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