Newport Folk Festival, 1964

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People get really upset when they go to see a band and they don’t get to hear the hits. Some of them get impatient and  start yelling out the titles, as if the band doesn’t know which songs are the popular ones. They fume if they don’t get the hits at all (I left a Bob Dylan concert once and heard someone in the parking lot complain that he had played only obscure material on a night that he had performed probably eight tracks from his greatest hits albums). Dylan certainly could provoke people this way.

Dylan’s setlists at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964 were not aimed at pleasing the crowd. It’s wasn’t as bad as the next year, when he would show up with a band in tow, but it was a remarkably hit free show. I am a little confused about what exactly he played and when (I received a dvd of The Other Side of the Mirror yesterday, but am not going to watch it until next week, maybe it will straighten me out), but it is clear that most of what he performed for the crowd were new songs.

On the evening of July 26, for example, Bjorner.com has him playing three songs from Another Side of Bob Dylan (which was not yet recorded nor released), “With God on Our Side” (with Joan Baez), and “Mr. Tambourine Man” (which wouldn’t be released until Bringing It All Back Home in 1965). At other sessions during the festival he did another version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe”, also from Another Side of Bob Dylan.

Listening to the recordings, it is clear that the crowd is appreciative, but they don’t seem enraptured (it’s hard to tell how well the crowd sound was mic’ed though…). Dylan was in the process of not giving them what they wanted. All the biographies agree that the old line folk writers at the magazines were critical of his sets (too personal, not socially engaged, not traditional). Dylan simply advanced the break that was coming. Another Side of wouldn’t cause the inevitable rupture, but it signalled its inevitability and he gives them this material rather than his “voice of a generation” hits.

As for the recordings, a nice version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” with Joan Baez, but an absolutely off-putting “All I Really Want To Do” where he yodels too much to open his set on the final evening. That yodelling has to go, because combined with his refusal to really give his audience what they would’ve expected, it was semi-fortuitous that they didn’t turn on him a year early.

Here he is playing “Mr. Tambourine Man” at an afternoon workshop. I love Pete Seeger sitting there in the background.

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