That’s right. I was there. In the very cheap seats, it’s true. But I heard the Man make the shift from acoustic to electric. The Newport Folk Festival of 1965. I was more surprised at the reaction of the crowd than the set that he performed. Lots of us familiar with him from the Village could have told you that he was anything but predictable. Change came easily to him. Unlike some of us mired in the molasses of what we assumed was a centuries-long tradition. So many Folkie purists seemed to think that folk music was now ” as it had been in the beginning and would be forever – Amen!”
As I was departing the Village at the end of the previous winter, folk-rock had started appearing in the venues. Dick and Mimi Farina were experimenting and finding no intense conflict with what they wrote and electrification. So the reports of the fathers of folk having fainting spells and fits may have been overreported. Those who desired a return to pure folk orthodoxy beseeched in vain. Soon everyone was exploring the possibilities of turning on the amp.
Some opted for a combination of sound – part acoustic and part electrical. Later on, when the instrument industry learned to add pickups to otherwise acoustic guitars, that left them sounding like acoustics with a bit of added juice that was much easier.
But the purists did everything shy of sending door knockers in Folkie Occupied Territory: ” Would you like to sign this petition condemning Bob Dylan to the eternal fires of perdition forever, sir or miss?”
There were ruptures in relationships, loud arguments, and even a few disruptions in serious drinking at the Harvard Gardens on Boston’s Beacon Hill.
Eventually, the waves propagated in the Folkie pond dissipated. We got older, and the great event shrank down in significance to more important items on our agendas: Civil Rights and the war in Vietnam.
Later still, many of my folkie compatriots returned to college, went to work in brokerage firms, family businesses, banks, or high tech firms. Things like stock options and 401 k plans occupied their imagination. Many lied about participation at Woodstock and danced to the electrical music.
When asked to recall those moments in 1965 a bemused look comes over their face as they recapture their passion for seconds before returning to their present normal.
And I am thinking in the words of Dylan that ” Something is happening here. But you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mister Jones?”