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The Night That Bob Dylan Went Electric

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Tomorrow marks 50 years since the night Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar. In 1965, the singer took an electric instrument onstage at the Newport Folk Festival.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He was at a celebration of traditional American music, which made sense because Dylan - then in his 20s - was a folk music star who was about to make himself into something more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let's go.

GREENE: We're listening here to one of those iconic moments in music history. It's said to be a moment when pure folk music blended with rock music, or more precisely, folk music was co-opted. In any case, it was loud.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAGGIE'S FARM")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) I ain't going to work on Maggie's farm no more.

INSKEEP: Murray Lerner was there. He was a filmmaker shooting the festival, and he sensed the atmosphere as Dylan stood on stage.

MURRAY LERNER: You know, the whole outfit, the black leather jacket and the darkness on the stage made me feel that it could, you know, lead to something bad.

GREENE: And so Lerner did what any good cameraman would do.

LERNER: I leapt on the stage for a good deal of it and took extreme close-ups of him.

GREENE: The footage was later used in a film "The Other Side Of The Mirror," which captured why this moment was so electric.

LERNER: Dylan had always been a center of dissention and negativism among a lot of the pure folk people because he was rewriting the songs and writing his own songs. And he was a big star and they didn't like him being that big a star. So when he went electric, it really increased their worry about what he was doing in this position.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAGGIE'S FARM")

DYLAN: (Singing) Well, I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them. They say sing while you slave. I just get bored. I ain't going to work...

LERNER: I was not expecting that at all, but when I really surrendered to it when it happened, I was thrilled actually. And I saw that this was going to be a new wave of not only music but culture, I thought.

INSKEEP: Lerner may have been right, but when you hear the footage, it's clear that at the time not everybody was ready.

LERNER: Yes, there was definitely a mixture of booing and applauding.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DYLAN: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Here we have part of the alchemy of culture and fame. The people booing in the audience only made Bob Dylan more famous.

GREENE: And when filmmaker Murray Lerner returns the Newport Folk Festival this weekend, he will still be talking about that night 50 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A ROLLING STONE")

DYLAN: (Singing) Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you? People call, say, beware, doll. You're bound to fall. You thought they were all kiddin' you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.