Celebrate musical evolution in July
What: On a hot Sunday in July, folk musician Bob Dylan walked onto a stage in Rhode Island in front of an adoring audience, who booed him within minutes. Their disapproval came when Dylan plugged in an electric guitar instead of strapping on his acoustic. The change in sound sharply divided his fans, and also changed the future of popular music. Commemorate this pivotal moment in music history on July 25, its 46th anniversary.
Background: Dylan had been a regular at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, performing with nothing more than his acoustic guitar and harmonica. His role in the American folk music revival, with its grassroots spirit and introspective lyrics, made Dylan and his music symbols of the era’s social unrest. But by appearing amplified, with a band, and on an electric guitar, many saw Dylan as abandoning his style and meaning in favor of a more mainstream rock sound. His move made music lovers revisit their view of the electric, and opened the door for a whole new sound.
Story Pitch: Times have changed, and both the acoustic and electric guitar have moved far beyond the genres of folk or rock. Guitar manufacturers and vendors can pitch around this event by focusing in on the instruments Dylan has used in all phases of his career. Contrasting how guitars have changed in some ways and stayed the same in others can showcase both the advances and the history of the instrument. Some accounts of Dylan’s electric performance have said he got a bad response because of poor sound quality. Whether or not that’s the case, acoustic engineers and band equipment manufacturers can address how poor production or equipment can affect the audience’s experience, and how their products work to give the best performance.
Story Hook: When Dylan toured in 1966, he did half of each concert with an acoustic and half with an electric guitar, leading to mixed reactions of both applause and jeers. What other musicians have made large shifts in style that then rippled through their audience and music as a whole? Keep the following in mind when making your pitch:
- What was happening in music at the time that Dylan’s switch to electric was seen as a betrayal? What reputation did electric guitar music have?
- How did the growing popularity of electric guitar music impact people learning to play guitar?
- The electric sound quickly grew and became a big hit with the counterculture. Along with Dylan’s switch, what influenced this acceptance?
- What standard equipment do modern acoustic and electric performances have in common?
- What did Dylan’s contemporary folk and rock counterparts make of his shift to electric?
Tips: Provide contact info for a music critic or historian who can talk about the significance of this event for not just Dylan, but music as a whole.
Audio Engineering Society
Bob Dylan at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Homepage of Bob Dylan
The International Guitar Research Archive
–Researched, compiled & written by Nicholas Testa
Event Dates & History Today from CHASE’S Calendar of Event
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