New Street proudly announces the publication of Dylan at Newport, 1965: Music, Myth, and Un-Meaning. Author Edward Renehan explores the cultural and historical significance of Dylan’s electric performance with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, and considers the question of what impact the event actually had on sixties culture generally and music in particular.

In Renehan’s view, the night has been mythologized to the point of absurdity. Dylan’s most pre-eminent chronicler Sean Wilentz has breathlessly described this evening as the night when “[Alan] Lomax along with Pete Seeger led the old guard that objected to the blasts of white-boy electricity, including Dylan’s.” Seeger biographer David Dunaway speaks of Dylan understanding that at Newport “the electric guitar meant a declaration of war” and that, intensely ambitious, he sought publicity by smuggling “rock into the citadel of folk music.”

In this narrative, battle lines were drawn, a fight waged, and a revolution begun. Acoustic was overthrown by electric. Traditional overthrown by commercial. And topical song overthrown by cynical and personal pop culture.

For this symbology to work, we need to believe that traditional acoustic music cannot be (and was not at that time already) commercial, that electric music can never be traditional, that electric music is always commercial, that the Newport Fest (only a few years old) represented some sort of “hollowed ground” of acoustic music, and that various other straight lines apply.

They don’t. This book examines how and why.

Edward Renehan has written critically-acclaimed books published by Oxford University Press, Crown, Doubleday, Basic and other houses. His previous book is Pete Seeger vs. The Un-Americans: A Tale of the Blacklist (2014). He lives near Newport, RI.