Dylan and His Reinvention at Newport, Song by Song

Written By Greg Kot

Bob Dylan’s evolution as a singer and songwriter, as traced through the songs he performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, ’64 and ’65.

“North Country Blues”:

Dylan grew up in the iron range in northern Minnesota, and this tale of a poor mining family’s plight is among his most personal.

“With God on Our Side”:

Dylan openly questioned the Vietnam War and religious hypocrisy in this as-yet-unrecorded song, which he played at Newport in ‘63.

“Only a Pawn in Their Game”:

Dylan performed this eulogy for Medgar Evers at Newport only weeks after the civil-rights activist’s slaying in Mississippi on June 12, 1963.

“Blowin’ in the Wind”:

By the time it was performed at Newport in ’63, the song had already become a civil-rights anthem and established Dylan as a star in the making.

“Mr. Tambourine Man”:

The jingle-jangle-morning lyrics, unveiled at Newport in ’64, marked a new chapter in Dylan’s songwriting, owing as much to French surrealist poetry and LSD as they did to contemporary events.

“It Ain’t Me Babe”:

Dylan gently tells the faithful that “I’m not the one you want, babe, I’m not the one you need.” At Newport, it becomes a duet with Baez.

“Chimes of Freedom”:

Even in this ostensibly topical song, the singer’s lyrical imagination was leaping into the metaphorical and metaphysical.

“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”:

By ’65 Newport, even Dylan’s love songs were embracing a zen-like mysticism: “She knows there’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all.”

“Maggie’s Farm”:

Mike Bloomfield’s jagged guitar and the charging rhythm section at Newport underpins this new burst of agitation.

“Like a Rolling Stone”:

How does it feel? Dylan’s phrasing says as much as the corrosive lyrics.

“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”:

“Don’t follow leaders,” Dylan warned on “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” This song offers a gentler but no less biting take on that sentiment.

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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