Bob Dylan’s 1964 Strat Returns to Newport Folk Festival 50 Years Later

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Fifty years to the day after Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, his 1964 sunburst Stratocaster returned to the place where it all went down.

The guitar, now in the collection of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, made the unannounced visit to the Rhode Island festival on Saturday, July 25.

“Dylan’s guitar is home,” festival organizer Jay Sweet told the Associated Press.

Irsay bought the guitar at a Christie’s auction for $965,000 in 2013, making it is the most expensive guitar ever sold on the block. Explaining his decision to present the guitar at this year’s festival, Irsay said in a statement, “[This guitar] is such an important part of musical history, and Dylan was our generation’s Shakespeare, so it’s our way to give back and share.”

Dylan turned up for his Newport gig in 1965 with the Strat and an electric back-up band consisting of guitarist Mike Bloomfield, bassist Jerome Arnold, Al Kooper on organ, Barry Goldberg on piano and drummer Sam Lay. He performed “Maggie’s Farm,” his then-new hit “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Phantom Engineer,” an early version of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”

Audience reaction was mixed, with many in the crowd appearing to be receptive to the use of electric guitars while a faction of traditionalists were opposed to it. Some boos can be heard from the audience on recordings of the event.

After performing the three songs, Dylan abruptly left the stage, returning only after emcee Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, took to the stage and asked him over the P.A. system to come back. Dylan, with an acoustic guitar in hand, performed “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” before departing. He would not return to the festival again until 2002.

Dylan’s Newport Strat was lost for decades after his performance when he left it behind on a plane piloted by Victor Quinto. Dylan and Quinto’s daughter, Dawn Peterson, worked out a legal dispute over the guitar’s ownership, clearing the way for it to be sold by Christie’s auction house, in December 2013.

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