An unannounced set by My Morning Jacket wasn’t the only surprise on tap for this year’s Newport Folk Festival: Exactly 50 years to the day that Bob Dylan famously “went electric” at the long-running fest, the electric guitar involved in that controversial performance – Dylan’s 1964 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster – made an unexpected visit to this year’s Rhode Island fest on Saturday. “Dylan’s guitar is home,” festival organizer Jay Sweet said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay purchased Dylan’s Newport guitar in 2013 for $965,000, making it the most expensive guitar to ever hit the auction block. “[Dylan’s 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,” Irsay said in a statement about lending the instrument to the festival.
Chris McKinney, the curator of Irsay’s rare guitar collection, brought Dylan’s Fender Stratocaster back to the festival for the 50th anniversary, and according to the AP, the guitar was McKinney’s carry-on item on a commercial flight to Newport.
Although Dylan would later claim to have ownership of the Newport guitar, the Fender was actually lost for decades after Dylan accidentally left the instrument on the plane following the 1965 performance. However, it was revealed in 2012 that the pilot of that flight had the guitar in his possession in New Jersey, and after a legal battle over the instrument, the pilot’s daughter auctioned off the Stratocaster.
The guitar’s surprise appearance is just one of the many Dylan tributes celebrating the 50th anniversary of the singer’s July 25, 1965 performance at this year’s Newport fest. During Roger Waters’ headlining set on Friday, the bassist paid homage to Dylan by closing out his concert with a cover of Planet Waves‘ “Forever Young.”
Although July 25th marks the 50th anniversary of a landmark occasion in rock history, and even though Sunday’s headliner is a vague all-star tribute to Dylan simply titled “’65 Revisited,” Sweet swore to Rolling Stone that Dylan himself would not be appearing at this year’s Newport Folk Festival.
“I’m telling you: [Dylan’s] not coming. I put a call out very early on to his team 16, 17 months ago. ‘Hey, what’s the deal? Are we doing this? He’s obviously invited.’ And they said no,” Sweet said. “The best way we could represent it would be to bring the younger generation and have them interpret what happened in their own respects. The whole Dylan thing is ‘Don’t look back.'” Dylan last performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 2002.
Dylan’s guitar will also be in attendance during a discussion about Elijah Wald’s book Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties.