Music journalist and musician Wald (Talking 'Bout Your Mama: The Dozens, Snaps, and the Deep Roots of Rap, 2014, etc.) focuses on one evening in music history to explain the evolution of contemporary music, especially folk, blues, and rock.
The date of that evening is July 25, 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival, where there was an unbelievably unexpected occurrence: singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, already a living legend in his early 20s, overriding the acoustic music that made him famous in favor of electronically based music, causing reactions ranging from adoration to intense resentment among other musicians, DJs, and record buyers. Dylan has told his own stories (those stories vary because that’s Dylan’s character), and plenty of other music journalists have explored the Dylan phenomenon. What sets Wald's book apart is his laser focus on that one date. The detailed recounting of what did and did not occur on stage and in the audience that night contains contradictory evidence sorted skillfully by the author. He offers a wealth of context; in fact, his account of Dylan's stage appearance does not arrive until 250 pages in. The author cites dozens of sources, well-known and otherwise, but the key storylines, other than Dylan, involve acoustic folk music guru Pete Seeger and the rich history of the Newport festival, a history that had created expectations smashed by Dylan. Furthermore, the appearances on the pages by other musicians—e.g., Joan Baez, the Weaver, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Dave Van Ronk, and Gordon Lightfoot—give the book enough of an expansive feel. Wald's personal knowledge seems encyclopedic, and his endnotes show how he ranged far beyond personal knowledge to produce the book.
An enjoyable slice of 20th-century music journalism almost certain to provide something for most readers, no matter one’s personal feelings about Dylan's music or persona.