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Dylan Goes Electric

Plus a new dispute about an old guitar

Adam Chandler
July 25, 2012

Today in 1965, Bob Dylan famously went “electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, much to the chagrin of some of the audience who booed him as he played the song “Maggie’s Farm.” While long a seminal moment in the history of American music, in recent weeks, a new dispute has arisen about who actually owns the guitar that Dylan used on stage that day. On one side is PBS and on the other side, Bobby Zimmerman himself:

The New Jersey daughter of a pilot who flew Dylan to appearances in the 1960s says she has the guitar, which has spent much of the past 47 years in a family attic. But a lawyer for Dylan claims the singer still has the Fender Stratocaster with the sunburst design that he used during one of the most memorable performances of his career.

If the authentic ‘‘Dylan goes electric’’ guitar ever went on the open marketplace, experts say it could fetch as much as a half million dollars.

The guitar is the centerpiece of Tuesday’s season premiere of PBS’s ‘‘History Detectives,’’ and the show said late Wednesday it stood by its conclusion that Dawn Peterson, the pilot’s daughter who works as a customer relations manager for an energy company, has the right instrument.

Regardless of who actually has the guitar–I’ll take it if it’s just gonna gather dust in someone’s attic–it seems worth noting the event. Here’s Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, talking about the moment, what it meant, and how it was misunderstood:

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.