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For rock historians, it's as iconic as the Beatles at Shea Stadium, Elvis in Hawaii or Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. He made history there in 1965 by trading in his acoustic guitar for an electric one, single-handedly changing the direction of rock.
Now Dylan's back - older, grayer, the voice punished by age, but still vital.
Although he turns 61 this month, Dylan is still a commercial force, playing more than 100 concerts a year and issuing platinum, Grammy-nominated albums such as last year's "Love and Theft."
Today, tickets go on sale for Dylan's appearance at the 2002 Apple & Eve Newport Folk Festival on Aug. 3.
The date kicks off both his summer tour and the two days of wide-ranging music at Fort Adams State Park, newly sponsored by a juice company from New York.
Dylan's return has been something that organizers have been trying to nail down since the venerable folk festival started up again in 1985 after a 15-year hiatus.
"For artists such as Bob and those of his stature, there are so many opportunities to play different places in the summer," said Robert L. Jones, the festival's producer and a Ridgefield resident.
Some acts can play to larger crowds at amphitheaters rather than a crowd of 8,000 at a folk festival, he said. "We're lucky to have gotten the big-name artists we've had."
But whether Dylan's return to the festival will make history again, "that would be up to him," Jones said.
Each of Dylan's previous three appearances - dating back nearly 40 years now - was at a key turning point in his career.
In 1963, when the festival was reinstated after a three-year break, Dylan was on hand all weekend as the rising star in folk; his "Blowin' in the Wind" becoming an instant anthem, alongside "We Shall Overcome."
A year later, he alienated some who thought he was the future of politically charged folk when he returned to introduce his more introspective, non-topical songs - soon to be released on "Another Side of Bob Dylan" - such as "It Ain't Me, Babe," and "All I Really Want to Do."
His 1965 appearance stands out the most. He plugged in with members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to roar through songs such as "Maggie's Farm" and what would become his biggest hit, "Like a Rolling Stone."
The boos that came from the audience - and the fact that he returned to the stage, almost apologetically, with an acoustic guitar - made the moment blow up into what writer David Hajdu ("Positively Fourth Street") calls "one of the most enduring myths of postwar popular culture."
Asked today about Dylan's appearance at Newport in 1965, Jones said, "I don't want to get into it."
But in a 1995 Courant interview, Jones said, "I don't remember it being as hectic as everybody says. Just the notion of someone going electric couldn't have been that alarming, because we had Muddy Waters and B.B. King playing electric instruments before that. I think it was the concept of going electric from acoustic for Dylan. For folk purists, this was a desertion."
Jones doesn't remember Dylan's appearances before 1965, although he attended as a volunteer in '63 and '64.
"My efforts in those years were centered on traditional artists I found with Ralph Rinzler, the folklorist," Jones said. "Our task, in the spring and fall, was to find traditional talent - we were finding Doc Watson, Cajun people, prisoners in Texas - to perform. My focus in those years was keeping those people in tow, and getting them around. There were some pretty wild people to keep track of."
Still, the Dylan booking is a reunion of sorts for Jones, who first met Dylan in Connecticut 41 years ago this week at the Indian Neck Folk Festival at the old seaside Montowese Hotel in Branford.
Jones himself was a folksinger. "I sang a lot of ballads," he said. "I wasn't a songwriter or anything. I liked the music."
Based in Boston, Dylan met Jones a few months later, and Jones introduced the 20-year-old folksinger to Eric Von Schmidt.
"Eric was my brother-in-law and had an apartment in Harvard Square," Jones said. "The Cambridge folk scene was big at that point."
In one session together, Von Schmidt taught Dylan the country blues of "He Was a Friend of Mine" and "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down." Dylan recorded the latter for his first album in 1962, saying that he had learned it "in the green fields of Harvard University," from Von Schmidt, who today is a painter in Westport.
But none of those events serves as Jones' favorite musical memory of his lifetime, much of which was spent as road manager for jazz artists.
"For me, at the early folk festivals, the most memorable moments were in the blues workshops in '63, when Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James came back. My others were a sacred music concert with Duke Ellington in Barcelona, and a Paris concert with Sarah Vaughan."
But, he added, "I'm hoping to see more such musical moments."
And for that reason, he hopes that the Newport Folk Festival this year isn't hailed for returning heroes such as Dylan and Arlo Guthrie, who will headline on Aug. 4.
The festival also features such other stars as Shawn Colvin, Jonatha Brooke, Dar Williams, the Ethiopian singer Gigi, bluegrass star Laurie Lewis and a Cajun band, the Hackberry Ramblers.
"We certainly understand the history of our event," Jones said, "but our focus is on the present."
Tickets for the Newport Folk Festival go on sale today through ticketweb.com. Information: 401-847-3700 or www.festivalproductions.net.