24th August – 23rd October
BOB DYLAN PLAYS THE ISLE OF WIGHT – 31 AUGUST 1969
When Bob Dylan accepted the invitation to play the Isle of Wight 50 years ago the British festival scene, as well as the Island itself, was changed forever. The large scale camping festival was invented, setting a new world standard, and the pathway to the giant and legendary 1970 event was set. It is difficult to imagine today how significant a coup had been achieved by the young Foulk brothers, Ronnie, Ray and Bill in the summer of ’69. Bob Dylan had reached mythical status, following a motorcycle accident in 1966, and had not appeared in a pre-announced concert since. New albums continued to be released and were reaching immediate iconic status. Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Hardin were massive hits, but word was that he may never appear live again. During his absence Dylan was variously described as a prophet, the Messiah, and ‘the leader of the sixties generation’.
How Bob Dylan chose the Isle of Wight over Woodstock is a fascinating story. His (estranged) manager, Albert Grossman, was in league with the organisers of an American festival, to which he had pledged his top artists: Richie Havens, The Band and Janis Joplin. Only Bob Dylan eluded the festival which had been sited at his home town of Woodstock. The strategy, aimed at persuading the reclusive star into coming out to play, succeeded only in fuelling his resentment. Meanwhile, Grossman’s partner, Bert Block, who was still on cordial terms with Bob, was in negotiation with Ray Foulk about a festival on the Isle of Wight. With this event scheduled for just a fortnight after Woodstock, Bob Dylan (according to his journalist friend, Al Aronowitz) ‘decided to go and play his own Woodstock.’
After the Foulks had undertaken the immense task of raising the requisite finance, Ray flew to New York and negotiated the contracts and signed Bob Dylan. Upon his return there was little over a month to confirm a fabulous bill of supporting artists and build a festival city at Woodside Bay, to present Bob Dylan to the world after a three-and-a-half year absence. When Dylan finally did appear in a new incarnation to fans from all parts of the world, the giant arena crowd received him enthusiastically but with some mixed reactions. The Isle of Wight Festival was lauded as a triumph and the benchmark in festival promotion. It would be Dylan’s only pre-announced concert in a seven year period.