Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival
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Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival
Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival
Genre Blues, jazz
Location(s) Ann Arbor, Michigan
Years active 1969-70, 1972-74, 1992-2006, 2017

Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival is a music festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that started in 1972 from the Ann Arbor Blues Festival.[1] Although the festival has had a tumultuous history and suspended operations in 2006, it was restarted in 2017.

Although started with the support of the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival became a volunteer non-profit 501(c) event. What began as an outdoor concert became a full weekend of blues and jazz events. In addition to the daytime festival, evenings offered a choice of indoor (seated) concerts and live jazz in a club setting. Before it ceased operations in 2006, the festival organization expanded to include activities for children, educational outreach programs, and a Meet the Artist program which gave the audience a chance to meet performers.

The festival has included musicians such as Art Ensemble of Chicago, Count Basie, Booker T. & the MG's, James Brown, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Dr. John, Al Green, Yusef Lateef, Taj Mahal, Maceo Parker, Sun Ra, Bonnie Raitt, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor.

Events and venues

Although the outdoor festival was central, the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival became a daytime event. Outdoor evening shows were moved inside to venues such as the Michigan Theater and the club Bird of Paradise. In 2017, the festival returned to its roots as an outdoor event.

Saturday and Sunday outdoor concerts took place in Gallup Park, a 70-acre (280,000 m2) park straddling the Huron River in northeast Ann Arbor. The site can accommodate over 10,000 attendees and includes a main stage, a tent to shelter attendees, sponsor booths, a kid's tent, food and vendor booths, arts booths, the Meet the Artist tent, and a backstage hospitality area reserved for artists, sponsors, and their guests. The largest evening concert took place in the restored Michigan Theater. Headline jazz and blues artists appeared.

The Bird of Paradise Jazz Club, run by jazz musicians in Ann Arbor, attracted jazz aficionados to two Friday night and two Saturday night concerts. The Bird of Paradise closed in 2004.[2]

Honoring its origin as an outdoor festival, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival 2017 was on a grassy field at Washtenaw Farm Council Fairgrounds a few miles to the southwest of the 1969 festival.


The first North American all-out festival for the blues was the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. It featured artists like Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, B.B. King, Otis Rush, J. B. Hutto and the Hawks, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, Freddie King, and other modern-electric blues players. The festival also featured traditional blues artists like Son House and those in between, like Clifton Chenier and Roosevelt Sykes.

The Ann Arbor Blues Festival was created and organized by a group of University of Michigan students led by Cary Gordon. The first two festivals were sponsored by the University Activity Center of the University of Michigan and Canterbury House, an Episcopal Church. This came about when the University of Michigan would not approve the $40,000 budget, and Gordon recruited Canterbury House as a cosponsor.

Late in 1968, Gordon, John Fishel and a small group of students traveled to Chicago where they met with Bob Koester of Delmark Records and heard some of the great blues men in the South Chicago bars and clubs.

Their chief worry was whether, in the commotion of returning to school, students would have time to grasp what a blues festival was all about. Therefore, they decided to hold a warm-up concert in the spring of 1969, so that everyone on campus could preview the music and build an appetite for the coming festival. The preliminary concert was held in the University of Michigan Union Ballroom, featuring the Luther Allison Trio, a young blues group from Chicago. It was very much a success and the larger festival was scheduled for the fall.

The first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 included blues artists as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Mama Thorton, Mississippi Fred McDowell and many others. The festival made a small profit. It was an artistic success and it was decided to make this an annual event.

Cary Gordon left the university after graduating, and John Fishel took charge. The program for the 1970 festival listed Roosevelt Sykes, Bukka White, Mighty Joe Young, Jimmy "Fast Fingers" Dawson, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Lazy Bill Lucas, Houndog Taylor, Fred McDowell, Juke Boy Bonner, Luther Allison, Albert King, Robert Pete Williams, Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Young, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Big Joe Turner, Bobby "Blue" Bland, John Jackson, Papa Lightfoot, Little Brother Montgomery, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Mance Lipscomb, Little Joe Blue, Big Mama Thornton, Little Jr.Parker and Son House - probably the largest assembly of early blues performers ever to appear together at one festival.

However, the 1970 festival ran into stiff competition from a large rock concert being held at the same time nearby. The Goose Lake International Music Festival drew attendees away from the blues festival, with the result that the festival lost $30,000. John Fishel went on to create four additional blues festivals in Miami from 1972 through 1974.


After the loss in 1970, the university was unwilling to fund an unprofitable event, so the festival was canceled in 1971. The expansion of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1972 was primarily the work of Peter Andrews and John Sinclair. Andrews managed bands and promoted music in Ann Arbor for several years on his own and under the auspices of the University of Michigan in his position as events coordinator. Andrews had business experience and promotional skills. Sinclair had experience as manager of the MC5. Sinclair provided the creative side of the equation and Andrews the business and booking skills. They planned to continue the festival with modifications. First, they expanded the festival to include jazz as well as blues, so it became the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. Second, while preserving the blues acts of the times, they wanted to add enough headliners to increase attendance and profitability. They had no financial supporters, but Sinclair found a friend willing to contribute $20,000.

In 1972 and 1973, the addition of headline acts like Ray Charles and Miles Davis drew more people. Both the 1972 and 1973 festivals attracted from 12 to 20 thousand people.[3][4] The 1973 festival incorporated a Detroit blues review, and Bobo Jenkins was one of the headline acts. Music from this performance was issued in 1995 by Schoolkids Records with two songs by Jenkins.[5]


In 1974 the festival promoters were denied permission to hold the event in Ann Arbor, so the 1974 festival was held at a small college in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Preparations included carpools for taking fans from Michigan to Canada. But the FBI and other law enforcement officials prevent fans from crossing the border.[]

They prevented John Sinclair, co-producer of the festival, from entering Canada. No reasons were given at the border for turning back cars.[] Cars were searched. Any drugs that were found were detained and their occupants arrested. At the gates in Windsor anyone found smoking marijuana or carrying it was arrested and taken to jail. The festival lost over $100,000.[]


For several years the festival was inactive. Andrews approached city officials about reinstating the festival. He was sent to the Parks Department, where he was turned down. Andrews was helped by Lee Berry, a music promoter in Ann Arbor who bypassed the parks commission and addressed the city council. After eighty meetings, the council voted unanimously to restart the festival. Changes in 1992 included the introduction of venues in addition to all-day and all-night outdoor concerts. Outdoor night concerts were replaced by indoor events, including sit-down concerts at the Michigan Theater and night shows at the Bird of Paradise.

The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival was again under the direction of Andrews and scheduled begin as a free festival in the fall of 2007. The festival and the city tried to collaborate to continue the event. But the festival wasn't held in 2007.[6]


Following its hiatus of over a decade, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival was held on August 19, 2017. Encouraged by local blues performer Chris Canas, Ann Arbor resident and founder of the Ann Arbor Blues Society, James Partridge[7] promoted and managed the event. The single-day festival was at the Washtenaw Farm Council Fairgrounds (42°12?41?N 83°47?41?W / 42.21139°N 83.79472°W / 42.21139; -83.79472Coordinates: 42°12?41?N 83°47?41?W / 42.21139°N 83.79472°W / 42.21139; -83.79472).

Performers included Blair Miller, Tino G's Dumpster Machine, Alabama Slim, Hank Mowery & the Hawktones (featuring guitarist Kate Moss), the Norman Jackson Band, the Chris Canas Band, Eliza Neals & the Narcotics, the Nick Moss Band, and Benny Turner & Real Blues. Although Melvyn "Deacon" Jones and Brandon "Taz" Niederaurer were scheduled to be Benny Turner's guests, circumstances prevented either from appearing. Deacon Jones died on July 6, 2017, and Niederaurer's travel arrangements were foiled due to inclement weather. Nick Moss replaced Niederaurer on guitar at the festival. The 2017 Ann Arbor Blues Festival was dedicated to Deacon Jones.

See also


  1. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 219. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  2. ^ Michalowski, Piotr (January 2012). "Return of an icon - Ron Brooks at the Ravens Club". Ann Arbor Observer. Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ Rolling Stone. 12 October 1972. in which about two dozen blues and jazz artists played for crowds estimated at times to be as high as 16,000 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ The New York Times. 9 September 1973. Silver-haired Count Basie stepped up to the microphone Friday night, smiled a beneficent smile and welcomed 14,000 cheering young people to the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz festival... By last night more than 20,000 young people had streamed into this college town from all over the country Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Reif, Fred. "Bobo Jenkins". AllMusic. Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ Glenn, Alan (27 August 2009). "Singin' the Ann Arbor Blues". Ann Arbor Chronicle. Retrieved 2010.
  7. ^ Hansen, Logan, T. (January 6, 2017). "Up and Coming Blues Society Bringing the Blues Back to A2".

External links

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