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Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival

Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival

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Published by Michael Erlewine
A brief history of the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival by official festival historian Michael Erlewine, founder of the All-Music Guide and author of the book “Blues in Black & White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals.”
A brief history of the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival by official festival historian Michael Erlewine, founder of the All-Music Guide and author of the book “Blues in Black & White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals.”

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Published by: Michael Erlewine on Jan 07, 2011
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The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival
The Ann Arbor Blues and JazzFestival
A Brief History
 By Michael Erlewine
Official historian for the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 
On a warm summer night, in August of1969, a legacy was born: severalthousand blues lovers gathered in asmall athletic field in Ann Arbor,Michigan to witness the first Ann ArborBlues Festival. By the time blues icon,B.B. King took the stage to close theshow, it was clear that somethingmagical was happening in this southeastMichigan college town. Few presentalso knew that music history was beingmade, for the 1969 Ann Arbor BluesFestival was the first blues festival of itskind in North America. It is still goingstrong in the year 2000.When we look back at the roster ofperformers at those first two Ann ArborBlues Festivals, it is hard to imagine thatall of this great blues talent managed toconverge in one spot, blues greats like
Bobby „Blue‟ Bland, Big Joe Turner,
Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, B.B.
King, Albert King, Freddy King, Lightnin‟
Hopkins, Howlin
‟ Wolf, Magic Sam,
Muddy Waters, Son House, T-BoneWalker, and Junior Wells, to name afew. And that was just the beginning.In 1972, the festival was expanded toinclude jazz and it became (and hasremained) the Ann Arbor Blues andJazz Festival ever since. Jazz stars likeMiles Davis, Count Basie, Sun Ra, theArts Ensemble of Chicago, PharoahSanders, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef,Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor haveplayed the festival, as well as topheadliners like Ray Charles, MaceoParker, Etta James, James Brown,
Booker T. & The MG‟s, Taj Mahal, Dr.
John, Bonnie Raitt, and Al Green.Although started with the support of theUniversity of Michigan, the Ann ArborBlues and Jazz Festival has, over theyears, become an all-volunteer, non-profit (501-c) event, supported by adedicated group of communityvolunteers working with the cityadministration. Since then, the scope ofthe festival has broadened expanded.What began as an outdoor concert hasnow become a full weekend of bluesand jazz events. In addition to thedaytime festival, evenings offer festivalgoers a choice of indoor (seated)concerts and live jazz in a club setting.Blues and jazz lovers wander the streetsof Ann Arbor, meeting, sharing meals,listening to the music they love, andcelebrating on into the night.In recent years, the Festivalorganization has been expanded toinclude activities for children,educational outreach programs, and the
very popular “Meet the Artist” program,
which gives the audience a chance tomeet and speak with performers, face toface.
The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival
Begun as a celebration of blues and
 jazz, the Festival‟s celebrates and
preserve blues and jazz, in this 21stcentury, ensuring that our grandchildrenwill also have the opportunity to knowand experience this uniquely-Americanmusic.
Festival Events and Venues
 Although the outdoor festival continuesto be the major focus, it is only adaytime event. Where before, therewere always evening shows outdoors,these have been moved inside to othervenues. The public is now given achoice for evening entertainment,featuring major artists, including indoornumbered-seat concerts held in thehistoric Michigan Theater. Overlapping,but running much later into the evening,Festival-goers can hear live blues and jazz artists at a local jazz club, the Birdof Paradise. This expansion of theFestival accomplishes at least twothings: first, it gives some protection forthe festival, should the outdoor event becompletely rained out; second, it offersfestival attendees some variety as tovenue. Many blues and jazz loversappreciate the indoor, seated-concertapproach, and the shows at theMichigan Theater are frequently soldout. For others, the live club scene is just the way they prefer to spend theirevenings, with plenty of music andconversation.
The Venues
Gallup Park Outdoor Concerts
Festival‟s Saturday and Sunday outdoor 
concerts take place in Gallup Park, aunique 70-acre park straddling theHuron River in northeast Ann Arbor, acity known for its excellent parks. TheFestival site can accommodate over10,000 attendees and features a largemain stage, a big tent to shelter
attendees, sponsor booths, the Kid‟s
Tent, food and vendor booths, artsbooths, the Meet the Artist tent, and tlastbut not least, the backstage hospitalityarea reserved for artists, sponsors andtheir respective guests. Ample parking isavailable at nearby Huron High School.Free shuttle buses pick concert goersup at the parking lots and drop them offat the gates of the Festival. Attendeesalso walk, cycle, skate, and canoe to theFestival.
The Michigan Theater
The largestevening concert for the Festival takesplace in a lovingly- restored art deco jewel, the historic Michigan Theater.Headline jazz and blues artists ofinternational renown pack the theatereach year. Fans of all ages often turnthe night into a dance party.
The Bird of Paradise Jazz Club
Thisintimate jazz club, operated by jazzartists in downtown Ann Arbor, attracts
the Festival‟s most ardent jazz
aficionados to two Friday night and twoSaturday night concerts. The buzz each
year about the Festival‟s featured artists
The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival
at the “Bird” can be heard in jazz circles
across the country.
The Ann Arbor Blues and JazzFestival: Historical Perspective
 There is no doubt that the first NorthAmerican all-out blues festival formodern-electric, city blues (in fact, alltypes of blues) was the Ann Arbor BluesFestival, held in the fall of 1969. Itfeatured artists like Muddy Waters,Junior Wells, B.B. King, Otis Rush, J. B.
Hutto and the Hawks, Howlin‟ W
olf, T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, Freddy King,and many other modern-electric bluesplayers. The festival also featuredtraditional blues artists like Son Houseand those in between, like CliftonChenier, Roosevelt Sykes, and manyothers.In Ann Arbor, the accent was off folkand country blues and on modern, big-city, electric blues artists. While theNewport Folk Festival featured morethan folk music and to a degree helpedblues to segue from folk and countryblues to more modern blues, it was inAnn Arbor that the first all-outextravaganza of modern city blues wasborn.There is no record of any blues festivalof any similar scope and extent thatpredates that first Ann Arbor BluesFestival, which was organized in 1968and held in 1969, much less one thatendures to the present day.
The Ann Arbor Blues Festival: What itWas
 The Ann Arbor Blues Festival was justthat: a festival of blues, including (andfeaturing) modern electric city blues --the first of its kind. It helped to mark thediscovery of modern blues music andthe musicians that made that music.However, the festival was somethingmore than just Black music for Whitepeople. It was somewhat of acelebration for the Black musiciansthemselves and the list of great bluesartists present, on or off the stage, reads
like a Who‟s Who of blues musicians, of 
all types alive at the time. They camefrom all over to play, of course, but also just to be together, to hang out.One young White festival volunteerwrote this:
“What a sight for me! There was my
dad, the controller of a small Michiganuniversity, and blues great RooseveltSykes, sitting on folding chairs, leaningback up against the chain-link fence,swapping stories and having beers allafternoon. They just liked each otherand were having a ball
. That‟s the way it
was all around
one big getting-to-know-one-
another party. It was special.”
The First Two Festivals
 Those first two Ann Arbor BluesFestival, sponsored by the UniversityActivity Center (UAC) of the Universityof Michigan and the Canterbury House,were organized by a small group of

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