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‟
‟ 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.