Ann Arbor Blues Festival carries on at 50

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Photo courtesy of the Ann Arbor District Library Old News archive
Ann Arbor Blues Festival archival photos
Basie Thrills Them: Jazz great Count Basie rocks at the piano at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. The first night of the event attracted 12,000 enthusiastic music fans; the festival continues through Sunday at Otis Spann Memorial Field. Published in Issue: Ann Arbor News, September 8, 1973.

14 August 2019 | Martin Slagter | MLive

ANN ARBOR, MI – While the 50th anniversary revival of Woodstock — the most widely recognized outdoor music festival in American history — was called off, the 50th anniversary of another festival its organizer describes as “arguably more significant” lives on this weekend in Ann Arbor.

Organized by a small group of University of Michigan students led by John Fishel and Cary Gordon, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in the summers of 1969 and 1970 came to represent the first modern electric blues festival in North America.

“Music was fundamentally changed, and that happened right here in Ann Arbor,” Ann Arbor Blues Festival Organizer James Partridge said.

The lineups assembled for those first festivals included names deeply embedded among the greatest blues artists of all time, including Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, B.B. King, Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, Freddie King, Hound Dog Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Son House, Big Mama Thornton and Mighty Joe Young and dozens of others.

“Without the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, so much of what we hear and what we know today couldn’t have happened,” Partridge said. “When the Ann Arbor Blues Festival first happened, people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf’s careers were, for the most part, on the downward slope. Most white people hadn’t really heard of them.

“It created shockwaves in the music world. Although Woodstock got much more press, the significance of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival is arguably greater.”

This weekend’s festival aims to celebrate the blues past and present, Partridge said, with three days of music set for Aug. 16-18 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Fairgrounds.

The festival’s headliners illustrate that mission, with Ann Arbor blues-rock guitar hero Laith Al-Saadi, representing a new generation, as Friday’s top billing, and Benny Turner returning to headline Saturday after playing the first festival in 1969 with his brother, Freddie King.

“When first putting together the festival and putting together a dream team, (Al-Saadi) is the first name I wrote down,” Partridge said.

Financial difficulties caused UM to cut ties with the festival after 1970, largely due to the Goose Lake International Music Festival happening near Jackson at the same time.

But the festival’s initial popularity eventually led to expanding the title to the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festivals, which took place in 1972-74, organized by local music promoter Peter Andrews and noted MC5 manager, poet and political commentator John Sinclair.

It featured an equally impressive roster of performers including Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Koko Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Sun Ra & His Arkestra, Big Walter Horton, Charles Mingus and Freddie King.

The festival remained an on-and-off-again part of the summers in Ann Arbor over the ensuing decades, until 2006. Partridge revived the festival in 2017 with an eye toward the 50th anniversary and the mission to introduce a new generation to blues music.

Closing out the festival on Sunday are The Kinsey Report with Carl Weathersby and Carlos Johnson. The group’s history of playing with legends, ranging from Muddy Waters to Bob Marley, represents their versatility as one of the most popular and innovative blues bands of the 1980s, Partridge said.

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The crowd at 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

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Jazz great Count Basie (left) rocks at the piano as his orchestra and singer Jimmy Ricks, (right), thrilled the audience at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. The first night of the event attracted 12,000 enthusiastic music fans; the festival continues through Sunday at Otis Spann Memorial Field.

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Yusef Lateef plays the flute in front of 20,000 at Blues-Jazz Festival. Published in Issue: Ann Arbor News, September 10, 1973

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Albert “Tootie” Heath plays with Yusef Lateef at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

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Robert Cunningham plays with Yusef Lateef at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

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The crowd at 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

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The crowd at 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

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Ray Charles entertains Blues-Jazz Festival fans. Published in Issue: Ann Arbor News, September 11, 1973.

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The crowd at 1973 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

Original Link: 50th anniversary of Ann Arbor Blues Festival aims to carry on tradition

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