by James Patridge
The 2017 Ann Arbor Blues Festival will return on Saturday, August 19th from 1 p.m. – 11 p.m. First held in 1969 and considered history’s first electric blues festival, this iconic event will be held at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds.
The festival will be a single day event. But the organizers anticipate that 2018’s event will be larger and that 2019’s Festival will be a celebration worthy of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival pedigree. The 2017 Ann Arbor Blues Festival will be dedicated to the memory of Melvyn “Deacon” Jones, who was scheduled to perform at this year’s festival before his untimely passing on July 6, 2017.
“This is the real deal,” said Peter Andrews, the promoter of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festivals. “This is a true blues show. And I urge everybody to go out there and support this effort so that it may continue to bring this kind of quality entertainment to the Ann Arbor area.”
The world’s first electric blues festival was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan in August 1969. That’s when a small group of University of Michigan students gathered what may have been the greatest lineup of blues musicians who ever lived for a 3-day celebration of Chicago-style blues. B.B. King. Muddy Waters. Howlin’ Wolf. Freddie King. John Lee Hooker. Luther Allison. Big Mama Thornton. Charlie Musselwhite. Buddy Guy. T-Bone Walker. The list goes on and on.
The lineup in 1970 was equally star-studded, cementing Ann Arbor’s reputation as the premier blues festival in the country. By 1972, the festival had been rechristened as the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, adding Count Basie and Miles Davis to its growing roster of music industry legends attracted to this midwestern mecca of jazz and blues. Atlantic Records released a 2-record live album of the 1972 Blues and Jazz Festival, featuring performances by Koko Taylor, Freddie King, Sun Ra, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, and Otis Rush, among others.
The Ann Arbor Blues Festival has been revived by James Partridge, Chris Canas, and other community members in anticipation of the 50th anniversary (2019) of the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival. They have begun the process of recreating and reenergizing the spirit of those first blues festivals. Along the way, they will invite a new generation of up-and-coming blues musicians to share the stage with the world’s legends, some of whom were present at the iconic festivals of the 1960s and 1970s. They have started making the plans needed to make the first revived festival a success.
The official lineup of the festival includes artists world-class performers such as Benny Turner & Real Blues, the Nick Moss Band, Eliza Neals and the Narcotics, The Chris Canas Band, Alabama Slim, and more. The goal for the 2017 Ann Arbor Blues Festival is to bridge the generations by showcasing renowned national talent, including artists who played at the original festivals, while highlighting the best young local and regional blues musicians – like 14-year old guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederaurer, fresh from Broadway where he starred in “School of Rock: The Musical.”
The original Ann Arbor Blues festival featured legendary artists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, and Luther Allison. Expanded in 1972 and renamed the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, the last Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival was held in 2006. Now 11 years later, community members are breathing life into the Festival once again.
“Ann Arbor doesn’t get enough credit for its contributions to the blues. My goal is to change that,” said James Partridge, one of the organizers of the revived festival. “It’s no exaggeration to say the Ann Arbor Blues Festivals changed the course of music history. Without them, much of the music we listen to today might never have been made. That’s an incredible legacy and something this town should be incredibly proud of.”
For more information or any questions about the festival check out the website at https://www.a2bluesfestival.com.