What is the
Ann Arbor Blues
North America’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, influenced by the ‘60s counterculture, defied racial prejudice and introduced 20,000 mostly white teenagers to a cadre of black blues musicians – many of whose songs were only known to mainstream Americans because they had been re-released by white rock and roll bands like Cream, Derek & the Dominos, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and the Rolling Stones. With help from music industry stalwart Bob Koester of Delmark Records, John Fishel and Cary Gorden assembled two dozen artists, now widely considered to be among the greatest blues musicians who ever lived, for a 3-day celebration of Chicago-style blues. B.B. King. Muddy Waters. Howlin' Wolf. Freddie King. Magic Sam. John Lee Hooker. Luther Allison. Big Mama Thornton. Charlie Musselwhite. Junior Wells. Mississippi Fred McDowell. Son House. T-Bone Walker. The list goes on and on.
The lineup in 1970 was equally star-studded, with artists like Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Rick Derringer, and Johnny Winter cementing Ann Arbor's reputation as the premier blues festival in the country. By 1972, famed concert promoter Peter Andrews and political activist John Sinclair teamed up to lead the festival, which they rechristened as the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. They added Count Basie, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and James Brown to the growing roster of music industry legends attracted to what was becoming the 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, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Hound Dog Taylor, Johnny Shines, Sun Ra, Dr. John, Sippie Wallace, Bonnie Raitt, Junior Walker, and Otis Rush, among others.
So why now?
The Ann Arbor Blues Festival is significant for far more than the fact that it was the first blues festival of its kind. Its significance is racial, it is cultural, and it is political. Through the power of music, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival united musician and audience, student and teacher, have-, and have-not, black and white. It influenced, and it inspired. It can safely be said, without exaggeration, that The Ann Arbor Blues Festival changed the world.
A half-century later, society is again at a crossroads. We face many of the same social, cultural, and political challenges that existed in 1969: we have become more polarized, more divided. The 50th anniversary of the festival that changed everything is the perfect occasion to reaffirm the spirit of unity and equity that the Ann Arbor Blues Festival ushered in.
Our Pledge to You
We recognize that music has power. The power to unite. The power to move. The power to provoke change. We will strive to direct that power responsibly, in ways that are socially conscious, and which promote equality and justice. And we will change the world. Again.
organizations we support
The Ann Arbor Blues Festival is proud to partner with a variety of community and charitable organizations because we believe, in the end, music and community go hand-in-hand.
Because we’ve all received so much out of music, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival proudly supports the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.
We’re also committed to finding a cure for one of the most prevalent forms of muscular dystrophy there is – Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (or FSHD). As the world’s largest research-focused patient advocacy organization for FSHD, the FSH Society is accelerating the development of treatments and a cure for the nearly one million people worldwide who are affected by this muscle-wasting disease.
Art and music are not luxuries — they’re necessary ingredients for a vibrant culture, dynamic community, and a healthy economy. Music and art education, in particular, have been shown to lead to higher test scores, to benefit at-risk youth, and to foster creativity and innovation — highly desirable characteristics in the modern workforce. Accordingly, The Ann Arbor Blues Festival backs the Westside Art Hop, an art walk and art fair with local hosts and exhibiting artists, all of which support Ann Arbor’s local art scene. We're also proud to collaborate with the Ann Arbor Saline Music Center, a music community with a unique approach to teaching and a top-quality faculty.
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Rick Deringer/Johnny Winter photo: © Charles Auringer. Used with Permission.