Ann Arbor Blues Book

Remembering the Ann Arbor Blues Festival


Published:

In 1969, when Woodstock made news across the country, Ann Arbor hosted the first electric-blues festival in North America.

For a $14 three-day ticket, concertgoers saw the likes of Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, B.B. King, Otis Rush, J.B. Hutto and the Hawks, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, and Freddy King.

Four decades later, a new book details the genesis of that seminal event. Blues in Black and White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals, (University of Michigan Press, $29.95), is scheduled for release this month.

The record-album size volume by Michael Erle-wine is notable, in part, for its beautifully reproduced black-and-white photographs by Stanley Livingston. In the text, Erlewine supplies musical context for the festival, detailing how a college-student interest in American folk led him and the festival organizers to “discover” electric blues.

The Ann Arbor event was “without a doubt the festival of the year, if not the decade,” the book posits.

“At the time of those first two blues festivals [1969-70], most of the performers were generally unknown to white America,” Erlewine writes. “We had no idea that modern electric blues not only existed, but was playing live most nights of the week, probably only blocks away, separated from us by a racial curtain.”

The performances, viewed by a mostly white college crowd, were a meeting of two cultures. In an included interview, Howlin’ Wolf, who died in 1976, described the young fans as having “great big heads and tiny hearts, trying to lose that big head and get that big heart … blues performers have big hearts. I’m not a smart man. You see, I got a little head and a big heart.”

In 1970, the festival’s second year, it ran into competition from the Goose Lake rock concert being held nearby. The Ann Arbor Blues Festival ended up about $30,000 in the red. Promoters later revived a version of the festival, which ran until 2006.

Erlewine ends on a nostalgic note, referring to the generation of musicians who played those first two years. Their average age, he says, was about 50. Mance Lipscomb was 74. By 2009, more than 90 percent of them had died.

The performers are very much alive in the book’s large photographs, which include images from the original festivals and later versions, when the festival had evolved into the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival founded by Peter Andrews and John Sinclair. That festival played to a wider audience with names such as Miles Davis and Ray Charles added to the bill.

Images include Bonnie Raitt with Sippie Wallace in 1972. (Wallace died in Detroit in 1986.) Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins, Koko Taylor, and John Lee Hooker are also among the many pictured and quoted.

Among the quotations is this comment from Big Mama Thornton: “What about rock and roll? Some folks say it’s nothin’ but a hopped-up, fast-up blues. That’s all it is.”

And from Muddy Waters, there’s this: “Blues? I lived them. I lived them musically, and I lived them lifewise.”

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Glowing Reviews

Journey through holiday nights at Greenfield Village

Support System

Common Ground’s Tony Rothschild reflects on 25 years of helping people move from crisis to hope

The Way It Was

The Way It Was - The David Whitney Building

Forced Labor

Michigan organizations join the battle against human trafficking.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Winter wine-derland
    Winery visits can be just as good — if not better — in the off season
  2. Reviving a Classic
    Change of 220 Merrill’s ownership has re-energized one of Birmingham’s longtime favorite...
  3. Girl's Best Friend
    All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold — and diamonds aren’t the only way to add an extra...
  4. Brewery Profile - Tapistry Brewing Company
    Since opening in July of 2013, Tapistry Brewing has spent the last year perfecting their recipes...
  5. Artfully Plated
    One-upping the standard pop-up dinner in one of Detroit’s hidden architectural gems
  6. Upper Crust
    Grosse Pointe Park’s Cornwall Bakery is (finally) open, producing European breads, croissants,...
  7. Winter Wonderland
    More than 5 million LEDs transform a Detroit Zoo stroll into a wild experience
  8. Cold Winter, Hot Sauce
    Locally made condiments bring on the firepower
  9. Polishing a Greasy Spoon
    Rock City Eatery chef/owner elevates burgers and hot dogs at second Hamtramck restaurant, Campau...
  10. Conversation Starter
    Writer-director Mike Binder hopes his new custody battle film Black or White spurs...