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Ann Arbor Blues Festival celebrates 49th anniversary

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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A few things to know about this year's Ann Arbor Blues Festival, celebrating its 49th anniversary Friday through Sunday, Aug. 17-19, in two locations...

• The first festival were organized by University of Michigan students and sponsored by the University Activity Center and other Ann Arbor organizations. John Sinclair, who was in jail at the time but will be performing at this year's festival, recalls that, "They never had anything as great as that. If you look at the lineup it's stunning. They had ever great blues artist that was alive."

• Sinclair also recalls that at the 1970 festival, "Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters battled it out. Howling Wolf extended his set trying to cut into Muddy Waters set so he couldn’t go on. It doesn't get better than that."

• After skipping a year, the festival returned in 1972 as the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, lasting for three years and featuring luminaries such as Miles Davis, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, James Brown, Sun Ra, Count Basie, Al Green, Dr. John and more.

• The 1974 festival was actually held in Windsor. However, there were problems with some acts -- including Sinclair, who was a co-producer -- entering Canada, while police actively arrested anyone smoking marijuana. The festival lost more than $100,000 and was dormant for 18 years.

• The festival was revived in 1992 by 1972 co-producer Pete Andrews and held at a variety of venues, including outdoor shows at Gallup Park, until 2006.

• Current executive producer James Partridge, founder of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, resurrected the festival during August of 2017. "Ann Arbor has always been fertile ground for blues music," Partridge said. "This has always been a signature event for Ann Arbor. We are very proud to welcome it back."

• This year's festival includes acts such as Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popovic, Janiva Magness, Larry McCray and more. Sinclair will be playing with a special band that includes guests Don Was and MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. "It's a very personal thing for me," Sinclair says. "Having missed the first two and being part of this now as an artist, it's great."

• Partridge is planning to expand the festival again and hold a special commemoration of its 50th anniversary during August of 2019.

If You Go:

• 49th Anniversary Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

• 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, and noon Saturday, Aug. 18 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Fairgrounds, 5055 Ann Arbor-Saline Road. Tickets $40-$290.

• 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Blind Pig, 208 1st St., Ann Arbor. Tickets $15.

• Visit a2bluesfestival.com for details.

Web Site: www.asbluesfestival.com

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