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Musicians breathe new life into Ann Arbor’s iconic blues festival

Charlie Auringer
Blues musician Johnny Winter makes an unannounced appearance at the 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

Credit Bob Frank
Blues icon Muddy Waters performs at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969.

In 1969, the blues threw a party in Ann Arbor.

James Partridge, founder of the Ann Arbor Blues Society, calls that party “the first blues festival ever.”

Enough people came that it happened again, and again, and became the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, later re-christened the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. Its last hurrah came in 2006.

But this year, musicians will breathe new life into that festival, as they work to reignite the energy that pulsed through the crowds so many years ago.

Musician Blair Miller felt that energy back in 1970, when he attended the festival as a 19 year old.

“I remember it was hot and dusty,” he said, “but the energy there was unbelievable.”

He said the experience changed the kind of music he played at the time. He said it helped motivate him to learn a more traditional style of playing.

Miller will return to the festival this year, but this time he’ll join the other blues artists onstage.

Listen above to hear Miller explain what he hopes to the revived festival will accomplish. You'll also hear Partridge explain how the impact of the original Ann Arbor Blues Festival – and its electric or Chicago-style blues – is still felt in today’s music. 

This year’s festival will take place this Saturday, Aug. 19 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Fairgrounds. For more information, including the full list of confirmed artists, click here.

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