The first night of the 50th Anniversary Ann Arbor Blues Festival featured wonderful weather and smoking hot blues from Thornetta Davis, Bernard Allison, and Laith Al-Saadi.
50th Anniversary Ann Arbor Blues Festival
The summer of 1969 featured some iconic musical performances. While many people will recognize Woodstock, there was another equally impressive festival happening in Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor Blue Festival was the first festival devoted to electric blues music. Blues music lives on in celebration at 50th Anniversary Ann Arbor Blues Festival held at the Washtenaw County Fairgrounds.
If you are interested in the history of the festival, then you must seek out a book called Blues in Black & White. With amazing images from Stanley Livingston and a history from Michael Erlewine, this phenomenal book gave me some context on the importance of the 50th Ann Arbor Blue Festival. For the sounds from the show in 1969, Third Man Records recently released a two volume album. You can jam with the late greats such as T-bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and Big Mama Thornton.
A busy weekend meant we could only attend one day of the 50th Ann Arbor Blues Festival, so we opted for Friday night. We sprung for the VIP tickets which included a drink coupon and a pretty nice spread of food. The beer, wine, and mixed drinks were catered by Knights which was a plus; especially if you enjoy a nice mixed drink. The VIP tent was a bit distant from the performers, however you could take a seat up close in a VIP section near the stage. You just needed to be sure to have your sunglasses handy.
Ann Arbor Saline Music Center All Stars
These young artists from the Ann Arbor Saline Music Center rock! We arrived a little late and unfortunately missed the first part of their set. While stage presence will surely come as these kids keep jamming, they were in command of their instruments. Their performance was stellar. Bass and drums were locked into a nice groove. The guitars offered a nice punch with some tasty solos. Their last cover song was “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin and they crushed it. The vocals were jaw-dropping and brilliant. It is great to see a new generation keeping the blues alive and well.
I had heard Thornetta Davis, but never witnessed her live. The band got fired up with the smooth and funky jam “Cissy Strut” by The Meters. Each player taking a turn showcasing their impressive chops. In a shower of cymbals and keyboards, Thornetta took the stage and set it on fire. Her rich and soulful voice drew us in and put a huge smile on our faces.
Thornetta’s has a new album called Honest Woman. She featured a number of tracks including the sultry “Set Me Free” and the sexy “I Need A Whole Lotta Lovin to Satisfy Me”. Her band and backing vocalists provided dazzling performances. You could see that they were having as much fun as we were when folks hit the dancing area for “Get Up and Dance Away Your Blues”. The 50th Ann Arbor Blue Festival fans could not let Thornetta leave without a final encore Thankfully, Thornetta and her band were happy to oblige. Do yourself a favor and go see the Detroit Queen of the Blues and pick up her cd Honest Woman.
Another first for us at the 50th Anniversary Ann Arbor Blues Festival was seeing Bernard Allison. Bernard’s father Luther played the first Ann Arbor Blue Festival in 1969. Bernard was just 4 years old. While he may not have appreciated the significance then, he surely did on this evening. Bernard was joined by George Moye (bass), Dylan Salfer (guitar), and Mario Dawson (drums). Together they took all of our blues away.
There is no denying the blues are in Bernard’s blood. You can hear his father’s voice when he sings. However, he takes the guitar to another level. Lightning hot licks and soaring riffs caused the hair on my arms to stand on end. If you get a chance, check out Bernard on his latest album Let It Go and listen to “Night Train”. The man is outstanding. Bernard took us back to 1969 when he paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix with a blistering rendition of “Voodoo Chile”. I’m so glad I was able to be a part of this extraordinary performance.
When you play baseball, you save the power for the clean-up hitter. The one to bring it home and put the game away. The 50th Anniversary Ann Arbor Blues Festival choose a dream team for the first night and finished with the power and glory of hometown legend Laith Al-Saadi.
Laith wasted no time in bringing the blues roaring to life. Joining Laith for this evening of electric blues magic is David Stearns (bass), Mark Damian (drums), Chris Codish (keyboards), and special guest Eric Koppa (sax). They lit up the stage with “Chains”, “No One Left to Blame”, and “How It’s Gonna Be”. As with every time I’ve seen Laith, he is full of smiles as he is burning up the fretboard. Laith invited Thornetta Davis out and everyone was up on their feet.
While we only got a taste of the 50th Anniversary Ann Arbor Blues Festival, it was delicious. Many thanks to all the volunteers who work hard to give us a fantastic night of music. Listening to the blues is salve for soul. Let’s hope the Ann Arbor Blues Festival keeps healing us with music for years to come.
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