Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 Vols. 1&2   For the First Time!

This extraordinary blues festival staged on an athletic field at the University of Michigan, Friday through Sunday August 1-3 in-between the moon landing and Woodstock, was almost lost to time—except to the 10,000 or so mostly white high school and college kids lucky enough to have the good fortune (and taste) to attend.

Luckily for the rest of us, a high schooler named Jim Fishel, whose older brother John was co-chair of the school's entertainment committee, borrowed a portable Norelco reel-to-reel tape recorder and equipped with an all-access pass, proceeded to record just about the entire festival from various vantage points, producing some very good recordings and a few lesser ones. But no matter because even the not well recorded ones document sensational performances by a constellation of the greatest blues stars.

Highlights of all of the performers and performances make up these two double LP sets (other than those of Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell, the tape of which was lost, that of Freddie King, whose family did not grant permission for the release and Otis Rush's performance, which at the request of his family, was taken from the 1970 festival). Other performers include Muddy Waters, Charlie Musselwhite, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton and the Hound Doggers, Lightnin' Hopkins, Roosevelt Sykes, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, B.B. King, J.B. Hutto, Mississippi Fred McDowell, The Original Howlin' Wolf and His Orchestra (that one alone worth the price of admission for Vol. 1) and Son House among others.

Cover, Vol. 2.

How these tapes came to the attention of the folks at Third Man and how they were restored to sounding far beyond my expectations considering how they were recorded, is a story for another time but the packaging is quite good including 32 black and white photos ("snapshots" would be more accurate) in each gatefold plus full sized booklets and though the opening essay repeats, it's followed by bios and photos of each performer plus well-curated suggestions for further listening. Even though Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell's performances are missing, the bios, photo and suggested listening are included.

Yes the sound is mono and in some cases rough (including places where audience members are more on mic than are the performers—something familiar to all bootleg connoisseurs), the overall sonics are pretty good and once you lock into the music you won't care. This is the real shit. It's been in serious "Heavy Rotation" since the LPs arrived here (I purchased, no promos). The sound rating reflects how it sounds, but were I rating it based upon the quality of the restoration given what the tapes probably originally sounded like, the number would have been considerably higher. The restoration was all-analog until the final digitization. You won't regret buying this set. When the sound is good, it's immediate and transparent. Apparently it's been very popular as its currently sold out on the MusicDirect website that supposedly caters only to "audiofools". So happy to see the music trump the sound.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Music Direct Buy It Now

Paul Boudreau's picture

Going directly to the Third Man Store works, too - just did it.

Drummer's picture

I love seeing this... "So happy to see the music trump the sound." Warmest regards Michael. - Eric

John G's picture

I would prefer to save my money and listen to such a recording on Spotify.

Bob Henneberger's picture

hey Michael Fremer any chance of you checking out Bobbi Humphries Blacks and blues , blue note just reissued it,,, i bought it and to me it sounds wonderful,clean quiet pressing with black backrounds but i dont have a og to compare it to as the copy i had in the late 70s is misplaced( my x has it) ,,, i would be interested if you have heard of this album?

Bob Henneberger's picture

didnt know if that type of music was in your wheelhouse but i figured id ask

stei5141's picture

Your review begins by stating that the Ann Arbor audience 50 years ago was “mostly white.” You know this ... how? And it matters ... why? Here’s an idea: Why not stick to what you know, and spare us your political ticks?