Blues Review Headline Vinyl

ANN ARBOR BLUES FESTIVAL 1969

Title: Volumes 1 & 2

Label: Third Man

Until Third Man drew my attention to it, the Ann Arbor festival had completely past me by.

It took place across 1-3 August, 1969 at Fuller Flatlands, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, just two weeks before the legendary Woodstock Festival. But this was no Summer of Love, it was in fact a Summer of Blues. 

Curated by a small group of University students, for three days, this festival featured the cream of the blues crop: Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton, Junior Wells  Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Williams and may more. 

ANN ARBOR BLUES FESTIVAL 1969

Mississippi Fred McDowell

As the liner notes stated, “From the city to the country, the West Coast to the Gulf Coast, Mississippi to Chicago, 24 masters of the idiom were booked to perform for this new audience – an estimated 10,000-plus kids, listening to the artists they saw as vanguards of the music that had dominated the decade’s counterculture.”

ANN ARBOR BLUES FESTIVAL 1969

Big Mama Thornton

Fortunately, some enterprising, bright spark had a ¼” reel-to-reel player rolling at the time and so much (I’m not quite sure if there is more hidden away) of the festival music was recorded and a fair amount has been released here, spread over two gatefold, double albums and covering a total of twenty-six tracks. 

Featuring an excellent, large format, booklet with rare images of the festival this set is a sort of field recording. The basic source produces no relevant bass, restrictive mids and treble with a questionable dynamic range. None of that matters, though, because this is a valuable sonic document. The point of these releases is not the sonic quality but its very existence. That said, the mono recording helps to corral the soundstage and Third Man has done a good job in cleaning up the overall sound. A brilliant set.

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