Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 features Previously Unheard Live Recordings

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Ann Arbor Blues Festival

Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 is a 50th anniversary celebration collecting 24 previously unheard songs by such blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, James Cotton, Son House, Magic Sam, T-Bone Walker, Junior Wells, Big Mama Thornton, Clifton Chenier, Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Pinetop Perkins, J. B. Hutto & His Hawks, Roosevelt Sykes, Luther Allison, Otis Rush, Big Joe Williams, Charlie Musselwhite and more. The first ever release of music recorded live at the landmark event, Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 will be available on August 2, 2019 from Third Man Records in two individual 2x LP volumes, exclusively on 180-gram vinyl housed in gatefold packaging featuring fan snapshots, and on CD. Both volumes include never-before-seen photographs, artist biographies, an exclusive reminiscence from Jim Fishel, and extensive liner notes by Parker Fishel, Sophie Abramowitz and David Beal.

To celebrate the forthcoming compilation, Third Man Records is proud to present the gift of two previously unheard performances. This extremely limited, promo-only release, featuring Mississippi Fred McDowell’s signature song (“Shake ’em on Down”) from a 78 RPM, and a rare collaboration with Big Mama Thornton (“My Heavy Load”), is available while supplies last as a free gift with pre-order of the CD or LP via Third Man Records storefront or first come first served to Third Man Records wholesale partners.

August 1969 might have seen another musical gathering grabbing the world’s attention, but the Ann Arbor Blues Festival has since proven a cultural milestone in its own unique right – the first American festival devoted solely to blues music. Held August 1-3, 1969 at Fuller Flatlands, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, for three days it was not unusual to find scenes like B.B. King playing his forthcoming single for Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Mama Thornton and Junior Wells or Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Big Joe Williams catching up about grandchildren, life on the road and the recent moon landing. The family reunion backstage led to an all-star game onstage as an audience of eager young blues converts was treated to a living history of the blues from some of its inventors, innovators and greatest talents.

The historic gathering was presented by a small group of blues-obsessed U of M students determined to give their blues heroes and heroines a public spotlight where they might shine before it was too late. Among those enterprising student-promoters was John Fishel, whose teenage brother Jim Fishel, gathered some friends to help record the festival as a personal memento. Taking advantage of their all-access pass and juggling a small Norelco tape recorder from set to set, the friends let the 1⁄4″ tape roll. Though field recordings in the literal sense of the term, they capture the brilliance of the musicians, the excitement of the crowd and the loose, convivial nature of the entire festival. Those tapes, long thought to be lost, have now been lovingly restored to capture the electric energy of the landmark concert.

“Across three days in early August 1969, [the Ann Arbor Blues Festival] exposed the work of black blues musicians to a reverential young white audience (many of whom had probably chosen to attend Ann Arbor over Woodstock, which took place two weeks later),” writes Fishel, Abramowitz and Beal in the album’s liner notes. “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. But more importantly, the festival presented a view in miniature of the changing blues community and the often surprising relationships between the musicians who comprised it – some who were still sharecroppers or working day jobs, some who had popular recording careers years before the blues and folk revivals brought them back into the spotlight, and some who had yet to release a full album…The 1969 festival was an exemplary space of communion and reunion.

During an interview the following year, Roosevelt Sykes reflected on the experience: ‘We really had some kicks, the musicians. That was one thing that they really didn’t know, they really should have charged the musicians a fee to come. It was worth it, for what y’all paid, it’s worth it for us to see one another! ‘Cause speaking of it, we really enjoy one another that much.’ DownBeat magazine concluded, ‘The Ann Arbor Blues Festival did not make headlines. Yet it was without a doubt the festival of the year, if not the decade.'”

Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 is produced by Parker Fishel and Jim Fishel; the project was coordinated by Third Man co-founders Ben Blackwell and Ben Swank.

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