Zingerman’s Roadhouse: We’re Honoring the Ann Arbor Blues Festival with Blues, Brews & BBQ

Join us for Blue, Brews & BBQ. Grab a seat right here!

If you’re looking for a good cause, a good meal, some good music, a bunch of great people, and taste of Ann Arbor history, book yourself (and someone you love) a seat at this dinner next Tuesday evening, August 7. We’ve got a great spread of Texas-themed barbecue and a couple of special guests: blues musician Blair Miller and our friend and farmer Melvin Parson of We the People Growers Association. For me, this meal is history come alive—local, national, musical, personal. It’s about remembering and reviving, connecting and caring, listening and learning. I can’t wait!

In the summer of 1902, Son House was born, about 800 miles to the south, in a small hamlet just outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He went on to become one of the great blues musicians of all time. In 1969, a handful of people in Ann Arbor took the initiative to start the very first festival to celebrate the music that Son House and so many others sang so passionately. The Ann Arbor Blues Festival was North America’s first ever electric blues fest! It happened a few weeks before Woodstock, took a break and then ran ’til 2006 before running out of steam. Son House was in the original lineup. Twenty thousand people went to the Fuller Flatlands near Huron High School over the few days of the festival to hear some amazing music from the top blues players—acoustic and electric—in the country. James Partridge, the executive producer of the current festival, says, “The original Ann Arbor Blues Festival was a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the blues. Not only did the best delta bluesmen perform—Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sleepy John Estes—but the greatest electric artists of all time assembled in one place, BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf.  It was Coachella before there was Coachella.”

On August 7, at the Roadhouse, all of these amazing things come together with a fundraising dinner to help with the revival of the Blues Fest—this year is the 49th anniversary of its founding. The meal is a delicious dose of Texas BBQ to go with your blues. Texas “caviar” and collard greens, Tellicherry Texas brisket (smoked 18 hours over oak), East Texas hot links, smoked beef ribs, burnt ends and beans, and banana pudding for dessert! Each course is getting paired up with a beer from one of the Roadhouse’s favorite breweries—Wolverine State Brewing Co. Blair Miller will bless us with his blues playing at various points throughout the meal—an enticing “taste” of bigger things to come at the Blues Fest, which is coming up on August 17 and 18. The Blues Fest crew have put together a terrific musical line up!

Blair Miller (Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor Blues Festival)

The event is also special thanks to our guest Melvin Parson. A few years ago, Melvin started an amazing project called We the People Growers Association to craft an urban, world-class farm in Ypsilanti. The meal will feature produce from his farming work, in particular, some super delicious collards. Back when Son House started playing the blues, about half of the country’s African American population lived on farms. Today it’s like two percent. At the time, one in seven or so farmers were black. Today it’s one in about 70. So much of the original blues work came from working in the fields. Bringing the blues together with Melvin’s work to revive healthy local agriculture in the black community is a beautiful thing. Read Pete Daniel’s Dispossession for more on African American farming history.

Oh yeah, one more blues reference. Three months after the Blues Fest in 1969, in the first week of November that fall, Jim Morrison and the Doors recorded “Roadhouse Blues.” I grew up listening to it. The opening lines lead well into this marvelous meal:

Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel
Yeah, we’re going to the Roadhouse
We are going to have a real
Good time

PS: The best book on the Blues Fest is Blues in Black and White, which features photos from Stanley Livingston and prose by Michael Erlewine. Jim O’Neal, co-founder of Living Blues magazine, wrote about it: “If Woodstock was one of the ‘Fifty Moments That Changed Rock ‘n’ Roll History’, as honored in Rolling Stone magazine, then the Ann Arbor Blues Festival was the coronation for the blues roots that sired rock to begin with…finally, we have this amazing book of Stanley Livingston’s priceless images, along with Michael Erlewine’s detailed chronology.”