You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Rain-plagued 2013 Ann Arbor Summer Festival looks to make up $45K shortfall

By Jenn McKee

Note: this story has been changed to correct number of tickets sold.


People enjoy the weather on the last day of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival's Top of the Park on Sunday, July 7.

Daniel Brenner |

When you hear that Ann Arbor Summer Festival director Robb Woulfe plans to be on a plane just 3 days after the 2013 edition wrapped on Sunday, July 7, you’d likely assume he’s taking a well-earned vacation, having planned and overseen, mostly over the course of just 3 weeks, 11 mainstage shows; dozens of free, live, outdoor concerts; several free outdoor movie screenings; kid-oriented activities; and additional outdoor retreats and programs.

But you’d be wrong. Woulfe’s instead traveling Wednesday to a circus festival in Montreal, hoping to see the work of international companies that might be a good fit for future A2SFs.

“I might just run away to join the circus,” said Woulfe. “ … it’s fun to see how other festivals do things, and what good ideas you can steal. And if it rains, you don’t have to worry about it. You just say, ‘Oh, well, I’m off to the beer garden.’”

This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to Woulfe’s stronger feelings about the relentless streak of rainy days that plagued the fest’s second week this year.


A shower passes through on the last day of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival on Sunday, July 7.

Daniel Brenner I

“The first half of the festival was very strong for us,” said Woulfe. “We were seeing record-breaking attendance. Big numbers of folks were coming out to enjoy what we were doing, and then, on the second Tuesday - I remember it was the night that ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ was supposed to play - the rain started, and it just continued that whole week and into the weekend, which was frustrating for us. We’re used to experiencing some rain and hot weather, of course, but when it’s prolonged like that, and you don’t get a break, you lose momentum. People start doing other things and forget that we still have things going on.”

The sustained string of cloudy skies mid-festival caused a high number (for A2SF) of shortened or canceled performances and movies - in total, 17.

“That’s a big number for us,” said Woulfe. “In any given season, we might lose 2 or 3, so to lose 17 was hard. You just feel bad for the artists, who are out there promoting the date. … And on our end, we’re working year-round to put this together, so it hurts to lose bands and movies. It gets to be a bit much. But at least we have 3 and a half weeks to get it right. … I’d be lying if I said the weather wasn’t a factor, but there was so much that was good, and so much positivity that came out of the season - it’s hard to get lost in the gray skies.”

Regarding mainstage shows, A Prairie Home Companion and Pink Martini were sellouts, while Snap Judgment and “the circus show,” Les 7 Doigts de la Main in “Sequence 8,” sold more tickets than projected.

On the down side, “we had disappointing numbers for the closing weekend, but it’s always a tough sell,” said Woulfe. “It’s a holiday weekend. And all the dance was at the very end - Trockadero and the Ira Glass project, which I wish more people had come out to see. But we were pretty strong that last week. … We have a break-even model for main stage.”

The 2013 A2SF mainstage lineup sold 14,078 tickets totaling $588,248 (down from last year’s 17,517 tickets totaling $800,246), while Top of the Park’s “Give 3” suggested donations brought in $48,013 (down from $51,250 last year); the goal for the latter was $60,000, leaving a $12,000 shortfall.

However, beverage and merchandise sales were up this year, bringing in $223,108 (from $204,229 in 2012), and the total shortfall the fest needs to raise by September 30 is the same as last year’s amount: $45,000.

“In the end, I think it will shake out fine,” said Woulfe. “ … A lot of people wait to get through the festival and make a gift afterward.”

Of course, scarcer sponsorship opportunities and smaller grants (like one from the NEA) play a role in the fest’s finances, too.


Kids have fun June 21 at Ann Arbor's Top of the Park as they take part in one of Tangle's play sessions.

Courtney Sacco |

“This points to … how intricately it all works together,” said Woulfe. “If there’s a shortfall in one area, chances are there’s an overage in another area. You’re just constantly juggling to keep all the balls up in the air.”

Tangle, an interactive event for kids, ranked among Woulfe’s personal highlights for 2013, but he also takes joy in the fest’s far subtler moments and touches.

“We added twinkle lights on the site, and it put a magical air over the whole festival,” said Woulfe. “It made it feel very special, and very unique, even though it was this small gesture. It just transformed the environment. It became a getaway.”

Another new addition was a popular mobile app, which nearly 9,500 people downloaded.

“We got feedback saying the festival could be hard to manage, and to figure things out,” said Woulfe. “ … It was a nice surprise see how people got their info and discovered other things. Several people said things like, ‘I didn’t know there was yoga on the lawn, or wine tasting events.’ People tend to think of the festival as indoor shows, and townie bands on an outdoor stage, but there’s so much more. It’s nice to have a way to introduce that.”

And by the festival’s rainy end, Woulfe’s spirits were buoyed by the festival’s attendees.

“They’re so supportive,” said Woulfe. “You realize that when Sandy and Danny are singing in ‘Grease,’ and the audience is singing along while sitting under their umbrellas in the rain. You’ve got to hand it to our loyal supporters who stuck it out with us.”

Take the post-season festival survey

Donate to the festival

Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4:38 a.m.

The organizers might try a "pay what you wish" approach, like some museums, rather than the current tactics.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

I was so turned off by the donation people. One person asks and then 60 seconds later someone hounds you for cash. Seriously...if I wanted to give you money I'd do it when I walked in. Leave me alone. If it moved back to the actual TOP OF THE CAR PARK I'd gladly pay. I miss the old event.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

This used to be a simple event. Go over to the top of the parking structure, bring your own food and picnic and listen to a band or two before a movie. Simple and fun. It's gotten way too big, too complicated, too many food vendors, poor quality bands, and not being able to bring in your own food is a real turn-off for some of us. Not to mention the roving "donation" people in green aprons. Was much better when the entire event was low cost for everyone (organizers and attendees), and there was a "donation" booth, not roaming staff asking for donations and giving out stickers. Bad idea. Just like so many things in AA, they start out low cost and fun, and "someone" gets involved thinking bigger is better, how more and more people can "profit," from a low key fun event (such as food vendors, etc), and it's now a large, commercialized event. Kind of like the Art Fairs, which are far too big and far too commercial.

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

Nailed it!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:28 p.m.

Maybe it's time to bring back better entertainers, I'd pay more, what happened to Guitar Shorty, Bill Kitchern, Dick Wagner? some better talent please. Give the King George thing at the close of the Top of the Park a rest, enough is enough, George may live in A2, but come on.

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 7:38 p.m.

I agree. I went to see Wayne "The Train" Hancock. He was the only reason I went to TOTP. So good bands bring out ppl that otherwise would never go.

Andrew Kerr

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

I did think it was frustrating that I'd show up with my kids right after work and it was always right when one band was stopping, and you'd have to wait until 7pm for the next band - which is just about when you need to get them home. We did stay late when we could, and the choice of a specifically kids band (The Not-Its) was, I think, a bad idea. They were pretty lousy, and none of the adults enjoyed it. Kids love anything they can dance to. Last year there were some awesome bands that played fun swing music, etc. Our kids danced a lot last year. They didn't dance once this year. Part of that might have been timing, but most of it was that when there was actually a band playing, it wasn't fun to dance to. The construction was unfortunate as well. The younger kids love to come just to run and play, and there was even less of a space to do that than usual. The kids favorite thing this year was the game AADL did. Thanks for that!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

Why I didn't give a dime to Top of the Park/Summerfest I can't drink alcohol, but I love the taste of beer, as I'm sure others do. I've emailed, discussed and cajoled Summerfest Director Robb Woulfe over the past 2 years asking if they could supply at least one non-alcoholic beer at their concession. He said it wouldn't sell. I said over the course of 3-weeks I'd drink a case myself ($5X24 bottles = $120), plus I'd put in $3 per day for support ($63) and buy food--$200 more. He said no. Besides not doing the right thing by supplying non-alcoholic beer (no, soda is NOT the same), his poor business practice is astounding thus not worthy of my support! QED

Homeland Conspiracy

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 7:34 p.m.

Why would anyone drink beer if it doesn't have alcohol...weird

Jake C

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

That's strange. I like beer, but most of the time when I come to ToP with my family, I don't even go near the beer tent. Why would you let some silly thing like not having a non-alcoholic beer keep you from supporting such a nice local event? I don't blame the directors for basing their business decisions on the overall bottom line, and not just on pleasing one specific resident.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

Mr. Woulfe's attitude seems ridiculous. I know many people who drink non-alcoholic beer, and I'm sure many of them attend TOP. As Silly Sally said, why not at least give it a try?

Silly Sally

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

Strange - Why not try some just to see? If they were to buy a 6 pack and only sell 2, they break even, the rest is pure profit. It would be a trial balloon for future sales.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

It's not just the rain, people. It's the crappy bands, the food police, the donation Nazis and the radio personalities yelling at you from the stage that make this event a bummer...


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

What do you mean by "food police" What was going on with that?

Silly Sally

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

My favorite new band was Tally Hall in 2006 at Top of the Park. I wish that they had returned. They attracted people of all ages in large numbers.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:13 p.m.

Folks will probably disagree, but I liked the summer festival when it was a more simple event - watch the music, have a picnic, maybe stay for the movie. The feedback that the event is confusing is telling -- there is a lot going on, and perhaps not every bell & whistle is necessary. Also, will the coordinators consider whether their donation system could be more effective and less off-putting? Perhaps it doesn't need to change, but it may be worth considering. I'm only one person, but the food police and donation system keep us away - it's just not a casual, relaxing event anymore - it's a major production.

Jake C

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:13 p.m.

If all you want to do is watch some music, have a picnic, and stay for a movie, there's no reason you can't do just that. There just happen to be a few extra things for other people to enjoy.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

Um....I'm confused by this terminology of "shortfall" here. You're very much making it sound like they've failed to raise enough funds for the program to operate. That is not the case. They just haven't reached a "fundraising goal." ALSO...and this a HUGE also......I went to A2SF's website and for the life of me I could NOT find their financials. I thought when you were a not-for-profit you HAD to make your financials easily available? Just spent another 10 minutes digging around their financial info ANYWHERE... I would VERY much like to see where all that money is going....cause that's a LOT of money...

lindsay blackwell

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:14 p.m.

billy, you DO realize that 13% of that $270k—if split between 2 people as you suggest—is just over $17.5k per person, right? arts administrators are DREADFULLY underpaid, and i'd imagine there are more than 2 folks who fully deserve to be compensated for the time and effort spent assembling this festival each year.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

I specifically searched for them on Charity Navigator and they don't come up....


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

You can look up their IRS forms for previous years at


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

And that shows very general non-detailed financial information. If you wanted to find an actual dollar figure you would have to glean the information from the brochure and then crunch the numbers yourself. 13% for admin fees eh.....and how many people dose that get split between....the 2 people considered senior management? That would be 13% of the $270k+ this article states they've taken in. What are "production" costs exactly, and how do those break down? Isn't stuff like this is supposed to be publically posted? This is just an "information brochure." I also don't find them on any non-profit rating site...but they ARE "small" so I'm not holding that against them.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

A link in the article takes you to this:

Silly Sally

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival is wonderful, especially Top of The Park. I loved George Bedard on Sunday and many of the other artists. The movie "Grease" is a good example of a movie that the whole family can see and enjoy, unless you have preschoolers, but they are not apt to stay for a Top of the Park Movie. Only something like the "Sound of Music" or "Lorax" can please all ages. I actually thought that I would suffer through "Lorax" but I loved it! The movie "'Rocky Horror Picture Show" is not appropriate for all ages - there is a reason why you have never seen it on broadcast TV and many theaters would show it at midnight. It is not the best movie for Top of the Park movie which does attract families with elementary school kids. I know some that skip movies such as that but were out for "Grease".

Jenn McKee

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

I agree with sh1. There can be different movies for different audiences - especially given the hour they're shown. And yes, "Rocky Horror" was far and away the winner in terms of public voting for films, so there are clearly loads of people who not only were OK with the film being part of Top of the Park, but wanted very much to see it there.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

I don't think every movie every night has to be appropriate for children. Just as families might stay home for Rocky Horror, adults without children flock out to see movies such as Life of Pi or Skyfall. (BTW, I think Rocky Horror was the result of a poll where the public could vote for one night's movie.)

Proleptically Living

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 12:49 p.m.

I was actually looking forward to seeing Rocky Horror at a descent hour (10:00 PM) with an audience. It was only one night out of three weeks to keep children away and it offered an opportunity for adults to have a little fun and not stay up past our bedtime (these are usually midnight showings). I think it's OK to have one movie not be family-friendly, especially at 10:00 PM on just one Tuesday.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

RHPS has a cult following unfortunately. It's a pretty decent musical...and the fact that it's all about satire is pretty amusing too. BUT......the largest draw is the "sexuality" of it regardless of what anyone might claim...and that is just a cheap attempt at being controversial. I love Tim Curry...I don't hate Meatloaf....but RHPS is hilariously overhyped by it's cult followers.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

Maybe the entertainers and their equipment can be under a canopy so even if it rains some they can continue and the die-hards with umbrellas and the rain dancers can stay. Light rain only, not storms obviously. Behind where the movie screen comes up (a fun magical moment).


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

Yes, Rob should look at Sunfest in London, ON. We went there last weekend (sorry ToP) and it is quite similar to A2 Summer Fest, just bigger! It did rain on Sunday but that sure didn't stop us from enjoying it!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 11:12 a.m.

For a $5 donation per person this is the best entertainment one could find in their town!