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Posted on Thu, May 2, 2013 : 7:55 a.m.

Water Hill Music Fest will again fill Ann Arbor neighborhood with harmony

By Bob Needham

Watch a multimedia feature from the 2012 Water Hill Music Fest


A crowd listens to a performance at the 2012 Water Hill Music Fest.

Chris Asadian | file photo

The Water Hill Music Fest returns to Ann Arbor on Sunday, its unique approach and quirky character fully intact.

Entering its third year, the festival will follow the same plan established from the beginning: Residents of Ann Arbor's Water Hill neighborhood play music on their porches for the enjoyment of visitors.

There's a set schedule, to minimize chaos and make it easier to find the performances. But there are no food vendors and no sponsorships. T-shirts are sold, but only to cover the festival's minimal costs.

There aren't even any portable toilets; like last year, a handful of generous neighborhood residents are opening their home bathrooms—"Water Hill Water Closets"—for the use of festival-goers.


Water Hill Music Fest

  • Who: The residents of Ann Arbor's Water Hill neighborhood, including some well-known regional names. The full lineup is online.
  • What: Unique event in which residents of a single neighborhood perform music on their porches for passers-by.
  • Where: Just northwest of downtown, in an area bordered by Miller Avenue, Brooks Street, Sunset Road and the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks.
  • When: 2-6 p.m. Sunday, May 5. Rain date is May 12. A full schedule is available on the website, Signs will identify performance sites.
  • How much: Free.
Those attending the festival can expect a wide range of music—including folk, rock and classical—from nearly 100 acts. Some performers are solo; some are bands or ensembles. Some are well-known professionals, like the Chenille Sisters, Dick Siegel and Vienna Teng. Others are dedicated amateurs, including harmonica player Antonia Teernstra and the Mack School-based Ann Arbor Open Choir Club. Many fall somewhere in between.

All will help celebrate the value of community, in what has quickly become a treasured event in Ann Arbor.

Resident (and Fourth Avenue Birkenstock co-owner) Paul Tinkerhess, who conceived of and organizes the festival, focuses on keeping the event truly local—a creation of the Water Hill neighborhood, just northwest of downtown Ann Arbor. He's tried to avoid much publicity for the event, even requesting that it not be included on national listings of music festivals.

"We're getting to know each other better in Water Hill," he said recently in reflecting on the first three years of the event.

Tom and Sally Brush are among those volunteering their "Water Hill Water Closet." In an email note, they explained the appeal of the festival:


Brennan Andes performs at the 2012 Water Hill Music Fest.

Chris Asadian | file photo

"There is something magical that happens once a year. Neighbors sharing the universal language of music that brings a smile to every face. Seeing young, old and those in between strolling our streets pausing to listen to music of all genres flowing from front porches. You have to be there to believe it. A new dimension to 'so Ann Arbor!' "

Pianist William Schafer will perform in the event. He added, "I like the Water Hill Music Fest for many reasons. But mostly because it is precisely the kind of event Paul Tinkerhess would create—simple, straightforward, sustainable, and selfless. The fact that Paul turned down offers of corporate sponsorship last year should draw people's attention. When I asked him why he did that, he replied, 'Because I don't want you to come out on Miner Street on Sunday and find people who drove 100 miles to attend. I want you to see your neighbors.' "

The festival website offers some good tips for those attending—on staying hydrated, bringing a seat, and parking (ideally, don't).

Other than that, it's just a matter of show up, listen and enjoy.

Past coverage of the Water Hill Music Fest

View Larger Map

Bob Needham is director of entertainment content for Reach him at or 734-623-2541, and follow him on Twitter @bobneedham.



Sat, May 4, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

Is that actionjackson, front and center in the lead pic? I think it is!


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

Glen Ford, the superb African-American reporter and publisher of, has written extensively on the redlining of black neighborhoods. He tells a story not known to many whites. These real estate and banking practices have succeeded in tearing apart close-knit communities. It's beyond tragic.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

The name has stuck because people have put so much effort into this and it's been a success. If people are so upset about the neighborhood's new moniker, maybe they should put the same sort of effort into something in. It's certainly easier to sit there and whine about it, but you could go out and start a competing festival under a different name or at least put together some picket signs and go wander around protesting the festival. At least that way we'll know who the cranks among us are!

shadow wilson

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 4:33 p.m.

easy for you to would you feel if someone came along and negated your history ?


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

I mean Spring Hill


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:38 p.m.

I agree. Why are people whining so much about this? People could put banners on their yards calling it Spring Water, and that why their voice could be heard! Okay, this reminds me of all the hand-wringing about the Ann Arbor Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice. There was all this angst about not including the atheists in our objectives or whatever. I kept saying let them start a No Faith Council for Peace and Justice. The point of the festival is to unify the community and have fun. Let the party begin!


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

The music really is a lot of fun. I live in this neighborhood and love it.

Bob Needham

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

The complete schedule and map are now online at


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

I've listened to Vienna Teng's music with friends. When I was going through some hard times, a friend gave me a CD of her music. I'm surprised to know that she is local, and I can see her for free while she performs on her front porch--if I am understanding this story right. How cool is that! Thanks, Bob, for connecting the dots.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 10:36 a.m.

This event has to be bad. The city and DDA can't make a profit from it.


Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:29 a.m.

Be careful about what you wish for -- my formerly-un-named neighborhood, now known as The Old West Side, has stiffened-up noticeably since I was born and raised there. When I do carpentry jobs up in what is now being labelled as "Water Hill," I revel in the less-wound-up feeling of the neighborhood, compared to mine. At least, up until now. So, as I said above, be careful what you wish for. And if you're smart, name the neighborhood "Garbage Hill," or something similar. I know that we have to be realistic –– we're not going to re-install all of the black families that were booted out by gentrification, but at least we can slow the yuppification a bit.

John Floyd

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 10:38 p.m.

I observe that an event like this could not happen in a neighborhood of apartments and high rises - only in a neighborhood of homes with front porches.

shadow wilson

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 10:26 p.m.

isn't it interesting that someone decided to name a neigh borhood; conveniently ignoring its history It may not have been the 1st black neighborhood in town but it certainly has been the longest standing. Those of us with respect for our towns history know it as the mack school part of town waterhill is a scam


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 11:03 a.m.

I'd like to hear what you would name it. Still, it sounds like a cool thing that came together in this town, whatever people want to call it.

Anonymous Commentor

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 1:14 a.m.

I've lived in Ann Arbor all of my life, and in this neighborhood for 17 years, and I think it's ridiculous to call it "Waterhill." Harmless enough, in most respects, but I don't think any one person, or small group of people, should have presumed to name our side of town. Strikes me as pompous.


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:54 p.m.

Hardly angry about that - actually it makes me laugh. No portion of Ann Arbor will go unmonikered! Even if it already had a name to begin with. See "Midtown".


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

Regarding the Preview box: Sunday is May 5, not 6.

Bob Needham

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

Oh geez. Thank you.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

No good thing should go unpunished. Clearly the city needs to tighten the screws with permits, port-a-johns, insurance and tow trucks.


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

I think the outrage that you speak of it what's fictional here.


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

So you guys are just cutting out the middleman and inventing fictional scenarios to be outraged about now?

Bob Needham

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

It's amazing to me how quickly this caught on. It really seems to be a unique concept, and yet everyone (participants and visitors) just seemed to "get it" right away, and now it's already a highlight on the local calendar. (Same thing happened with FestiFools.)


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

Thanks for putting this on Paul! cant wait! A note to those attending who dont live in waterhill. please be respectful of our neighborhood and put trash and dog waste in garbage cans. And be careful driving, there will be a LOT of people walking/biking around.

Ann Dwyer

Fri, May 3, 2013 : 2:33 a.m.

We took our dog. But our dog is very polite and we make sure to keep him out of the way of others and is watered and all the other things that go along with being a good dog owner. Our motto is, "Our dog is not a d***."


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

Actually,they should probably leave their dogs at home!

Chip Reed

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

And we should also note that Mr. Tinkerhess was the inventor of the name "Water Hill" for this very special neighborhood.


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

Alert the village cartographer forthwith. This unsanctioned Water Hill/Spring Hill classification imbroglio shall not stand, and verily threatens the whole merrymaking affair. Brad is going to put the entire system on trial. He's the last angry man.


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

Not only that, but also an "upper" and "lower" Water Hill. Evidently one of the residents knows someone at Google Maps.


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

We should also note that neighborhood already had a name - Spring Hill - long before that.