Ann Arbor Summer Festival time for musical memories, according to locals
Erica Hobbs | AnnArbor.com
Ann Arbor resident Bill Burgard has been going to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival since it started in 1984.
The three-and-a-half week long annual event, running June 18 - July 11 this year, is full of free outdoor concerts and movies as well as a series of headlining indoor performances at local theaters.
With the festival now in its 27th year, Burgard smiles and says he still remembers seeing Johnny Cash perform some years ago.“He had his whole family, it was quite an extravaganza,” he said. “It just kind of makes you feel chills when you heard that sound on stage, listening to the music I grew up with.”
Burgard’s experience is just one of the many felt by townies and newbies alike who have kept the local tradition alive for more than a quarter of a century.
University of Michigan senior Kimmy Schroeder, slightly newer to the city, said Top of the Park was one of her first introductions to Ann Arbor the summer before her freshman year of college. The Lincoln Park native said she remembers checking out the live bands and dancing with the new friends she’d made during U-M’s Summer Bridge Program.
“With the new people I just met, it gave us something to do to get to know what the city was about,” she said. “I thought it was an awesome city, Downriver they never have anything like this.”Top of the Park Site Manager Steve Guttman remembers the intensity of the moment when My Dear Disco performed an all-Michael Jackson set just days after the pop icon died.
“It had been really hot all week, then it cooled down,” he said. “It was a magical moment. His music really transcended all the generations.”
That sense of magic and connection is exactly the feeling Ann Arbor Summer Festival General Manager Amy Nesbitt said she wants patrons to feel.
Nesbitt, now in her fourth year as general manager, said what attracted her to the job was the intensity of emotions she feels during a live performance. She said she remembers going to Top of the Park for the first time in the mid-'90s while visiting friends in Ann Arbor.
“I had a fantastic time as a patron before I ever lived in Ann Arbor,” she said. “It’s incredibly gratifying being with a crowd of people, hearing the audience oohing and aahing and sighing and seeing how the performers react. The interaction between the audience and artist, it’s a magic that happens only in a live performance.”
This year’s indoor concert lineup, though slightly smaller than previous years, includes a Beatles tribute concert, Broadway great Bernadette Peters, and “Whip It” band Devo, among others. Top of the Park, the festival’s free outdoor component, features at least two different live bands every evening and movies Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday. A DJ plays dance music Friday and Saturday nights. Top of the Park is closed on Mondays.
Erica Hobbs is a reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.