This article is about the 2015 Ann Arbor Summer Festival. For an updated list of all current events, click HERE.
For an amazing outdoor festival experience in Michigan this summer, head to Ann Arbor for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival in June and July. To make planning easy, we’ve put together itineraries for a standout weekend of programming that’s happening Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28. The first itinerary is ideal for American Roots music fans, with two outstanding shows at the Power Center featuring gospel, jazz, and rock serving as the centerpiece to the weekend. The second itinerary is perfect for families and lays out two days filled with fun performances, activities, workshops, and screenings all ages can enjoy. But first, a little bit about the festival.
Since it began 32 years ago, Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) has become a major arts destination in Southeast Michigan, drawing more than 80,000 attendees annually over its four-week run. It’s a favorite community tradition and a summer highlight for Ann Arborites. This year’s festival takes place June 12–July 5, 2015, in downtown Ann Arbor and on the campus of University of Michigan.
The festival is an international multi-arts gathering that presents an eclectic mix of music, dance, comedy, film, spoken word, street art, and family entertainment. Their indoor, ticketed program is called the Mainstage. In 2015, this series includes nine ticketed indoor shows featuring stars such as the Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson, and The Moth Mainstage, which is a live storytelling show from the makers of NPR’s The Moth Radiohour.
Their outdoor site, Top of the Park (also called TOP), is located on N. University Avenue on the Michigan campus and hosts the majority of the festival’s events. TOP features hundreds of free concerts, spectacles, outdoor cinema screenings, beer and wine tastings, kids hands-on activities, all-ages wellness classes, an adult beverage area, and a Culinary Row highlighting local cuisine. There is a large lawn where people can spread out a blanket and lawn chairs, as well as a seating area with fold out chairs provided in front of the stages. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5 per family per visit. Top of the Park opens at 5:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.
The reputation of the festival has been growing among artists and presenters as a major North American festival, helping it to attract the best artists from around the world and nation, as well as showcasing dozens of celebrated Michigan performers. You can see more singer-songwriter, acoustic-oriented sets on their intimate stage or dance in the crowds to the headlining bands on their bigger stage.
Something that sets A2SF apart from other performing arts festivals is that the programming is so broad. There truly is something for everyone! Over 21 nights, you can hear bands playing everything from jazz, rock, blues, indie acoustic, and gospel to West African, salsa, and samba. There are established and up-and-coming acts alongside indie rock bands and marching bands. The festival works with community partners like the library and local museums to offer hands-on experiences in a KidZone. A2SF also specializes in large, outdoor spectacles, so you might catch a free acrobatic exhibition on the lawn or a one-of-a-kind attraction like this year’s massive, pedal-powered acrobat stage, The Cirque Mechanic Gantry Bike.
The festival is a favorite for young families because it is extremely family-friendly, with plenty of space to spread out in the sun or shade, maneuver a stroller, and relax while the kids have fun. It’s also popular with young professionals meeting up after work, teens celebrating the early days of summer break, and older people taking in some amazing people watching. With a longer festival season and a bigger outdoor space than many festivals, there’s a refreshing lack of congested crowds. The atmosphere is buoyant, lively, and easy, with people wandering in for a night of discovery, artistic inspiration, and enjoyment. The festival claims it’s “the best part of summer in Ann Arbor” and we think you’ll agree. Here are two itineraries to get you started.
Roots Music Fans June 27 & 28
While the main draw for Roots music fans this weekend will be back-to-back nights of fantastic Mainstage shows—first Down By The Riverside: gospel icons The Blind Boys of Alabama with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on Saturday, then Robert Randolph and The Family Band on Sunday—the whole weekend is flush with exciting offerings.
Pre-Festival Explore the many wonderful things to do, taste, and see in downtown Ann Arbor. The festival is walking distance to State Street and Liberty Street shopping and campus museums like UMMA and The Natural History Museum. In addition to 10 local food vendors on the festival grounds, numerous great restaurant options like Sava’s and RedHawk are adjacent to the festival grounds.
5:00 p.m. Head over to Top of the Park where festivalgoers will be gathering on the lawns or meeting up for a drink in the beverage area. Families can explore activities with Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum in the KidZone. The more adventurous can join a free Retreat class in West African Dance on the Power Center lawn. Festivalgoers of all ages and abilities try out Retreat classes, making them a fun and relaxed way to get some late afternoon exercise.
7:00 p.m. Sample Culinary Row, making sure to try the tamales from Chela’s. Eat, people watch and groove out on guitar virtuoso Joe Summers playing Chet Atkins-style guitar and hot jazz informed solos with his band on the North University Stage.
7:30 p.m. Get ready for show time at the Power Center, just a short walk from TOP. Cool off in the air-conditioned lobby and chat with other Roots music fans about what is sure to be a joyous night of Southern spiritual music and New Orleans rhythms when The Blind Boys of Alabama join forces with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band for a new collaboration called “Down By the Riverside.” Find tickets here.
9:00 p.m. With spirits high, stroll back to the North University Stage, immerse yourself in the crowd, and catch the tail end of Hullabaloo band’s ska-influenced set. Close out the night with the Motown funk band The Saints of Soul at 10:30. This festival favorite always draws a crowd ready to dance.
Start your day with some of Ann Arbor’s great brunch options, like Northside Grill or the iconic Angelo’s. You can also seek out some Ann Arbor nature adventures in the early afternoon. Go for a hike in the Nichols Arboretum or a canoe ride on Argo Pond, which are both just a mile from the festival site.
5:00 p.m. Head back to Top of the Park for another outstanding night of artistic inspiration. Grab an ice cream at Stucchi’s and chill on the lawn or try out a Slow Vinyasa Yoga Retreat class.
7:00 p.m. For dinner, try Satchell’s BBQ on the festival’s Culinary Row. Take photos of the kids dressed for a dinosaur theme night at TOP.
7:30 p.m. Get back to the Power Center for another incredible night of Mainstage as Robert Randolph and The Family Band electrify audiences with joyful, passionate rock and roll. Randolph is a pedal steel virtuoso whose upbeat, up-tempo jams have made him a favorite at festivals like Bonnaroo and SXSW. Find tickets here.
9:00 p.m. Get treated to a blues, funk, and soul explosion on the North University Stage when Ann Arbor native Chris Canas mesmerizes the crowd with his guitar chops. He and his band will bring an enthusiastic crowd to TOP.
10:00 p.m. Hit the Sugar Shack on Culinary Row for some caramel glazed popcorn and settle in for an outdoor cinema screening of the 90’s Spielberg thriller Jurassic Park.
Family Fun June 27 & 28
Any day at A2SF is ideal for families, but weekends are especially wonderful for enjoying the festival with kids. Every weekend is filled with spectacular artists, activities, and experiences they will love. Parents can also feel good knowing that Top of the Park is a safe, exciting, and affordable place to get in some quality time with everyone.
Ann Arbor is awesome with kids! From public pools with twisty slides and splash pools to the Saturday farmers’ market in Kerrytown, there are myriad options for a good time with tots before heading over to Top of the Park.
5:00 p.m. The festival is wheel-friendly, so you can bike, stroll, and wagon roll in with the kids. Younger festivalgoers will notice right away kids blowing bubbles, hula-hooping, jumping rope, and making chalk drawings around the KidZone tent. Head over there for games and science experiments led by Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum throughout the night.
6:00 p.m. When the troops get hungry, Culinary Row includes plenty of affordable, healthy options and kid-approved dishes like macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza, and tacos. Festival treats like cotton candy and snow-cones are also available. Take over a picnic table or spread a blanket on the lawn.
7:00 p.m. Join the dozens of families twisting and shouting right below the North University Stage during the Joe Summers set. Play with other kids and enjoy a beautiful Michigan evening now that school’s out and the days are longer.
Put on your favorite pterodactyl and t-rex shirts for dinosaur theme night at Top of the Park, then make it to the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown branch at 1:00 p.m. for a kids workshop on hip-hop music and movement led by The Alphabet Rockers, a San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop collective that’s part of the festival’s KidsRock series. Try out easy-to-learn games and activities that explore dance, singing, rhyming, and beatboxing.
5:00 p.m. In honor of dinosaur theme night, find the UM Museum of Natural History leading a Jurassic Park Fossils program in the KidZone tent. Kids can explore the origin of birds and compare the sizes of raptor claws to the talons of modern birds of prey, then make a fossil rubbing of the first bird Archaeopteryx and their own wearable wings.
6:00 p.m. Try a Ray’s Red Hot bratwurst, a samosa from Hut-K-Chaats, or a spinach pie from Oasis Grill. Wash it down with a Strawberry Lemonade Freeze from Sweetwaters.
7:00 p.m. Get up close for The Alphabet Rockers on the North University Stage. The festival’s KidsRock series brings national acts that kids and parents can agree are great. A Parents Choice Award-winning group, The Alphabet Rockers entertain with hip-hop beats, rhymes, and movements that touch on social issues such as bullying, nutrition, and self-esteem.
10:00 p.m. For kids old enough to hang in there after the sun goes down, stick around for the outdoor cinema screening of Jurassic Park (PG-13). It’s always a thrill to see a movie like this with a crowd full of younger people who’ve never seen it.
For all the details on the festival, including suggestions for lodging and directions, head over to A2SF.org. You can also download the festival app, which allows you to build your own schedule, see artist bios, and receive weather updates.
*Photo credit to Myra Klarman Photography.