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From First Toke To Last Note - A Community Event

From First Toke To Last Note - A Community Event image
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Article From First Toke To Last Note-
A Community Event

The Ann Arbor Sun would like to take the space of the next few pages to express its special pride in being part of the community which this week is host to the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival.

The five concerts of exciting, richly combined blues and jazz music about to go down at Otis Spann Memorial Field are, in fact, the culmination of years of work by people who live here in Ann Arbor – and we think it’s important at this time to lay out the purposes and intentions of those who were involved in putting the Festival together.

The Blues & Jazz Festival was just an idea back in the winter of 1971, when Rainbow Multi-Media co-head Peter Andrews started trying to find a way to revive the original Ann Arbor Blues Festivals which had run (with tremendous artistic success) in 1969 and 1970 and then were halted by financial difficulties. The Blues Festival lost 530,000 in 1970 and there was no Festival at all in 1971 because student organizations at the University of Michigan (which had provided the backing for the Blues Festivals) would not give their financial support.

Pete Andrews’ plan was, first of all, to expand the scope of the Blues Festival with the addition of contemporary jazz and some of the more popular forms of blues-derived music, opening it up to more people and thereby increasing the possibilities of financial success. The U of M organizations that had backed the previous Festivals didn’t relate to Peter’s plans, but Pete’s new partner and Rainbow Multi-Media co-founder John Sinclair – who had missed the Blues Festivals while serving 29 months of a 9 ½ to 10 year prison sentence for possession of two joints – got into it enthusiastically as soon as he heard about it.

While at a free rock and roll concert in Lansing Sinclair ran into a brother named Rick Dykstra who said that he had inherited a large sum of money and needed some advice as to how to invest it. A meeting with John, Pete, and Rick was set up and Rick decided to put up the money to get the Festival rolling.

Once they had secured the Festival’s economic base, Pete, John, and their new non-profit Rainbow Multi-Media corporation went about putting together a lineup of artists for the event which was designed to make it an educational experience as well as one which would provide the best and most exciting entertainment possible. Starting with the respect and admiration for the blues which was already one of Ann Arbor’s highest traditions, Rainbow Multi-Media workers tried to illustrate (by booking different kinds and combinations of black-inspired musics) how the blues and its culture was the root of the music popular today (rock and roll) and the people who listen to rock and roll music and make up its culture.

“Frankly, we see the educational and cultural experience that most people in this country have been given as being rather barren.” says John Sinclair, “particularly as related to black music and culture.”

The five concerts that made up the first Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival presented just about as diverse a range of black musics as it’s possible to put together from country blues to the city, from gospel to soul, from space music back to the boogie – a whole spectrum of music and culture, or, as it’s called on the poster for this year’s Festival, “A Rainbow of Sound.”

The powerful effect of the music isn’t the only concern of the Rainbow Multi-Media people, as they’ve given much attention (both in 1972 and 1973) to how the power of the music is used – particularly the question of use of the economic power of the Festival; or who makes the money and what do they do with it once they get it.

Rainbow Multi-Media’s approach to the question of the Festival money is just as unique as its approach to the Festival’s music – because Rainbow Multi-Media’s own economic organization is itself unique in the music industry. The company is nonprofit, which means that no profits are used to further the gain of individual members of the company. All of the money made from Rainbow Multi-Media’s various programs (after expenses and minimal wages are taken out) go back to the company to further its goals and other projects.

And the project in which Rainbow Multi-Media is involved are all designed to further its workers’ collective vision of a strong, exciting, widely-based, musical/cultural social community. As well as the Blues & Jazz Festival, Rainbow Multi-Media works on management of DETROIT, Lightnin’, and Uprising (three of the finest energy bands from the area) and is trying to set up non-profit printing, recording, and video companies as well as giving help to the year-round efforts of progressive community organizations in Ann Arbor such as the Community Parks Program and the Children’s Community Center with donations of energy, equipment, time, talent, materials, and money.

Portions of the proceeds from the Festival gate receipts have been set aside (once again, both in ‘72 and ‘73) for a number of locally-based community-controlled self-determination projects. The 1973 Festival has a full 30% of the profits designated for used by groups other than Rainbow Multi-Media itself – 10% each to Project Community (a primarily black student organization at the University of Michigan involved in tutoring and other educational programs), the People’s Ballroom project (currently trying to re-open its low-priced, community-controlled, nonprofit Ballroom), and the Community Parks Program (which produces weekly free concerts every summer in Ann Arbor).

But before the money taken in at the Festival gate becomes profit, most of it is used to pay the Festival artists (who certainly deserve a fair wage) and for the many people-oriented services which Rainbow Multi-Media has seen to provide at the events. These include free child care, extensive information facilities, drug help and medical care, low-priced organic food and juices, and the community-supported and controlled Psychedelic Ranger security force (which completely replaces the uniformed police usually dominating concerts and festivals).

One of the most direct ways that the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival supports its community is simply through employing all of the people who make up the onsite and year-round Festival staffs – more than 1,000 in all. And most of the people who work hardest at organizing the Festival are the same people who work here in organizations set up to serve different segments of the Ann Arbor community all year round. Drug problems will be handled by Ann Arbor’s own Drug Help; child care is done by the Ann Arbor Children’s Community Center; sound and video projections are being done by Fanfare, Inc. of Ann Arbor; the stage is the responsibility of Craig Blazier, equipment manager for the DETROIT band; security is being dealt with by Ann Arbor’s unique Psychedelic Ranger force; site construction and stage covering have been handled by Cozmic Construction Co. of Ann Arbor; and information distribution will be coordinated by Ann Arbor’s non-profit Rainbow Trucking Co.

So, what we have ahead of us at Otis Spann Memorial Field on September 7, 8, and 9 is a major musical event produced primarily by energy generated right here in Ann Arbor. And because the production of the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival has been based on the highest principles and some of the conscious and progressive politics currently being put into practice, the Festival returns that energy, and more, to the Ann Arbor community and helps insure our community’s survival and (hopefully) shows it, and other communities, a way to move.

-Frank Bach