The 1974 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival "In Exile" truly kicked out the jams, but got kicked in the ass in the process.
The music at the Festival was stupendous and inspirational. (See accompanying review.)
Yet other aspects of the event were at best bad, and at worse, disastrous, due to the forced relocation of the event made necessary by the Republican majority on the Ann Arbor City Council.
Strolling inside the Griffin Hollow Ampitheatre Friday night, Festival-goers were greeted by a beautiful grass bowl which enabled everyone attending to perceive a close-up and intimate view of the stage. (We need a facility like that in town.) The excellent PA system sent deep, richly sounding music resounding off the steeply-sloped ampitheatre walls.
But before entering the facility, the assembled blues and jazz enthusiasts came up against a first taste of the police-state harassment that was to mark much of the weekend. Everyone entering was gruffly searched by a gauntlet of Windsor police, ostensibly for liquor (not allowed at public events in Canada), although police also picked people's pockets of minute quantities of reefer, arresting almost 150 people in the process for booze and weed on their way into the grounds.
Before that treatment, American festivalgoers had to get past the border, which for most proved a simple affair (this writer was waved through 4 times without even being asked for identification), for others a three or four adventure in paranoia. Advance scare stories in the media and a natural fear of such imaginary lines of crossing kept a lot of regular fans away.
So did the media stories on the arrests and harassment at the ampitheatre itself. The Republican-imposed exile proved to be a financial killer; there were only about 3,000 average paid admissions each show, as people who normally would have flocked to the Festival, now three years old and internationally acclaimed, stayed home. To break even, the show needed 8,000 paid admissions. So the sponsors of the Festival, Rainbow Multi-Media of Ann Arbor, are now over $100,000 in the red, money that they don't have.
WELCOME TO WINDSOR
"Friendly" Windsor, Ontario, proved just the opposite. According to the people at Windsor Legal Aid, they have never seen the cops there treat people so viciously. There have never been arrests of people " going into the ampitheatre at any of the concerts previously held there. The border police have never turned away so many people saying "you need $150 in cash each in order to enter the country."
Police, usually absent from the Festival in Ann Arbor by mutual agreement, stalked the inside, sitting in pairs at various points at the top of the grass slope, watching everyone. It was, for this Ann Arbor resident, like a trip back through time to 1969 and paranoia everywhere. You couldn't even light up a joint without looking every way at once, which is ridiculous because blues and jazz are borne of reefer and they go hand in hand. That place was dry!
The whole thing really made attendees appreciate Ann Arbor, reminding us all how ahead we are here in certain respects. As one of the Psychedelic Rangers doing security put it while watching a brother being dragged away by the pólice for reefer, "being here, I feel like a black person in Selma, Alabama in 1964."
Strangely enough, the harassment also made one appreciate the United States! In Canada there is no Bill of Rights; police have the authority to search anyone at anytime, as long as they have "reason to suspect a felony is about to be committed." No warrants are necessary. Hence the searches at the entrance to the Festival, where some people were dragged handcuffed down the sloping grass walls to the paddy wagon fleet below. (One Windsor resident badly bruised by such an experience is mounting a civil liberties suit against the authorities there.)
Commenting on the lack of need for warrants and tough treatment, one Windsor police sergeant told the SUN, "that's why you have so much trouble down there in the states, because the police are so tied up."
SINCLAIR STOPPED AT BORDER
Friday night, the first of the event, it seems a special point was made by the authorities to scare people away, as John Sinclair, Creative Director of the Festival, was refused entry at the border. Strange, as he had freely crossed over three or four times in the two previous weeks, that they would pick the first night of the event, sending media ripples through wire services letting everyone know John couldn't get through, and you shouldn't hassle it either. Coincidence?
The next morning, further evidence of possibly calculated harassment was brought forth as ex-Rainbow People's Party members Pun Plamondon and Craig Blazier were arrested while backstage by Canadian Immigration Authorities, who apparently had been following them and clearly knew who they were. Pun and Craig were hauled off to jail, released on $200 personal bond each and ordered to appear for deportation proceedings that Monday. For those who don't remember their case, Pun and Craig who were working on stage management and security at the Festival) were arrested last year and held on an initial $100,000 bond through the efforts of the Michigan State Police Subversive Squad. Originally charged with armed robbery and violent extortion, they were convicted only of threatening to expose a hard-drug dealer in the pages of this newspaper, for which they are now both serving three years of probation.
Apparently the Immigration police arrested the two for being convicted felons in Canada . But both Pun and Craig had anticipated this possibility, gotten permission to enter Canada from their Ann Arbor probation officers, and written to the border authorities notifying them of their intention to cross the border. Immigration responded to their query saying their entry would be up to the individual border inspector when they carne across.
Due to the super-low attendance, RMM is in deep debt. Three out of 23 musicians at the event cancelled out (Hound Dog Taylor, Gil Evans and Albert Collins) because there weren't enough ticket-sales-generated (or any other) funds to pay them with. Other artists are still owed money; they played for just their advance deposit in most cases and may not get the rest for some time. This is particularly dismaying to RMM, which has always looked upon its commitment to the musicians as a priority one. (That commitment is part of why the Festival exists in the first place, to give exposure to lesser known but genius black artists.) Money that did come in from ticket sales at the gate was all impounded by St. Clair College for its service and rental fees, and so could not go to the artists, except near the end when the college gave up some money to keep the show going through Sunday night.
Having the Festival in police-state Windsor turned out to be a big mistake. But RMM was faced with a difficult choice after being shut out by the Ann Arbor Republicans despite spread community opposition to the forced exile. The corporation already owed $30,000 from last year's Festival loss, and felt it could only make that up by producing a successful concert this year. Otherwise, if no Festival was held, RMM could have gone under from the previous year's loss.
Besides the police scare, of course there were other factors that kept ticket sales down. Windsor is a far-away place to most Ann Arbor or Detroit people, being in a foreign and largely unfamiliar country. The lateness of the Republican cancellation forced a situation where the publicity for. the event was late in starting, and caused the cancellation of several more "draw" name acts, including Dr. John. Gato Barbieri, and Esther Phillips.
But RMM felt other factors would overcome these negative ones (not anticipating the outright repression). First off, the mammoth radio station, CKLW, was co-sponsoring the Festival, promising all-out free advertising in exchange for a share of the potential profits (they lost out on that one). But CKLW reneged on its promise to the extent that the ads were sparser and started later than was originally agreed.
It was also felt that the massive publicity that came off the blatant cancellation of the Festival could create enough attention to attract people to Windsor quickly. But this factor didn't outweigh the other ones.
THE FESTIVALS FUTURE
Due to the actions of 6 white Republican men on the Ann Arbor City Council, and the possibly concerted efforts of Canadian authorities, the Blues and Jazz Festival so many Ann Arborites have come to look forward to has become a financial albatross around RMM's neck. The future of the non-profit corporation, which also spearheaded and organized this year's free Sunday concerts in Ann Arbor, is very much in doubt, and so is the future of the Festival.
What's particularly tragic about this year's event is that its purpose was in part to prove that blues and jazz high-energy music is commercially viable and capable of sustaining a large audience. If the event
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Everyone entering the Festival was roughly searched by Windsor police, ostensibly for liquor although police also picked people's pockets of minute quantities of reefer, arresting almost 150 fans in the process. But despite the police-state difficulties, the music at the Festival and the interaction of the audience with the performers was magnificent.
Blues & Jazz Artist Reviews on--"
alive, and the car-making factory blues was much in evidence and spirit during the band's set.
Boogie Woogie Red strode to the stage for the next whirlwind change. Boogie woogie piano music is getting ever more popular these days, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if Red manages to ride the wave to stardom. The crowd went wild for the man, standing up to dance to that boogie-woogie beat.
Johnnie-Mae Matthews is the woman who helped start Berry Gordy, the Temptations, Mary Wells and Diana Ross on their careers, but has yet to reap any recognition for those historical acts. Her powerful back-up band called Black Nasty was the next act at the Festival, producing even more participation ass-shaking throughout the hungry crowd.
John Lee Hooker closed out the afternoon show with a typical boogie session that produced pandemonium throughout the audience. Despite that, the set was actually low-key for the Hook. Maybe he's getting older, maybe he cares less these days; it's hard to say. John Lee is still the master and inventor of the drawn-out boogie jam, but this particular Saturday afternoon he wasn't smokin' as we have seen him before.
Robert Jr. Lockwood performed his second Festival appearance first off, featuring the biggest sax player we've ever seen and much inspired blues. Lockwood's been playing them for years and years (he was B.B, King's original inspiration and you can certainly feel that as he strangles his guitar).
Sunnyland Slim with the Blue Spirit Band took center stage next. Sunnyland plays piano, along with a band including a fine harmonica wailer and a white lead singer (the blues can be shared by all). This band sounded like what Siegall Schwall probably listened to in order to copy the authentic black style, much deeper and more richly attuned than its white imitators.
After a long break, up came the Junior Walker All Stars, with a slick, highly polished review, featuring a hyped-up announcer and all. Junior ran through his sonoric sax hits and some lesser known gems to the delight of everyone present. The instant he starts up a tune all bad feeling evaporates as if by magic, and feet start stomping uncontrollably. Truly Motown music, born of factory sweat and humanity's joy.
To close out a memorable weekend, B.B. King led his band through a review of his most popular numbers, fortunately choosing not to emphasize his more recent, less-energized and more night-club oriented tunes. B.B. knew he wasn't getting paid more than his advance deposit, but poured his heart out anyway, explaining that since the band was in Canada he couldn't simply turn his back on all the people who had paid to see him. B.B. is a big, beautiful man, who despite an incredible rise to stardom has managed, unlike many others, to retain his soul.
And so a whirlwind compendium of true black music genius drew to a close. Had the show taken place in Ann Arbor, the audience would have been three times larger and a good deal less paranoid from overlooking overzealous police watching everyone in sight and arresting 150 people during the three days. But despite the hassles, the music worked its magic.