The Ann Arbor Summer Festival, now in its 28th year of existence, has become a major attraction in the community for its progressive variety of musical performers and mix of new release and classic favorite movies. The Summer Festival began with a vision for a summer cultural event that would connect audiences with world-class artists, bring community together, and showcase the city and state as a major arts destination. The month-long festival has now adopted two programs, the indoor Mainstage series and the outdoor Top of the Park, combined they hold more than 100 events.
The Mainstage series, which takes place in the Power Center in downtown Ann Arbor, holds ticketed performances for various musicians, comedians, and dancers. However, Top of the Park usually draws the largest crowds. Thousands of locals come to see admission-free concerts and movies under the stars, 6 nights a week. There are also many scheduled activities for kids. Top of the Park recently moved away from its namesake location, the top of a parking deck, and it is now situated in a much more comfortable and roomy Ingalls Mall, a grassy area on the University of Michigan’s Central Campus. There are food tents run by some of Ann Arbor’s favorite eateries, as well as a dedicated area where alcoholic beverages are served. Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket and have a good time.
While the entertainment at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival was traditionally geared towards classical roots and theater, it has evolved over the years to appeal to the diverse culture groups of the city. The same people aren’t likely going to attend every night, so it important to bring in a variety of entertainment. “We ensure that the festival achieves a balance between presenting the best local, national and international artists while truly reflecting the unique character of Ann Arbor,” Executive Director and spokesman Robb Woulfe said. “One of the best parts of this festival is the diversity of what we offer – where else can you experience gypsy jazz music, smoking hot blues, acrobats dancing on 15-foot poles, and a drag artist singing Tiny Tim songs… ALL in the same night? The festival is truly one big mash-up of arts, entertainment, culture and community,” he said. Top of the Park does a great job of bringing in regional as well as national musicians from all types of musical backgrounds, whether it be hip-hop or bluegrass, so there is bound to be something for everyone. In recent years, some nights have featured electronic DJs instead of movies once the sun goes down.
Despite all of the Summer Festival’s success, they have recently struggled to keep Top of the Park free. Thanks to private donations, corporate sponsors, and some revenue from the food establishments, it has managed to stay admission-free for nearly three decades. Getting to relax outdoors while enjoying free music and movies is the definition of awesome to many Ann Arbor natives; everyone is hoping that Top of the Park will continue for years to come.
This year’s festival runs until July 10th, and there are still many great acts to come. Musical performances include artists representing acoustic, soul, reggae, and hip-hop. There are several more nights with live DJs, as well as nights offering great movies like Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and E.T.. If you can’t make it to Top of the Park this year, save the date from mid-June to mid-July for next summer; you won’t be disappointed! ~Jack Durham, Regional Director