Festival History

A Community Tradition for 36 Years

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival is an exhilarating celebration of performing arts, outdoor entertainment, and community spirit. The nearly four-week gathering offers dozens of performances, activities, exhibitions, and screenings representative of the best in music, dance, contemporary circus, comedy, film, spectacle, street arts, and family entertainment.

Founded by Eugene Power, and established as an equal partnership between the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival presented its first full season in 1984. Early festival seasons emphasized classical music and theater, but have since become more popular and diverse in nature, encompassing a breadth of performance genres. What 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, now flourishes as one of the leading multi-arts festivals in the country.

Today, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival produces two concurrent programs, one indoor and one outdoor, at various venues and spaces across the University of Michigan campus and in downtown Ann Arbor. The indoor Mainstage series includes ticketed performances of world-class music, dance, circus, and comedy. The outdoor program, Top of the Park, is held along a beautiful campus green and offers admission-free concerts, blockbuster movies by moonlight, open-air spectacles, and unique family attractions.

Now entering its 36th season in 2019, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival offers a progressive mix of regional, national, and international artists of all disciplines. Presenting over 175 scheduled events each season and attracting a diverse audience of over 80,000 people, the festival continues to grow as a major cultural event in the Ann Arbor community, and as an internationally recognized celebration of arts that enriches the cultural, economic, and social vitality of the region.

For over three decades, the festival has hosted such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Marcel Marceau, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Garrison Keillor, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Gladys Knight, Chris Isaak, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Ingrid Michaelson, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Andrew Bird, Lily Tomlin, Circa, Steve Martin, Trombone Shorty, The Indigo Girls, John Waters, Gregory Allan Isakov, Bernadette Peters, Cake, Lyle Lovett, Momix, k.d. lang, Ira Glass, Buddy Guy, Feist, Mayer Hawthorne, John Hiatt, Taylor Mac, The Moth Mainstage, Ani Difranco, Meow Meow, Los Lobos, Diana Krall, Patty Griffin and Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me!

In addition to its mainstream presentations and regional artists, recent outdoor spectacle installations and performances offerings have included Australia’s Strange Fruit, The Architects of Air, Transe Express, Wild bytes’ Superhero, The Dream Engine, Erth’s Dinosaurs, Close Act Theatre’s Saurus, Polyglot’s Tangle, The Water Balloon Gladiators, David Zinn, Mucca Pazza, March Fourth! and many more!

The Ann Arbor District Library has created a digital archive with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival capturing its history by digitizing Ann Arbor News articles, 30+ years of Festival Guides, publications, photographs, and of people having fun. You can also listen to interviews with past and present festival organizers and volunteers as they give behind-the-scenes tour of the Festival. The library is accepting contributions if you have additional festival memorabilia or names to add to unidentified photos. Please browse the collection and enjoy.

A2SF Digital Archive

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