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Jazz, blues and more at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival


John Bommarito: Today on the song break, I am happy to welcome a special guest from the music community of sorts. He's a supporter of the music community much like I am, He is the Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Michael Michelon is here to tell us a bit more about what's happening this summer at Top of the Park and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Welcome, Michael.

Michael Michelon: Thanks for having me.

John Bommarito: It's good to see you again, sir.

Michael Michelon: Good to see you.

John Bommarito: We cross paths in our different lives now, and I'm happy that I still have some sort of chance to help you spread the word about this fantastic festival. Before we do that, tell me briefly about you, because I don't know if I know this. Did you grow up in the Ann Arbor area?

Michael Michelon: Nope. I was, like many of us people that stuck around here in this area after school and I’m enjoying this phase of life in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.

John Bommarito: That's fine. That's a great way to be part of it, though. When did you actually move here?

Michael Michelon: 2006.

John Bommarito: Okay. So, long enough to have an appreciation for it, like many of us who've been near it for a long time.

Michael Michelon: Absolutely.

John Bommarito: How long ago did this free festival start? Not “How long ago were you part of it?” How long ago did it start?

Michael Michelon: About 41 years ago.

John Bommarito: Ooh, we’re that far into it already?!

Michael Michelon: Yes, that far.

John Bommarito: Do you know any other city in America that does anything like this for as long as it's been done? Three weeks or so. Though, now we're down to two.

Michael Michelon: Yeah, the language is the important part of what you mentioned. I think that there are few examples of a festival that goes as long but not that is free and has this much great stuff. So, it's the combination of those things.

John Bommarito: I've never heard any other friend brag from another city “We've got this great festival.” It may be 3 or 4 days long or something, but two weeks with taking Mondays off, which is not abnormal for a theater. Right? And I'm using air quotes for theater because it is kind of theater. There is theater involved. Right? It's a cool thing. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but was it for financial reasons that caused the length of the festival to shorten?

Michael Michelon: For the second year in a row, we're at 15 days. So, about 6 days shorter than a typical season. And I hope and imagine it'll be a temporary scale back. But, yeah, the post-Covid costs and how live events have changed is certainly part of that.

John Bommarito: Finding funding from supporters, the big sponsors, not just people like me who come and give a $5 gift or whatever, that's probably been just equally as tough as anything else.

Michael Michelon: Yeah, it's a it's a very, very generous community and very broad set of people and funders that help make this possible. And I think that we want to be sure that not only are we producing a long festival, but one that has, you know, quality experiences, whether it's 15 days or 21 days. So…

John Bommarito: That doesn't matter, right?

Michael Michelon: Yeah, that's part of it. Making sure that, as we scale back or scale up back to 21 days, that we're, presenting the quality of experience everyone has come to expect.

John Bommarito: My guest today on the song break is Michael Michelon, the Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. It is another fantastic festival. At quick glance, I see a mix of familiar and unfamiliar names on the bill. I see jazz, blues, folk, soul, world, bluegrass, singer songwriters. I see a recent “The Voice” contestant and a Grammy winner and a multiple Detroit Music Award winner. And by the way, everyone - free. It's free. So I don't know. I don't even know where to start. I'm looking at just the first day is a great day for fans of WEMU. The Ron Brooks Trio Thornetta Davis. And I'm not familiar with Kenyatta Rashon, do you know anything about her?

Michael Michelon: She's great. I encourage you to check her out. That's going to be a special night kicking off our season. First Friday is always a great night with tons of families filling out the lawn and, just so much energy. And I really encourage everyone to come out and kick things off with us. And with WEMU.

John Bommarito: I see a few other dates that fans of the jazz and blues programs we have here will be excited about. The 19th I see Chris Canas there. Ingrid Racine recently did one of our 5:01 Jazz Series shows at the Blue LLama. She will be there on the 21st. Tumbao Bravo as well as Orquestra Ritmo. I think they're there on the same day, on the 22nd. And that actually is our night where we're having a special event there in the tent. So big donors of the station, you get to attend that particular night in our tent. Mr. B's B10 Band is there on the 26th. Gwyneth Hayes on the 24th. I mean, there's a lot to pick from if you're a fan of just jazz and blues, but I'm seeing a whole bunch of artists that I like from the other side of my musical taste too. What are you most excited about?

Michael Michelon: There are so many great things. You talk about jazz. I think something that's been really exciting at the top of the park in recent years is, is the Grove Stage, which is this lovely stage nestled in the beverage garden at Top of the Park. It has really become just such a great venue. And Friday evenings in particular, these jazz sets, a couple of artists that are playing two sets that I encourage everyone to come out for. It's just a really lovely setting, a great happy hour spot. And so I call attention to that. And then there's a really great performance opening weekend, a circus company called Cirque Kikasse and they're presenting a show the 14th, 15th and 16th. And I encourage everyone to check it out. It'll be right there in Ingalls Mall and, wonderful acrobatics and a great all ages family show.

John Bommarito: Yeah, there's something for everyone every year. There's, like I said, the music. But there also is great kids activities and movies. There's going to be something for every member of Washtenaw County to enjoy, whether you come every night or just come on the nights, you see things you're familiar with. But the best part about it is, again, we mentioned it's free. You can come out and discover new things without any risk to you, other than maybe getting caught in the wind, rain or whatever happens. I know in years past there was an app that helped us kind of keep track of things going on. Did that come back? I know that I was using that several years ago. I was like, “Ooh, great, now I know what's happening.”

Michael Michelon: John. Come on, apps are so out. Mobile is where it's at. We encourage everyone to pick up their phones or go to a computer device if they’ve got one and a go to a2sf.org. There's a great calendar function in there and you can find all of these things. And you pointed it out. The festival format is what's really fun here. You can just show up every night, discover something, take it all in, or you can circle all the things that you're looking forward to and dig in deep here. So the festival format I think is really, really special.

John Bommarito: I see a few ticketed events, which actually seems, again, fewer than in years past. Are there more that are going to be announced before the festival starts?

Michael Michelon: These are our two ticketed performances this year Gregory Alan Isakov on June 17th, and then another great circus show called Reflex at the Mendelssohn Theater. I encourage everyone to check that out. It's called Reflex: Uunraveling 4,000 Years of Juggling. And it's going to really wow audiences and the 22nd and 23rd.

John Bommarito: Before that, and actually happening tomorrow, is an event called Debut. Tell me more about Debut on Friday, May 17th

Michael Michelon: Debut. This is our kickoff event and fundraiser in downtown Ann Arbor on Friday like you mentioned. And just a great opportunity for festival stakeholders and fans to come out and get a really early taste of everything that we do. A lot of wonderful performances, supporting a great cause and kicking off the season, enjoying this great weather here in May.

John Bommarito: And more information about that a2sf.org, is that correct?

Michael Michelon: That's correct.

John Bommarito: Anything new or unexpected that regulars should know about before making plans to come down this year?

Michael Michelon: Always. There's always new and exciting things. And so just enjoy the calendar, but also just circle a couple of dates you want to stop by and I'm sure you'll discover something new.

John Bommarito: That's kind of part of why I'm highlighting it now. It doesn't start for a couple of weeks, but I want people to make sure that they block out because that time of year it gets busy. There's graduation parties. There's whatever else happens in your summer. Don't miss your favorite acts. Don't forget to come down to the festival. It is a fantastic part of living in this area. I know in years past there's been a suggested donation. Will the volunteers be asking for that same amount this year, or have we kind of increased the ask this year?

Michael Michelon: I know they will. We encourage everyone to give within their means, and really support with your feet as well and be there and participate.

John Bommarito: Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you wanted to tell me that I forgot to ask you about?

Michael Michelon: Really opening weekend. I think opening weekend is really special this year. You mentioned some of the artists that are on the Rackham stage. We talked about the early jazz set with Ron Brooks and then this, this wonderful circus company. I think opening weekend is really wonderful this year.

John Bommarito: I see some great acts on it and I'm tempted to come out every night. So, Michael, thank you very much for spending time with us, giving us a little insight into the upcoming Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Michael Michelon is the Executive Director of the festival, and it is a great to see you again, sir!

Michael Michelon: Great to see you!

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My background is almost entirely music industry related. I have worked record retail, record wholesale, radio and been a mobile disc jockey as the four primary jobs I've held since 1985. Sure, there were a few other things in there - an assistant to a financial advisor, management level banker (hired during the pandemic with no banking experience), I cleaned a tennis club and couple of banks. The true version of myself is involved in music somehow. Since I don't play any instruments, my best outlet is to play other people's music and maybe inspire you to support that artist.
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