Here's what's new and notable at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival for 2024

The 41st Ann Arbor Summer Festival will launch June 14, with mostly free music, film, and arts programming running through June 30 in downtown Ann Arbor.
This story is part of a series about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. It is made possible by the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Destination Ann Arbor, Larry and Lucie Nisson, and the University Musical Society.

The 41st anniversary season of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) will launch June 14, with mostly free music, film, and arts programming running through June 30 in downtown Ann Arbor.
Rich Retyi, communications and marketing manager at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), which has partnered with A2SF to co-present several events, calls A2SF "one of the biggest things that kicks off the summer."
"We always aim to present and program things that everyone can enjoy," says Natalie Robbins, marketing and communications manager for A2SF. "We want people to really feel like there’s something for everyone."
Robbins calls A2SF "an opportunity of discovery" since "on any given night, there’s quite a bit happening." That includes everything from film screenings to yoga, dance, and meditation workshops; musical performances; and art installations. This year, A2SF has partnered with a number of local organizations, including the Cinetopia Film Festival, AADL, and The Ark, to present events for attendees of all ages.
The complete A2SF schedule is available on the festival's website, but we’ve gathered a few highlights as a starter guide to this year’s festival.
A2SF typically presents one of the best opportunities to check out free live music in Ann Arbor, and this year, local legends in folk, hip hop, rock, and soul will converge downtown in a packed schedule.
On the Rackham Stage, highlights include Erin Zindle and the Ragbirds at 9 p.m. on June 14; Nadim Azzam at 6:45 p.m. and Ki5 at 8 p.m. on June 20; Rod Wallace and Friends at 6:45 p.m. and Dani Darling at 8 p.m. on June 27; May Erlewine at 8:45 p.m. on June 28; and Athletic Mic League at 8:45 p.m. on June 29.
 Doug CoombeDani Darling at Ann Arbor Summer Festival in 2023.
Even more acts will appear on the O&W Grove Stage, including Jordan Hamilton at 5 p.m. on June 28; and The Dick Siegel Trio at 6 p.m. on June 30.
If that’s not enough, in a ticketed event co-presented by A2SF and The Ark, the renowned indie-rock/folk artist Gregory Alan Isakov will perform at 7:30 p.m. on June 17 at Hill Auditorium along with special guest Mon Rovîa, who describes his music as "Afro Appalachian." (Tickets are limited and are available here.)
And last but not least, as part of the Kids’ Rock series, A2SF and AADL will co-present several performances intended for children and families, including the Latin Grammy-nominated Sonia De Los Santos, who performs at the Rackham Stage at 7 p.m. on June 16; and the Detroit-based Miss Paula and The Candy Bandits, who appears at Rackham at 7 p.m. on June 23.
As part of its popular Movies by Moonlight series, A2SF will provide free screenings of films at 9:30 p.m. on the Rackham Stage, including "Napoleon Dynamite" (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year) on June 18, "The Color Purple Musical" on June 19, "Turning Red" on June 27, and "Barbie" on June 30 (with a 10 p.m. start time).
A2SF has also formed a partnership with the Cinetopia Film Festival, which returns this year for the first time since 2019 and will run concurrently with A2SF, from June 13-23.
"Partnering with Ann Arbor Summer Festival and doing our festival at the same time creates the most unique downtown experience," says Nick Alderink, cinema program director for Marquee Arts.
Together with A2SF, Cinetopia will present two silent films at the Mendelssohn Theatre: the 1920 classic German horror film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" at 3:30 p.m. on June 15, and "The Fabulous Fleischer Cartoons, Restored" at 3:30 p.m. on June 16.
 Doug CoombeMovies by Moonlight at Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
Both films will be accompanied by live music: "Dr. Caligari" will feature a live score by local composers Frank Pahl and Michael Gould, and the "Fleischer Cartoons" will be accompanied by organist Stephen Warner.
Alderink says the "Fleischer Cartoons" screening, in which classic cartoon characters like Felix the Cat and Koko the Clown appear, is intended to "let people relive the Saturday morning or Sunday morning cartoon serial experience" from their childhoods.
In developing the programming for Cinetopia — both the film festival itself and the events co-presented with A2SF — Alderink says he found inspiration in the popular South by Southwest festival presented annually in Austin, Texas.
"You can see movies, you can go see music, and then kind of build your own festival in that way," Alderink says.
That "union of music and arts and local food," Alderink says, is "the best way…to experience the community of Ann Arbor."
Spectacles, Nerd Nite, and more
At 8:15 p.m. on June 14 and 15, and at 8 p.m. on June 16, Cirque Kikasse will present "SANTÉ!," which Robbins describes as a "thrilling circus performance," featuring balance acts and acrobatics on top of a food truck that will serve refreshments after the show.
The performance is co-presented by AADL and sponsored by Unity Vibration, which will provide popcorn and non-alcoholic kombucha.
The spectacles continue with "Reflex: Unraveling 4,000 Years of Juggling," which will be presented at the Mendelssohn Theatre at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on June 22 and 23. Self-proclaimed "Professor of Juggling" Jay Gilligan will not only perform an act featuring a variety of props and his own inventions, but will also share "a history of juggling," and an update on "where [juggling] is going … moving into the future," Robbins says. Tickets, which are $18 plus fees and are recommended for adults and children ages 8 and up, are available here.
 Doug CoombeDavid Zinn at Ann Arbor Summer Festival in 2023.
In the festival's Annex space (located this year at 915 E. Washington St.), AADL will present its recurring Nerd Nite event, in which "three people go up on stage and talk about nerdy topics," says Rich Retyi. Retyi says the event features "these really in-depth, passionate stories" about speakers' niche interests.
On this particular Nerd Nite, Kayla Zochowski will discuss the history of Scrabble, Amir Baghdadchi will address the hashbrowns vs. home fries debate, and Retyi himself will describe Space World, a planned Ypsilanti theme park that never quite materialized.
A2SF will also be a great place for players of the AADL’s hugely popular Summer Game, in which participants collect points and exchange them for prizes, to gather game codes for points, Retyi says.
Those inclined to create something themselves can stop by the Annex space at 5:30 p.m. on June 27 for a printmaking session hosted by the AADL. Beginners are welcome to make prints specially themed to coincide with the Ann Arbor bicentennial on tote bags and bandannas. Supplies will be provided.
 Doug CoombeKids enjoying Miss Paula and the Candy Bandits at Ann Arbor Summer Festival in 2022.
"The library tries its best to make things happen that might not otherwise happen," Retyi says, adding that his goal — and AADL’s at large — is to "help make Summer Fest as great as it can be."
Robbins says Summer Fest is not only "a great opportunity [for] … discovering something new," but also "a great community reunion for a lot of people, as well."
"We’ve heard this anecdotally over and over again," Robbins adds. "Like, ‘This is when I hang out with my neighbor … or I just see old friends that I haven’t seen in a while.’"
"It’s really great to see people convening and just having a good time."

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

Photos by Doug Coombe.
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