Summer officially kicks off on Friday, June 17 at 5 p.m. with the opening of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival on Ingalls Mall. This is the 28th anniversary of warm weather, hot crowds, and 21 days of smokin’ entertainment. Be there on opening afternoon for a free medley of music, including the wild Detroit Party Marching Band and local favorite, The Sun Messengers, who’ve been around as long as the festival itself. For kids of all ages is the return of the super-popular extreme face-painting crew Body Masterpiece. And that’s all before sundown. As the moon comes up so does the groove in the grove with DJ Hardy spinning pop, house, and nu-disco. Bring your whole family, neighbors and out of town friends. The daily-changing “Top Of the Park” lineup, which includes movies under the stars, is always free. The “Mainstage” portion of the festival features reasonably priced shows by the world’s most entertaining acts in Ann Arbor’s most hallowed venues. On Saturday, June 25 at 8 pm at the Power Center is the ultimate performance artist, Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin). Mr. Martin has been an iconic comedian and banjo picker since he was a kid, and this performance is an homage to his roots and his comic genius. Free at the Power Center throughout the festival is an installation of supersize photographs by the festival’s official photographer, Myra Klarman. Check out the whole summer fest lineup at www.annarborsummerfestival.org.
Explore outdoor art
This is also the best section of campus to enjoy the university’s outdoor art and architecture. There is the unmistakable 10-floor deco/moderne Burton Memorial Tower. It houses a grand carillon, one of only 23 in the world. Eliel Saarinen submitted the original proposal, but it was finally realized in 1936 by Albert Kahn. Kahn also designed nearby Hill Auditorium and the Graduate Library that frames the south end of Ingalls Mall. At the north end is the Rackham Building, dedicated in 1938 and designed by William E. Kapp, who had studied under Kahn and became one of his chief rivals. Between the Burton Tower and the lovely Michigan League is my favorite sculpture/fountain on campus, Sunday Morning in Deep Waters by Carl Milles, who designed all the great fountains at Cranbrook.
The art of nature
The Nichols Arboretum is always great, but June is the best month to enjoy this fabulous landscape architecture. The “Arb” isn’t just for throwing Frisbees any more. Its 123 acres have been molded and reworked over the past few decades and is undoubtedly the coolest place for a nature walk in Ann Arbor. There is a 10 acre restored prairie, 500 wood plant species, a lilac collection (they’re huge!), more than a mile of frontage on the Huron River, and don’t forget the 180-foot drop from the Geddes entrance to the river itself. Micro habitats include Appalachian Glen and Magnolia Cove. The Peony Garden is just inside the Washington Heights entrance (next to Mary Markley Hall on the “Hill Neighborhood”). A national treasure, it is the largest collection of antique and heirloom peonies in North America. It is in its most glorious bloom between early and mid-June and the fragrance hits you before you enter the gates. The 230 different kinds of peonies are the result of a gift from the Dr. William E. Upjohn family in 1923. Yes, that Upjohn, of pharmaceutical fame. University lore has it that the good doctor was interested in the medicinal value of the flowers. The garden was designed by the Director at the time, Aubrey Tealdi, and it opened to the public in 1927. This time of year it’s the most romantic spot in town. The Arb is free and open every day from 8 am to dusk.