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Meet the man trying to save Ann Arbor's Water Hill Music Festival

Scott Newell at his shop Big City Small World Bakery on April 18, 2019 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
Scott Newell at his shop Big City Small World Bakery on April 18, 2019 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – On March 9, the organizers of the Water Hill Music Festival, longtime Ann Arbor residents Paul and Claire Tinkerhess, announced they would be ending the beloved neighborhood music festival they have been organizing for the past eight years. 

Coordinated solely by residents of Ann Arbor's Water Hill area, the event featured musical performances by residents on their front porches and lawns for strolling onlookers to enjoy. 

When news broke of the event's cancellation, resident Scott Newell sprang into action.

Newell owns Big City Small World Bakery at 500 Miller Ave. in Water Hill. He has been involved in the event since its inception and said he felt compelled to put forward a last ditch effort to keep the event alive.

He submitted a special event proposal to City Council, which was unanimously approved this week.

"I just thought I would try it and see,"' he said. "It was literally a last minute reaction to the Tinkerhesses' announcement. Typically when you submit a special event permit, the city needs a few months in advance because it goes through review and the council has to vote on it. And they said, 'No problem, let’s make this happen.' So the city was very supportive and I appreciate that a lot."

In true Water Hill Music Fest tradition, "Water Hill Music Fest Continued" will take place on the first Sunday in May from noon to 6 p.m.

The Nintendoland Family Band performs at the Water Hill Music Festival on May 6, 2018 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)


"It's a little longer than the other typical Water Hill Music Fests," said Newell. "I’m just doing what I’ve always been doing, which is having music here (at the bakery). A lot of people have been texting me and letting me know that they’re going to continue some music. Brennan, the bass player with the Macpodz will be playing at his dad’s house on Summit."

While there won't be a coordinated map with times and band appearances like in years past, local musicians will be playing pop-up performances at residences throughout the day and Newell got approval from the city to close down a one block section of Spring Street from Miller Avenue to Cherry Street.

He is purchasing city barricades, chairs, tables and portable toilets out of pocket. 

"There will be a stage," he said. "Every year, we have somebody or another’s kid who hasn’t performed before -- usually high school kids. So we give them the stage so they can sing for the first time or play music for the first time, which is great. I love to be a facilitator of that and we’ve been doing that ever since the first Water Hill Music Fest."

When asked if the musicians are residents of Water Hill -- a requirement for the original festival -- Newell responded: "They’re all in the community whether they live here or not. Everyone in this town has lived in this neighborhood at some point. Because forever this was the neighborhood where all the GSIs and grad students lived because they could walk to town and it was cheap rent. This was always the economical lower-end neighborhood for folks."

People gather to listen to performers on W. Summit St. at the Water Hill Music Festival on May 6, 2018 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Newell said he has not yet reached out to the Tinkerhesses for assistance or advice on extending the event, saying, "I got the impression that Paul was kind of burned out. And they did a lot."

Ultimately for Newell, the magic of the Water Hill Music Fest is that it fostered relationships among neighbors.

"I got to know a lot of my neighbors and learn about their amazing hidden talents when it comes to music," he said. "Normally when you meet your neighbor it’s because they cut your lawn or you cut theirs, they got your mail or you got theirs. So it was really wonderful to facilitate those interactions in this great festival context. You can’t beat that. I love that -- that’s probably the biggest and best thing about it."

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.