Rocking Out with Laith Al-Saadi at Sonic Lunch

Sacha Verlon
Al-Saadi rocking out and singing while playing guitar

The first day of June was the commencement of Sonic Lunch 2017, a free summer outdoor concert series that occurs every Thursday afternoon at Liberty Plaza in Ann Arbor. The music festival kicked off the season with a performance by Laith Al-Saadi, a blues singer/guitarist and Community High School alumnus, along with an opening act by Phillip-Michael Scales, a folk songwriter and the nephew of B.B. King. Sonic Lunch also offered a variety of food and drinks from food trucks and stands for audience members. This year, the Produce Station, Gourmet Street Cuisine, and Detroit’s Gourmets Deli Truck were in attendance.

Martin Bandyke, Ann Arbor 107.1’s radio host, told the story of Sonic Lunch’s origin. It was founded in 2008 by the president of the Bank of Ann Arbor, Tim Marshall. He wanted to start a music festival that took place in downtown Ann Arbor. The goal was to feature an array of local bands and artists and showcase them in a series of free, outdoor concerts.

Sacha Verlon
Phillip-Michael Scales, the opening act for the concert.

“It started off fairly modestly in terms of the budget and the crowds that we drew,” Bandyke said. “And little by little and year after year, it has really grown, as you can see, into truly one of the signature summer events of the city. A lot of people plan their afternoons after, you know, ‘I’ve gotta be at Liberty Plaza at Thursdays at noon and see some cool music.’”

Now, Sonic Lunch has grown into a prominent Ann Arbor event. The concert series features a multitude of local bands this year, including “The Accidentals”, “LP”, “Michigan Rattlers”, as well as national and international bands. Al-Saadi, who performed last Thursday, is from Ann Arbor and graduated from the University of Michigan school of music. He has played with artists including B.B. King and Gregg Allman. He also performed on the tenth season of “The Voice” in 2016.

Martin Bandyke, the radio host for Ann Arbor 107.1, welcomes the crowd before Laith Al-Saadi takes the stage.

Throughout his growing fame, Al-Saadi has stuck close to his roots and performed for all ten years of Sonic Lunch. Bandyke explained that Al-Saadi is also friends with Matthew Altruda, host of Tree Town Sounds on the radio station Ann Arbor 107.1 and Sonic Lunch curator. Al-Saadi’s strong connection to his hometown and his ties with Altruda help to facilitate a strong relationship with Sonic Lunch.

“And it is no joke; in the last ten years, this is his eleventh appearance,” Bandyke said. “One of our acts several years ago dropped out, and we needed someone with very little notice. So we begged Laith to play a second time one year, and he did it because he is the greatest guy.”

Bandyke believes that Sonic Lunch is a good fit for Ann Arbor because of its welcoming and family-friendly atmosphere. It also serves as a social gathering for music lovers and local Ann Arborites alike, while providing quality and local music. Many of those in attendance last Thursday spoke about how great the combination of beautiful weather and good music was.

“I love Ann Arbor and I love being a part of the local music scene and community, so I thought it would be really cool to help out for a summer,” said Lania Stebbins, a volunteer for Sonic Lunch. “I’m just excited to be back in the groove of Ann Arbor’s music scene and see everyone have a good time and hear Laith sing and Phillip[-Michael Scales].”

Sacha Verlon
Hundreds of people were in attendance on that hot Thursday to watch the two artists perform.

For those who weren’t able to attend yesterday’s performance, Sonic Lunch hosts a free concert every Thursday throughout the summer until Aug. 31. Pop singer “LP” will be performing next week on June 8.


Check out the website for Sonic Lunch here for the full schedule of artists and more information.