With music and more, this Blues Festival will have you singing a happy tune.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Thomson, Georgia, sure knows how to host a festival.
Come to the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival to hear some tunes and you’ll get that plus food from local vendors, camaraderie with friendly folks, sidebar entertainment in the form of people watching, photo ops, and great weather—OK, so the sunshine isn’t guaranteed, but the organizers will do their best.
The 20th annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival was held on Saturday, May 18, 2013. Attending the annual event for the first time myself this year, it exceeded my expectations.
The festival is named for Georgia native Blind Willie McTell, a musician best known for writing “Statesboro Blues.”
McTell was born William Samuel McTier in 1901 just south of Thomson, and lost his eyesight in childhood. He became an accomplished musical theorist, able to both read and write music in Braille. While few of his recordings ever earned mainstream popularity, his influence on music is widely known. His songs have been recorded by several other artists, including the Allman Brothers, Taj Mahal and Bob Dylan—who even wrote a song about him.
Considered to be one of the most accomplished guitarists and lyrical storytellers in Blues history, Blind Willie was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990.
The festival named after him was launched 20 years ago as a fundraiser for Thomson’s local arts community. Several folks who attended and even performed that first year consider it a “can’t miss” event and make it an annual pilgrimage.
The year’s music lineup wasn’t strictly limited to blues: You could hear some Americana, Cajun influences, country and touches of funk and soul. But no one in the audience seemed to mind a bit. It was all toe-tapping, dance-stepping good fun.
The headliners this year were Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, from Nashville, Tenn. Their self-titled duet album was nominated for the Americana Music Association 2013 Album of the Year; they were also nominated for Duo/Group of the Year. These facts were not clear to me until I returned home and started researching this article—and that’s sort of a key point: You need not be a music aficionado to have a great time at this festival; an open mind will do just fine.
There’s a laid-back, mix-and-mingle vibe. Get up and dance or sit and relax while gnawing on a rib and sipping some ice cold beer. You can bring a tent or umbrella for shade or just wear a hat and sunglasses…though if it does drizzle that umbrella might come in handy. Just come prepared to have a good time no matter which way the wind blows and whatever tunes may dance through the air.
The Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival is held in a field one mile north of Interstate 20 at Thomson, Ga., Exit 172. (It’s about two hours east of Atlanta.)
For the 2013 event, tickets were $25/person in advance and $35/person at the door.
Odds of Encountering Children: Children age 12 and under are allowed to attend for free, but we didn’t see many of them. Perhaps because there is a separate play area available for children that effectively distracts/corrals them.
Visit the festival website at www.blindwillie.com.
-Photos © HSP Media LLC
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