The Activities Council of Thomson, Inc. is proud to announce the lineup for the 15th Annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, to be held on Saturday, May 10.
The one-day event, recently voted by Southeastern Tourism writers as one of the Top 20 Tourism events in the Southeast, will be held at the regular festival site - a field about 300 yards off Washington Highway on Stagecoach Road, just north of Thomson. The event is held each year to bring great musicians to the rural South, as well as pay tribute to country blues legend McTell, a Thomson native son, born and buried in the Happy Valley area of McDuffie County.
Headlining this year's event is soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples. Ms. Staples possesses one of the most recognizable and treasured voices in contemporary music. From her early days sharing lead vocals with her groundbreaking family group, The Staple Singers, to her powerful solo recordings, she is an inspirational force in modern popular culture and music. She's a 40-year-plus veteran of the music scene, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family, the Staple Singers and is a pioneer of rhythm & blues, while never relinquishing her gospel roots.
Ms. Staples has recorded with a wide variety of musicians, from her close friend Bob Dylan (with whom she was nominated for a 2003 Grammy Award in the "Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals" category for their duet on "Gotta Change My Way Of Thinking" from the album Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan) to The Band, Ray Charles, George Jones, Delbert McClinton and many others. With the release of the seminal album, 2007's "We'll Never Turn Back," produced by the inimitable Ry Cooder, she is at the top of her game.
The supporting cast for the May 10th festival is also as good as any of the prior 14 McTell festivals. Blues guitarist Duke Robillard, from Canada, makes a return to Thomson this year. MR. Robillard is a founding member of the great band, Roomful of Blues.
The Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Awards) have named Mr. Robillard "Best Blues Guitarist" four years out of five (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004) making him the second most honored guitarist for that award! He was also nominated in that category in 2005, 2007 and again this year of 2008. Other awards over the last decade include three Canadian Maple Blues Awards in 2001, 2002, and 2003 for "Best International Blues Artist," The Blues Foundation's "Producer of the Year" award in 2004, The French Blues Association "Album of the Year" award in 2002 (Living with the Blues) and "Guitarist of the Year" awards in 1999 and 2002. Duke and his combo are on the road year in and out for about 250 dates a year. He is quite a player, coming in this year from his home in the northeast US.
Also appearing this year is Anson Funderburgh, the great guitarist from Texas. This marks his first return to Georgia after the passing of Sam Meyers a few years ago. Mr. Myers played harp and sang with Mr. Anson's band, the Rockets. Out front this year for Mr. Anson and the Rockets will be Darrell Nulisch, who sang and played harmonica with the band in the 80's.
With a tip of the hat to the country blues style of playing that McTell pioneered, the Council also presents Mary Flower, who has played the festival in the past. She has also appeared in the Thomson Chamber concert series, and comes in to town from Memphis, where she is nominated as best acoustic blues guitarist of the year by the Blues Foundation (the Handy Awards). In 2000 and 2003 respectively, Mary placed in the top three at the National Fingerpicking Championship. Her career as an internationally known performer and teacher has spanned more than three decades.
Vocalist Mike Farris makes his first appearance in Thomson this year. His latest album, "Salvation in Lights," is one of the finest albums of southern gospel and blues as has been made in quite sometime. In fact, it not only made all the "best of" Americana charts, but also was one of iTunes Top 10 Christian CD's of 2007, as well as the Christian Music Today's number 1 CD of the year. Mr. Farris brings a full complement of musicians including both horn and vocal sections and a show that's not unlike a tent revival of years gone by.
Opening this year's show will be guitarist Geoff Acheson, an Aussie now working out of Atlanta. He's developed quite an international following on both acoustic and electric guitar and we can't think of a better opener.
Thomson's own Crosstie Walkers will also be on the bill in 2008 after a couple of years away from the festival stage. They are currently developing new material for a planned 2008 CD, their fourth independent effort and they will be showcasing music from their nearly 20 years of playing together.
As in years gone by, there will be an array of vendors serving traditional Southern food and beverages. Carry in food and drink will not be allowed. Children 12 and under are admitted free.
Advance tickets for the Saturday afternoon show will be $20. Tickets will go on sale in early April and will be available locally at the Depot office, as well as online at www.blindwillie.com. For information call McDuffie County Tourism at 706-597-1000, or visit www.blindwillie.com.