Folks from all over the southeast have put it on their calendars to sing the blues. Or at least to listen to them. The 15th annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival is this Saturday in Thomson.
"It's amazing to me that we've been at it for so long, and we've been successful year in and year out," said Don Powers, the festival organizer. "We've grown it to a point where people stick it on their calendars and plan their weekends around it in May."
Mr. Powers added that this year's headliner, Mavis Staples, could bring a new crowd to the festival because her style of music is not exclusively blues.
"Rhythm and blues, gospel, blues, she's all over the place, which is good," Mr. Powers said. "This year, we've broadened the music by including a gospel element."
A 40-year veteran of the music scene, Ms. Staples is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family, the Staple Singers. As a soloist, Ms. Staples has recorded with many famous musicians, including Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, George Jones and Delbert McClinton.
The other musician playing a gospel influence at the festival is Mike Farris, whom Mr. Powers said plays a "horn-based, New Orleans style, big band music."
"He's is one of the lesser known artists on the roster," Mr. Powers said. "But his (CD), Salvation in Lights, is the best gospel (CD) I've heard in the last five years."
And Mr. Powers is not alone in his opinion. Mr. Farris' gospel CD made the iTunes Top 10 Christian CD list and Christian Music Today's number one CD of the year for 2007.
The list of awards is even longer for the remaining performers on the 2008 Blues Festival list. Canadian guitarist Duke Robillard was named the "best blues guitarist" for four years at the Blues Music Awards, "best international blues artist" for three years at the Canadian Maple Blues Awards, and the Blues Foundation's "producer of the year."
No stranger to stages in Thomson, Mary Flower returns from Memphis, where she is an internationally known performer and teacher of country blues style guitar playing and a National Fingerpicking Championship winner.
Mr. Powers said other "incredible guitar players" playing this year are Anson Funderburgh with his band, the Rockets; and Geoff Acheson, who will be the opener playing both the acoustic and electric guitar.
"And the food will fit the music," Mr. Power said, adding that vendors will be on hand serving barbecue ribs and chicken, pulled pork and Cajun style foods.
A group of local ladies from the Delta Sigma Beta sorority will have a cake booth, where they will serve "specialty cakes from your childhood," according to member Georgia Hobbs. The ladies sell sweets to raise money for the scholarships they give away each year. In addition to baked goods, they bring homemade fried pies and ice cream.
"Last year, we couldn't keep it churned fast enough," Mrs. Hobbs said. "And we've built up a clientele. Some people come back year after year looking for the same cake. ... We enjoy it. It's a good day and it's for a good cause."
Carry in food, drinks and coolers are not allowed. The festival takes place from noon until approximately 9 p.m. in the country on Washington Road, one mile north of I-20 exit 172 in Thomson. Advanced tickets are $20 and tickets at the gate are $25. Children 12 and younger are free. The gates open at 11 a.m. For more information, call the Thomson McDuffie Chamber of Commerce at 706-597-1000.
BLIND WILLIE BLUES FESTIVAL
WHEN: Saturday, May 10, Thomson. Gates open at 11 a.m. and music starts at noon and ends around 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $20 in advace, $25 day of show
All seating is lawn seating, so bring a blanket or low-back beach chair. (Umbrellas and high-back chairs must be placed on the perimeter of the seating area).
Still camera (no video)
Audio or video recording equipment
The Festival site is one mile north of Interstate 20 at Thomson, Ga., Exit 172. - From Atlanta, Exit 172 is two hours east on I-20. Take a left off of the exit ramp.
- From Augusta, Exit 172 is a half hour west on I-20. Take a right off of the exit ramp.
- From Athens, the festival site is 60 miles south on 78/17.
- Watch for signs.