The 16th annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival this Saturday will cover the traditional blues territory and expand to horizons beyond with other genres of music.
Organizer Don Powers said the festival has featured "just about every blues artist we could afford" in the past 15 years.
"We've mined that genre pretty completely," he said. "So, we decided to start expanding outside of it, and not completely let our musical guard down; but, we've started branching out into different types of music."
This year's line up is headed by Chuck Leavell, who was a favorite at a past Blind Willie Festival, according to Mr. Powers. Leveall's piano and keyboard work has been heard on the works of Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, the Black Crowes, George Harrison, the Allman Brothers, the Indigo Girls, Blues Traveler, Train, Montgomery-Gentry and Lee Ann Womack, according to his website. From his home in rural Georgia, Leveall also is a tree farmer, and a respected authority, consultant and published author on forestry and conservation.
"There are those that attended in the past that have told me that was our best year when he performed at the 13th annual blues festival," Mr. Powers said. "Having him in a line up makes it easier to sell tickets."
Leavell will be backed up by the Randall Bramblett Band, who also will be performing earlier in the day at the festival. According to his website, Bramblett's influences include James Brown, Ray Charles, the Beatles, James Taylor, Carole King and Bob Dylan, which he combines to create his jazz-rock sound.
The big blues name in this year's line up is Hubert Sumlin, who has been performing for more than 50 years. Sumlin grew up playing guitar with the famous Howlin' Wolf, and is still one of today's Blues stars that is recorded often with more famous names.
Another big Blues name on stage at the festival will be Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, who was nominated for best instrumentalist in the categories of drums and harmonica for the Blues Music Awards ceremony, which is to be announced on Thursday, May 7.
Venturing away from the blues will be artists Jim Lauderdale and Chatham County Line, who are known for their Americana music, which Mr. Powers said is essentially alternative country, bluegrass, singer-songwriter or roots-rock.
"It's really everything that's off radio," Mr. Powers said. "We are always going to tip our hats to the Blues, but we are going to provide people on the stage that will give us our best shot at good music that people will pay to see."
As has been the case in most of the previous festivals, the opening act will be provided by Thomson's own Crosstie Walkers. The alternative Georgia country, power indi pop and raspy gospel band is made up of Charlie Knox, Don Powers, Tommy Powers, Greg Purvis and Scott Roberts. Joining the Crosstie Walkers just for the Blind Willie Festival, will be Mike Ferris, a Nashville gospel artist.
Gates for the festival will open at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the show starts at noon, rain or shine. The festival site is two miles north of I-20, exit 172 in Thomson.
Each artist will perform for approximately one hour. No coolers, pets, cooking or camping will be allowed. Food vendors from Atlanta, Augusta and Thomson will be available. Local vendors include Tommy Samuels, the Thomson Fire Department and Poppa's Finest Barbecue.
"We made sure everybody lowered their prices so the food is affordable, but good," Mr. Powers said. "Nobody is going to gouge their prices."
Beer and t-shirts also will be for sale, and the McDuffie Arts Council will have a booth showcasing and selling their Southern-inspired or musical-themed works of all styles. All seating is lawn seating, so bring a low-backed lawn chair or blanket. Tents and umbrellas are allowed around the back perimeter of the site.
Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the gate at www.tixonline.com or by calling 706-597-1000. Visit www.blindwillie.com for more information. Children 12 and younger are free. The festival is sponsored by the Activities Council of Thomson, Inc.