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Local leaders tout success of annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival at conference

Two Thomson officials were presenters recently at the Spring Convention of the Georgia Economic Developers Association in North Georgia.

Thomson City Administrator Don Powers, who also is a board member on the Activities Council of Thomson, and Thomson-McDuffie County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elizabeth Vance were asked to speak at the convention about the success of the local Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival held every May.

"As a representative of a small, one-day festival, I just talked about how the festival got started and gave statistics and told what kind of people we bring," Mr. Powers said.

Mr. Powers and Mrs. Vance were part of a festival-representative panel that included Rob Gibson, the executive director of the Savannah Music Festival, and Bill Thompson, the deputy commissioner of Georgia Music, Film and Digital Entertainment.

"So we were the small kid on the block," Mr. Powers added with a laugh. "But the best thing for us was we were able to make connections with other people in the state and brag a little bit about the festival and explore some potential collaborations."

The Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival began in 1993 in a hayfield just north of Thomson with Funderburgh, Steve James, Big Boy Henry and Sandra Hall on the lineup. In the early years, the festival was sponsored by the Thomson Tourism Board (now the Thomson-McDuffie CVB), but gave way a few years later to the McTell Blues and Heritage Foundation and the Activities Council of Thomson.

The festival is named in honor of Willie McTell, one of the true pioneers and all-time greats of country blues guitar, who was born south of Thomson in the area known as Happy Valley, according to the festival's website. Each year, a crowd of 1,000-2,000 enjoys a full day of music by various performers.

"The Activities Council and the community of Thomson have discovered a formula that brings in great music, honors a native son and provides financial support for area arts and artists," Mr. Powers said in a write-up about the festival.

One of the charms of the festival is its small size, according to festival attendees. Because of that, Mr. Powers said he'd like to see the festival grow, but not get over 3,000.

"So, you have to get to a point where you have enough people to support it and continually upgrade the roster with good acts; but at the same time, you can't lose what makes it attractive for people to come to," he said. "There's that skinny little line there that we don't want to fall over."

After getting acquainted at the GEBA conference, Mr. Powers has scheduled other meetings with Mr. Gibson. Mr. Powers said the Savannah Music Festival has a paid staff of 11 and a $3 million budget, with which they put on 120 concerts in 18 days for crowds of over 60,000. The two have been collaborating on how to share or showcase artists.

"We don't want to put on a festival that big, but we want to be able to learn from people who know how to run that kind of stuff," Mr. Powers said. "It was just a highlight for me to get a connection to take advantage of in the future."



Web posted on Thursday, June 25, 2009













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