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Music fans brave the heat to attend Blind Willie festival

Mose Brinkley of Warrenton was on cooler duty Saturday at the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival.

He and Aaron Griffin of Warrenton and Freddie Jones of Thomson sat in the hospital tent behind the main stage. Performers wandered in and out and paused in the shade to tune their instruments and enjoy a cold drink from the tub of ice that Brinkley guarded.

Brinkley said he remembered watching McTell, the McDuffie County native whose name is preserved in the popular festival.

"I used to come to town on a Saturday and he'd play on the steps of Cofer's store," Brinkley said. "My grandma used to give me a nickel or a dime and say 'Put that in the blind man's cup,'" Brinkley said. "They didn't have many quarters in those days, usually a nickel or a dime."

Chris Crenshaw warmed up his horn nearby. Thomson's own trombone artist prepared for his first appearance at the music festival, as it marked its 18th year. He said he's had the trombone about 10 years. The bell is from the 1950s, he said, and the slide is from the 1910s. Crenshaw, who tours with the national jazz scene with such marquee artists as Wynton Marsalis, said he's not parting with the trombone he acquired while attending Valdosta State University.

The crowd that swarmed the pasture at noon grew throughout the afternoon, despite seasonably high temperatures and intense sun. Music lovers took shelter in tents and beneath umbrellas. As the day wore on, more and more chose to stand in the widening circle below the stage.

David Cole and Doug Hallford of Dearing shared one of the many tents. Hallford was attending his second festival, and Cole his first.

"I can't believe I waited this long to come here," Cole said.

"I believe 90 percent of the people here are from somewhere else," Hallford said. "They're not from Thomson. I was looking at the cars at the car tags in the parking lot, and the cars are from Tennessee or Carolina, from all over."

"I think there should be two or three of these a year," Cole said. "I'll be back next year."

Wayne Usry of Thomson said he was enjoying his third or fourth festival. He said he loves the people, the music and the food at Blind Willie.

Wayne Sims of Thomson said he was attending for the fifth time. He said the music is always great and the weather is always too hot.

"Last week would have been good," he said. "You never know."

"I came here to see the local talent, the Crosstie Walkers," said Julie Whitaker, of Harlem. "It is great that we have talent like that."

Kailee Fuller of Thomson said she was attending for the first time.

"I actually was passing it last year as I was going to the lake and I thought I'd like to attend," Fuller said. "I like the music."

She brought another first-time visitor, Lauren Szabo, of Evans.

Rose Smith of Augusta said she and husband Darrell attend other clubs and even the three-day blues festival in Jacksonville, Fla. "We love this festival," she said. "It's just down the road and we love it."

Sunscreen and shade were in demand. Concession stands kept steady lines of customers. Bottled water sold as quickly as cups of cold beer. Festival T-shirts left the counters and covered sunburned shoulders.

Music poured from the stage.

Gerald Gillette of Peachtree City, Ga., said he and his wife, Lee Eltzroth, were attending their fourth or fifth festival.

"We'll say we're not going this year because it's so hot, then we will look online and see the lineup," Gillette said. "It's always so fantastic."

Web posted on Thursday, May 26, 2011

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