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Thomson has lots to offer visitors
Or So It Seems

It seems a shame that Blind Willie has put his horn away for another year. It would give you the blues if you'd let it.

McDuffie County's best-known festival seems destined to sound its mellow notes on the May calendar while we turn the pages to patriotic music, band concerts and holiday favorites.

But the home-grown celebration of home-grown music is a year-round project for an array of volunteers. They round up the talent from some of the country's better known stages, and they lure the artists to a steaming cow pasture in your backyard.

Were you home to greet them?

The music celebration that marked its 18th year Saturday was inspired by the memory of a Mr. McTell of local fame. The fest has evolved from a significant but somewhat smaller strictly blues event to a larger tribute to blues and its jazz friends.

It is a success in its sound and in its scale, but a few more bare feet in the hot grass wouldn't spoil a thing.

Hundreds of music lovers drove from Atlanta, Augusta and nearby states for the festival. Many told me it was not their first visit and would not be their last. Some said they would tell their friends, and some said their friends had told them.

The visitors were surrounded and possibly outnumbered by local folks who checked tickets, sold T-shirts and water, gumbo or hamburger or just lounged in the shade of tents. Many worked behind the stage and some played on the stage, and some did both.

Together, they helped a county put its best foot forward. That's important for other reasons just as important as music and hometown pride.

Many cities work year-round to attract visitors. They depend on the recognition and prestige of one or two signature events.

For instance, Indianapolis is The Circle City, named for Monument Circle in the heart of its downtown. But many visitors probably think the name comes from a famed oval that lies nearby in Speedway, Ind. You might have noticed that a little car race there drew a few visitors last weekend. But what's good for Indy is good for Indianapolis.

The most beautiful sight in Door County, Wis., might be the sunset, settling and dimming beneath the water of Green Bay. The best food is the boiling Lake Michigan whitefish. Both deserve another visit. And yet my first visit was based on the publicized art colonies and the restaurant with goats grazing on the roof. Hey, you've seen one goat on the diner and you've seen them all. But that sunset would never become too familiar.

I spent all of $4 on a breakfast near the grain elevator in Dyersville, Iowa, but that economic windfall followed a pilgrimage to run the bases of a baseball field you might remember from the movie Field of Dreams . If you didn't know better, you might have mistaken me for a tourist.

"If you build it, they will come." OK, I said, so now can we move on?

Along such tourism lines, I have found that there is more to Memphis than Graceland, more to Augusta than golf, and there are far more speeding cars than speeding horses in Louisville.

But most of the folks who visit those destinations begin with a brochure and a notion and then discover people and surprises.

Those pleasant surprises await in and near Thomson, too. Maybe some visitors will stay long enough to realize they should stay even longer. Or maybe even move here, and bring their families, and factories, and jobs for your nieces who graduate next year.

We need to keep inviting music lovers and music makers back to Thomson. We need to support the people who bring it all together. The motel tax money from year to year is a good start. It pays for advertising, fills more motels, and raises more motel tax money.

We can help just by driving to a pasture, dropping a few dollars and enjoying some meaningful music. We don't need to worry about who might be in the crowd and might return. Smiles are great tourism ads. They're spontaneous, and they're free.

Some big names in blues were at Blind Willie just last month. The next blues star might have been here in Thomson, or might be here next May.

If you were at Blind Willie this year, tell a friend. If not, come see what you've been overlooking, right in your own backyard.

No town owns any form of music. The blues clubs of Memphis, Atlanta and Chicago deserve their reputations and their success.

Remember that their big-name artists are just sharing the emotions and memories that they gathered in other cities, in smaller towns and perhaps from smiling strangers in Georgia cow pastures.

Web posted on Thursday, June 02, 2011

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