February 22nd, 2011 | By Don Powers
Today, the Activities Council of Thomson announced the lineup for the 18th Annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, to be held on Sat., May 21, 2011. The annual one-day fest, voted by Southeastern Tourism writers as one of the top small cultural events in the Southeast, will be held at the regular festival site, on Stagecoach Road, 300 yards off Washington Highway, north of Thomson, Ga.
The event is held each year to bring great music and musicians to the rural South, as well as pay tribute to country blues legend McTell, a Thomson native son, born and buried in the Happy Valley area of McDuffie County. The small town feel and exceptional quality of the music presented year in and year out, makes the McTell Festival a special event indeed. Annually, the organizers strive to feature artists who offer the best in American music, focusing on the styles of Americana, folk, gospel, rock, blues and all its variations….players that our smaller market can support; music played by folks at the top of their game. Again, that’s what will be presented in Thomson on 2011.
This year’s stellar roster features headliner and closing act Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, and includes Marcia Ball, Sonny Landreth, Jimmy Hall & the Prisoners of Love featuring Jack Pearson, the Georgia Horns featuring Chris Crenshaw and Marcus Printup, Jack Pearson, Atlanta’s Mark Miller & Travelin Shoes, and Crosstie Walkers.
The jazzy, funk side of blues will be represented at the festival in the form of none other than Trombone Shorty, along with his combo Orleans Avenue. This act is one of the hottest touring bands today and they’ll come through Thomson after working the Main Stage at New Orleans Jazzfest in April, 2011. His latest disc “Backatown”, released in 2010, was nominated for a GRAMMY and currently sits in the top 10 on Billboard’s jazz charts. Says New Orleans native Troy Andrews or ‘Shorty’, “What we do is just another word for ‘gumbo,…..we make different music fit in one mixture that has a funky and huge rock edge to it.” The McTell Fest has never really featured great horn players and what an act to get it started.
Four time GRAMMY Nominee Marcia Ball knows how to get after it onstage with her infectious and emotional brand of rollicking, roadhouse blues and ballads. Over the course of her three-decade career, Ball and her crackerjack combo have earned a huge and intensely loyal following all over the world. Her piano playing and passionate, playful vocals fuse New Orleans and Gulf Coast R&B with Austin’s deep songwriting tradition into a sound all her own. Ms Ball has been to Thomson before as our headliner and after a ton of requests from our patrons, we are glad she is coming back to east Georgia. She’s the winner of eight Blues Music Awards – four wins in the last five years for Best Piano Player, plus recent wins for Best Contemporary Blues – Female Artist (twice), and once each for Contemporary Blues Album for So Many Rivers and Blues Album of the Year for Presumed Innocent. Her latest release, titled Peace, Love & BBQ debuted at #1 in the Billboard Blues Charts.
The rest of the artists in this year’s lineup are equally as impressive as our headliners. Jimmy Hall & the Prisoners of Love featuring Jack Pearson are the very essence of a harmonica based, soul-shouting, blues combo. Pick up a copy of Hall’s “Rendezvous with the Blues” prior to the festival if you need any more proof. With Jack Pearson, one of Nashville’s premier players holding down guitar, this band will be something to see. Hall led 70’s southern rockers, Wet Willie, and sings, plays harp and sax, is a favorite of Georgia audiences.
Along with Jack Pearson (who’ll play a mini-set on his own), we’ll also feature another absolute guitar giant, Sonny Landreth. Landreth also comes from Louisiana and his style of playing the slide guitar is nothing short of phenomenal. He’s been leading a trio for awhile, but check the collaborations that he keeps and you can tell that he’s a guitar player’s player. His latest disc, From the Reach, features guitar duets on Landreth originals with the likes of Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, and Vince Gill, to name a few. He’s working on a new disc, to be released this spring, and he’ll make it into town on the heels of an appearance on the Main stage of the N.O. Jazz Fest as well.
Crosstie Walkers from Thomson usually represent east Georgia at the festival and they’ll be opening up again this year. But along with this Thomson band, we’re proud to present another act this year with local roots. In a combo put together especially for the festival, we’ll present the Georgia Horns, featuring Thomson’s Chris Crenshaw on trombone and Conyers native, Marcus Printup on trumpet.
Both Chris and Marcus have regular jobs playing and touring in New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis. Crenshaw has been itching to play here in his hometown for awhile, and we were finally able to squeeze his booking into his busy schedule. The set will be called Swinging the Blues with the Georgia Horns. Along with Crenshaw and Printup, local sax player, Stantawn Kendrick will be in the sextet as well.
Newcomers, Mark Miller and Travelin Shoes, a gospel and blues based string band from Atlanta, will be featured this year. These guys just released a set of Willie McTell gospel tunes called Ain’t it Grand…the Gospel Songs of Willie McTell and if you like McTell’s music, you’ll love these interpretations.
Mentioned earlier, Thomson’s Crosstie Walkers will also open up the day at the 2011 event. They will be showcasing music from over twenty years of playing together, both originals and covers that they make their own.
As in years gone by, there will be an array of vendors serving traditional Southern food and beverages…..ribs, chicken, fish, Cajun, great dishes that go hand in hand with the music that will be on tap that day. Carry in food and drink will not be allowed. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Advance tickets for the Saturday afternoon show will be $25. Tickets will go on sale in mid-March, and will be available locally at the Chamber office, as well as, on line at www.blindwillie.com. For info, visit www.blindwillie.com or the Blind Willie McTell Facebook page.