Tab Benoit performs at the 2013 Blind Willie Blues Festival. Photo by Jason B. Smith
Jason B. Smith
Tab Benoit performs at the 2013 Blind Willie Blues Festival.

Celebrate a Georgia Legend at the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

Recognized as a top event by Southeast Tourism Society and the Wall Street Journal, the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival debuted in 1993 and has been going strong ever since. Still staged in the same grassy field it debuted in, the event is held every May.

The festival is named for Blind Willie McTell, one of the all-time greats of country blues guitar, who was born just south of Thomson, Georgia, in the area known as Happy Valley in McDuffie County. He was inducted posthumously into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990. One of his most famous songs, “Statesboro Blues,” has been a staple for blues bands for decades and has been covered by artists such as The Allman Brothers Band and Taj Mahal. Many musicians consider McTell an influence, including Bob Dylan, who paid tribute to him with his song “Blind Willie McTell.”

Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson, Georgia
Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson, Georgia

From the beginning, the festival wasn’t just about the blues, but rather a celebration of roots music. You could hear Americana, Cajun influences, Country and touches of Funk and Soul. It's the kind of musical event Blind Willie himself would have really enjoyed. Many past performers have been American Music Award winners and Grammy nominees. The laid-back vibe of the festival creates a great atmosphere to mix and mingle, get up and dance, or just sit back and sip an ice cold drink while enjoying some fantastic music.

Come for the music, but you will get even more; there is a wide variety of food available from local food vendors, the local arts council has a booth with blues and music related art for sale; not to mention lots of camaraderie and people watching.

McDuffie Museum in Thomson, Georgia
McDuffie Museum in Thomson, Georgia

TIP: You can visit the gravesite of McTell on Happy Valley Road adjoining Jones Grove Baptist Church. Pay a visit to the McDuffie Museum housed inside a former bank in downtown and see artifacts like the original tombstone of Blind Willie. Visit the gift shop for a memorable souvenir like a DVD documentary about the musician. Free admission.

The Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival is held in May in a field one mile north of Interstate 20 at Thomson, Ga., Exit 172. (It’s about two hours east of Atlanta.)

Visit the festival website at www.blindwillie.com.

For more about Thomson, visit www.visitthomsonga.com.

Published: April 2015