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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Singing more than the blues: Blind Willie McTell festival expands its vision

BuddyMiller & JimLauderdale
If nothing else, Georgia native Blind Willie McTell cemented his legacy when he wrote "Statesboro Blues," which has become an integral component of the American music lexicon. Made famous by Macon's own Allman Brothers, the tune has been a staple of blues bands for decades. Bob Dylan recorded a few of McTell's tunes, and even wrote a song about him. For someone whose career never got the recognition it deserved in his lifetime, his legacy has made a lasting impression.

McTell was born William McTier just south of Thomson, and was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his adopted hometown's festival. Over the years, the featured music has gradually drifted a bit from the deep blues of the early days, but the vibe and the groove are still strong. Started and continuing as a fundraiser for the city's local arts community, the Festival has had its ups and downs with weather issues, money problems, and shifting leadership, but the music has always taken a front seat. From the beginning, it wasn't just blues, but rather a festival of roots oriented musical genres.

This year's lineup includes Thomson's own Crosstie Walkers, who have played many times at the event. Their mix of pleasant Americana originals, and classic rock covers are surefire crowd pleasers. Making their first appearance at the festival is the Cajun influenced Revelers, whose members are alumni of the Red Stick Ramblers and the Pine Leaf Boys. Athens legend Randall Bramblett brings his band, and will be performing songs from his great new album, The Bright Spots. Rocking the joint will be Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, with a gritty New Orleans blend of blues, funk, and soul. One of Atlanta's favorite touring blues artists, Tab Benoit, keeps the dirty guitar thing going, and is always a real showstopper.

Headlining this year's event is two of Nashville's finest journeymen, Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale. The pair have been friends and collaborators on various projects for many years, and both are highly respected in the alt. country scene. Their excellent self-titled duet album has recently been nominated for the Americana Music Association 2013 Album of the Year, the duo have been nominated for Duo/Group of the Year, and Miller has been nominated for Artist of the Year. Both are master songwriters, and together their familiarity with each other's material leads to some hot harmonies and riffs, along with some hilarious stage banter. While it's not exactly the blues, I'm sure Blind Willie would approve.

Blind Willie McTell Festival Saturday May 18. 12 p.m. $25-$35. One mile north of Interstate 20 at Thomson, Ga., Exit 172.

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