An expanded version of the popular Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival is planned this year with a Friday evening event in addition to the traditional blues festival Saturday in the usual location just outside Thomson.
"Little Charlie" Baty (left), playing with lead singer and harpist Rick Estrin, will perform at this year's Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival.
The Friday night event - at 7:30 p.m. May 20 at the Imperial Theatre in Augusta - will kick off the Blind Willie Festival while opening it up to more fans within the region.
Marcia Ball, from Texas, the popular recording artist from last year's festival, is the headline act for the 800-seat theater, said Don Powers, a member of the Thomson Activities Council, which sponsors the festival. The John Hammond Trio also will perform Friday at the Imperial.
Officials chose to expand the festival and to hold the Friday kickoff in Augusta for several reasons. They hope to attract some overnight visitors and to appeal to more music fans within the region.
In addition, Powers said, "We've wanted to find an event where we could partner with the Imperial Theatre , a great concert hall, and this was an ideal opportunity. Hopefully it will lead to additional concerts throughout the year."
Saturday's festival will be held in the traditional location outside Thomson in the large field on Stagecoach Road near Washington Highway.
The Blind Willie Festival on Saturday, May 21, will feature an impressive roster of some of the top blues players in the country while paying tribute to Thomson-born blues legend Blind Willie McTell, who is buried in the Happy Valley area of McDuffie County.
The festival, now in its 12th year, will feature a number of first- class acts including Little Charlie and the Nightcats, this year's headliner, and Maria Muldaur, Anthony Gomes, Blue Dogs, Pat Donahue and Delta Moon.
Last year, about 1,200 fans from across the area and from other states attended the festival.
"The festival is starting to have a regional buzz, and we hope to build on that excitement," Powers said.
The festival continues to gain popularity. The TAC, a local non profit organization founded in the 1970s, and the community of Thomson have discovered a formula that brings in great music, honors a native son and provides financial support for area arts and artists, Powers said.
Advance tickets to the Friday performance cost $25 , and a discount will be available for fans attending both Friday and Saturday events.
Advance tickets to the Saturday festival cost $18 , and the price rises to $25 on the day of the festival.
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