Born in 1901, he was never able to perform before thousands of adoring fans or bank thousands of dollars from record sales and concert dates. Like many blues musicians of his generation, Mr. McTell lived and died, in 1959, in relative anonymity.
Today however, his name and music are remembered, cited as a major influence by rock, country and blues musicians, many of whom have played the music festival that bears his name in his hometown of Thomson. This year's Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival will be held Saturday.
"I love Blind Willie," said John Jackson, whose country blues, finger-picking guitar work will be featured on the festival's Heritage Stage. "Of course, his style was different from my own, but I'm looking forward to coming down and playing there, playing in Blind Willie's home."
Founded in 1993, the festival allows blues musicians the opportunity to pay respect to one of their forebears as well as introducing the blues to crowds that regularly number in the thousands. Although blues festivals are not unusual, Mr. Jackson said that this one holds a special place in the hearts of blues enthusiasts.
"There are a lot of festivals going on around the country, all over," he said. "But not many are connected to a name like Blind Willie."
This year's festival will feature nine acts on two stages encompassing a variety of styles, including original Delta blues by acts like Mr. Jackson and the Blind Boys of Alabama, and more modern takes on the style by festival favorite Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets, who played the first festival, and singer-songwriter Peter Case.
Mr. Jackson said the blues is well worth embracing because of its importance in the history of popular music.
"This is the roots of the music," he said. "This is where it all comes from. It started all the music you hear today."
Now designated as a fund-raising event for the Activities Council of Thomson, a nonprofit organization, the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival funnels its proceeds back into the community to help with arts-education projects and preserve the area's blues heritage.
What: Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival
When: Saturday; gates open 11 a.m., music from noon to 9 p.m.
Where: One mile north of Interstate 20 Exit 172; watch for signs
Admission: $12.50 in advance, $15 at the door. Children 10 and younger admitted free.
Phone: (706) 597-1000
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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