Originally created 05/14/00

Blues lovers gather in Thomson



THOMSON - The smells of sunblock, crawfish and beer guided guests to the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival better than any road sign could.

The daylong festival Saturday had music lovers coming from as far away as New York and Washington to Thomson.

By 2 p.m., the crowd had reached to a little more than 350 people and kept growing. Festival coordinators estimated close to 2,000 people would attend the blues festival.

Among them were 40 people who had rented a bus from the Atlanta Blues Society to attend and support the event named for the Thomson legend who lived from 1901-1959.

"This is pretty much the only blues festival around here," said Jack Cheatham, a board member of the Activities Council of Thomson, a nonprofit organization that puts on the festival. "Blind Willie is one of the best original country-blues artists of all time. "

Arnold Johnson, a third-year music major at the University of Georgia, showed up to pay homage to a blues legend of the past and to learn from the musicians in the present.

"I wanted to be here not only to listen to the music but to soak up the environment," Mr. Johnson said, pointing at the tiny stage set up in the middle of the field. "This festival is about music. Look around; people are here because they enjoy this music. Not because they couldn't find anything else to do."

Saturday's blues festival was the sixth for Lateshia Washington, a Thomson resident.

"Blues music is like a fun history lesson," she said. "I bring my kids out here not only to hear the music but to listen to the stories behind them. It's something they will never get in school or from a traditional music lesson."

Ms. Washington's daughter, Rhonda-Nicole, 9, seemed to soak up the soulful sounds of the blues while playing underneath a large sprinkler set up to cool off the fans.

"It's more fun when you get to run around and play," said Rhonda-Nicole.

The gates opened at 11 a.m. and the first performance began at noon. Performances included sets by Slim Fatz, Paul Geremia, Peter Case, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and Little Charlie and the Night Cats.

Reach Barnini Chakraborty at (706) 823-3332 or barnini.chakraborty@augustachronicle.com.