Ramblin' Rhodes: McDuffie Museum to open Smithsonian music exhibit

Peter Guralnick

Lewis Smith, the director of the McDuffie Museum in Thomson, Ga., has a passion for music.


That’s one main reason why he is excited about the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street exhibit opening Friday, March 29, at the McDuffie Museum with a talk by nationally known music writer Peter Guralnick.

The exhibit New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music on loan from the Smithsonian Institute just has wrapped up being in Bremen, Ga. It will be on display for six weeks in Thomson before moving on to the small south Georgia town of Nashville near Moultrie.

It was put together by Robert Santelli, the executive director of the new Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

“This is going to be a fun exhibit for both children and adults,” Smith said.

“There are seven different stations applying to the roots of different music like sacred and hillbilly and bluegrass and African-American and European. You will go through a little maze and see old entertainment posters and album covers and such. You will see various instruments, and you will be able to mash buttons and hear Hank Williams sing a song.”

Smith noted that this display is a treasure that this entire area is fortunate to see and enjoy.

“There are only five Smithsonian Main Street exhibits, and four are always on tour,” Smith said.

“They only go to small towns in America, and our museum is very lucky to not only get this one but to be about the only city in America to claim hosting two of the Main Street exhibits.”

In January 2009, the McDuffie Museum opened with the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street’s exhibit Key Ingredients: America by Food in the museum’s donated and renovated Sun Trust bank complex that originally housed the First National Bank of Thomson (circa 1899) and Thomson Drugs (circa 1904).

Several free concerts and talks are being offered during the exhibit’s stay in Thomson, which will lead into the 20th annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival held on Stagecoach Road outside Thomson.

This year’s lineup for the festival on May 18 ($25 advance, $35 at gate) will include Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Tab Benoit, Eric Lindell and the Sunliners featuring Anson Funderburgh, The Randall Bramblett Band, The Revelers and Crosstie Walkers. Visit blindwillie.com for more details.

The Smithsonian Museum on Main Street Web site describes the exhibit coming to Thomson saying:

“With New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music, we listen to America’s music and hear the story of freedom. It’s the story of people in a New World, places they have left behind, and ideas they have brought with them. It is the story of people who were already here, but whose world is remade.

“The distinct cultural identities of all of these people are carried in song. Their music tracks the unique history of many peoples reshaping each other into one incredibly diverse and complex people – Americans.”

McDuffie Museum director Smith well knows the roots of American music as he lived through those early years of folk, soul, rockabilly and country music while growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the National Hills subdivision of Augusta.

“I have about 4,000 albums,” Smith said. “I grew up in that Motown and ’60s generation. The first concert I saw was when John Bell, now an Augusta attorney, dragged me down to Bell Auditorium where we saw James Brown.

“That’s when the white folks sat in the balcony at those shows. I ended up seeing him three times including at one of his birthday parties in the civic center (now James Brown Arena).”



Friday, March 29: Grand Opening with guest speaker Peter Guralnick, author of a two-volume biography of Elvis Presley and also Searching for Robert Johnson: The Life and Legend of the King of the Delta Blues Singers. Entertainment by the Chris Crenshaw Quartet. Crenshaw is a native of Thomson and a graduate of Valdosta State and the Julliard School of Music. He currently holds a trombone chair in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in New York City; 6:30 p.m., McDuffie Museum; free

Tuesday, April 9: Chamber After Hours and Exhibit Reception. Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails available; 5:30 p.m., McDuffie Museum; free

Thursday, April 11: Bluegrass with Chatham County Line of Raleigh, N.C. Old-time string band around a single microphone; 8 p.m., Belle Meade Country Club, 2660 Twin Pine Road, Thomson; free; (706) 595-1553

Wednesday, April 17: Symphony Orchestra Augusta Making Music Connections series; 1 p.m. Dearing Elementary school, 500 North Main St., Dearing, Ga.; free, open to public; (706) 986-4900

Thursday, April 18: Symphony Orchestra Augusta Making Music Connections series; 9:30 a.m., Thomson Elementary school, 409 Guill St.; free, open to public; (706) 986-4700

Friday, April 19: 1Symphony Orchestra Augusta Making Music Connections series, 1:30 p.m., Maxwell Elementary school, 520 Mt. Pleasant Road, Thomson; free, open to public; (706) 986-4800

Friday, April 19: Art & Soul Artist Gallery Opening; art inspired by American roots music; 6 p.m., MAC on Main Gallery, 107 Main St., Thomson; free

Wednesday, April 24: Traditional a cappella gospel songs and African-American spirituals by the Harmony Harmoneers of Conley, Ga., and Augusta youth choir Decorus, comprised of high school vocalists; 6 p.m., First Baptist Church of Thomson, 253 Jackson St.; free; (706) 595-4252

Saturday, April 27: Sip & Dip with Haley Tam; two-hour music and painting class led by Haley Tam; $35, supplies provided; 7 p.m., MAC on Main Gallery, 107 Main St., Thomson

Thursday, May 2: Music of Randall Bramblett, a Georgia native who has worked with the band Sea Level and also such artists as Traffic, Levon Helm and Bonnie Raitt; 7 p.m., Thomson Depot, 111 Railroad St.; free

Friday, May 10: History of country blues with guitarist and singer Steve James, a Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival past performer who lives in Austin, Texas; 6 p.m., McDuffie Museum, 121 Main St.; free


WHAT: Smithsonian Museum on Main Street exhibit New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music

WHEN: Opening with free reception 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 29; through May 11

WHERE: McDuffie Museum, 121 Main St., Thomson

DETAILS: mcduffiemuseum.com or (706) 595-9923



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