The Activities Council of Thomson is proud to announce a dynamite roster of musicians to help celebrate the 25th Annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival, Saturday May 5th, in Thomson, Georgia. The one day roots and blues music festival is always held in honor of Thomson’s Blind Willie McTell, an early 20th Century pioneer on the 12 string guitar. McTell, a giant of a performer in the first half of the 20th century, was a complete original…who’s singing and playing in a wide variety of musical styles was unmatched. Born South of Thomson in McDuffie County and buried in the Happy Valley area of the county, his influence extends today over a wide range of today’s top musicians.

It’s fitting that on the occasion of our 25th festival, all six artists on the 2018 roster could serve as this year’s headliner. Working out of East Nashville, we start with Oklahoma’s J D McPherson, bringing a combo sound rooted in the rock and roll, rockabilly, and rhythm and blues music of the 1950s. Joining McPherson will be the dynamic guitarist/vocalist Samantha Fish, Louisiana’s Kenny Neal, Woodstock, NY native, Amy Helm, Georgia’s own Randall Bramblett and the country blues of Jerron “Blind Boy “Paxton. Tickets will be on sale February 1st at . Prices for tickets are $30 advance and $40, the day of. There is no charge for children, ages 12 and under. Great regional food will again be featured along the food court. Gates open at 11 in the morning, with music beginning at noon.

Now about the artists…..

JD McPherson

As we developed this year’s lineup, his name kept surfacing and folks who had seen McPherson and his band live promised that we would be “stunned” by how good they are on stage. A concert reviewer summed it up for us concerning his live sound…”It is at once honorific and respectful, faithful in intent and execution, but also just a little bit cockeyed, a little bit chaotic and disorderly. It is within these two extremes—between the deferential and the discourteous—that gives McPherson’s music a distinctive charm—a charm glowing with retro influence.”

Samantha FishAfter launching her recording career in 2009, Samantha Fish quickly established herself as a rising star in the contemporary blues world.  Since then, the young singer-guitarist-songwriter has earned a reputation as a rising guitar hero and powerful live performer.

The New York Times called Fish “an impressive blues guitarist who sings with sweet power” and “one of the genre’s most promising young talents.”

Fish recorded her latest offering Belle of the West in the relaxed, rural creative atmosphere of the legendary Zebra Ranch Studios in the North Hills of Mississippi with producer Luther Dickinson, with whom she worked previously on her 2015 album Wild Heart.  The studio team included some of the region’s most iconoclastic musicians, including Dickinson and the Squirrel Nut Zippers founder Jimbo Mathus. Her live show is not to be missed!

Amy Helm has been making music for most of her life. She’s already won widespread praise as a singer, songwriter and live performer, first as a member of the celebrated alt-­country collective Ollabelle and subsequently for her extensive work with her father, the Band‘s legendary drummer and musical icon Levon Helm, who passed away in 2012. She’ll be here at the festival with her combo, the Handsome Strangers, featuring Byron Isaacs, playing bass alongside guitarist Daniel Littleton and drummer David Berger.

It has been quite a while since multi-instrumentalist Kenny Neal has played McTell Fest. After hearing him at Blind Willie’s in Atlanta and on the strength of his second disc, Big News from Baton Rouge, he was one of the first artists the Activities Council ever booked for the festival back in year 6. He’s back this year as our “tip-of-the-hat” to one of our favorite past performers, who can sing and play with the best of America’s blues musicians. He’s experienced continued success and critical acclaim since that time and if you are new to his music, we are sure you’ll be satisfied.

Of course in that vein of favorite past performers, we had to include Randall Bramblett. He’s played the fest several times and was last here during our 20th, where he did a live set at the fest, and earlier in the month, an acoustic set as part of our Smithsonian exhibit in downtown Thomson. Appearing with Randall will be the Megablaster Horns, a section that occasionally is featured in Southeastern gigs with Widespread Panic.

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, one of the most talked about young country blues players around, will return this year. He was here a couple of years back and was just great. His stage show and showmanship is so original, whether he’s playing guitar or banjo or fiddle or harmonica! We are proud to bring him to the home of Willie McTell on the occasion of our festival’s 25th Anniversary.

Organizers of the festival, the Activities Council of Thomson (ACT) are a non-profit organization founded in 1974. ACT was formed to foster education, appreciation and promotion of American arts, particularly those that draw from Southern history, culture and the American experience. To this end, its primary purpose over the past two decades has been to expose this area of Georgia to styles of music and musicians that, without our effort, would likely pass us by. For our work, we were honored with the Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities in 2014.

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