Celebrate a Georgia Legend at the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

Tab Benoit performs at the 2013 Blind Willie Blues Festival. Photo by Jason B. Smith.

Tab Benoit performs at the 2013 Blind Willie Blues Festival. Photo by Jason B. Smith.

Recognized as a top event by Southeast Tourism Society and the Wall Street Journal; the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival debuted in 1993 and has been going strong ever since. Still staged in the same grassy field it debuted in almost 22 years ago. This year’s event is May 9, 2015.

The festival is named for Blind Willie McTell, one of the all-time greats of country blues guitar, who was born just south of Thomson, Georgia, in the area known as Happy Valley in McDuffie County. He was inducted posthumously into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990. One of his most famous songs, “Statesboro Blues”, has been a staple for blues bands for decades and has been covered by artists such as The Allman Brothers Band and Taj Mahal. Many musicians consider McTell an influence, including Bob Dylan, who paid tribute to him with his song “Blind Willie McTell”.

From the beginning the festival wasn’t just about the blues, but rather a celebration of roots music. You could hear Americana, Cajun influences, Country and touches of Funk and Soul.  The kind of musical event Blind Willie himself would have really enjoyed. Many past performers have been American Music Award winners and Grammy nominees. The laid back vibe of the festival creates a great atmosphere to mix and mingle, get up and dance, or just seat back and sip an ice cold beer while enjoying some fantastic music.

Come for the music but you will get even more; there is a wide variety of food available from local food vendors, the local arts council has a booth with blues and music related art for sale; not to mention lots of camaraderie and people watching.

The 2015 lineup stars Marcia Ball, John Hammond, the Golden State-Lone Star Revue, Chris Smither, Mingo Fishtrap, and the Bruce Katz Band. Tickets will be on sale March 1st at www.blindwillie.com. Prices for tickets are $30 advance and $40 the day of. There is no charge for children, ages 12 and under. Gates open at 11 in the morning, with music beginning at noon.

TIP: You can visit the gravesite of McTell on Happy Valley Road adjoining Jones Grove Baptist Church. Pay a visit to the McDuffie Museum housed inside a former bank in downtown and see artifacts like the original tombstone of Blind Willie. Visit the gift shop for a memorable souvenir like a DVD documentary about the musician.  Free admission.

The Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival is held in a field one mile north of Interstate 20 at Thomson, Ga., Exit 172. (It’s about two hours east of Atlanta.)

Visit the festival website at www.blindwillie.com.

For more info about Thomson, visit www.exploremcduffiecounty.com.

15 Ways to Celebrate Easter in Georgia

Easter 2009 at Callaway Gardens. Photo by UGArdener via Flickr.

Easter 2009 at Callaway Gardens. Photo by UGArdener via Flickr.

Don your favorite bonnet and prepare to celebrate Easter in Georgia!

5 Reasons to See Atlanta Ballet’s “Camino Real”

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  1. Atlanta Ballet’s production of “Camino Real” is a world premiere! This is the first time the Tennessee Williams’ play, which originated on Broadway in 1953, has ever been transformed into a ballet. Atlanta Ballet’s resident choreographer Helen Pickett reimagined the play after her father handed down his copy from his college theater days, suggesting it would make a good ballet. The ballet has been three years in the making.
  1. Ballet as you’ve never seen (or heard) it before! Audiences can expect to be fully immersed and entertained when watching this full-evening ballet dance theater piece. Choreographer Helen Pickett has even challenged the dancers to learn lines from Tennessee Williams’ original text, which will be spoken throughout the show.
  1. It’s an everyman’s tale of love, lust, betrayal, courage and redemption. The story follows Kilroy, a once prizewinning boxer, who finds himself trapped in the surreal town of Camino Real. “It’s your classic good versus evil story,” said choreographer Helen Pickett. The story also features popular characters from literature and pop culture, such as Don Quixote, Esmeralda and Casanova.

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  1. Extravagant, theatrical display with brand new score, costumes and set design! A team of creative artists has been assembled to bring Tennessee Williams’ vision of “Camino Real” to life. The production will feature original costumes designed by award-winning designer Sandra Woodall, and a set design unlike any other, designed by Emma Kingsbury and David Finn. The rich, textured score, which Pickett has described as a character all its own, is the creation of composer Peter Salem.

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  1. One weekend only! There are only four chances to see this Helen Pickett and Atlanta Ballet world premiere. The Company – dancers, costume shop, carpenters, painters, choreographer, composer, designers, etc. – has collectively logged more than 1,000 man-hours to bring the production to stage, and it’s a show not to be missed.

Buy tickets here.

All photos provided by Atlanta Ballet.

Fired Works Spotlights Folk Potters and Their Traditions

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Get your hands dirty with pottery classes at the event. Credit: Macon Arts Alliance

Featuring nine days of special events such as free Clay Workshops for Children & Teens, Corks & Clay workshops for adults, Pottery Roadshow appraisals, artist talks and demonstrations, the 10th Annual Fired Works Regional Ceramics Exhibition and Sale, April 11-19, 2015, in Macon’s Central City Park, about 90 miles south of Atlanta, is a celebration of the rich history of ceramics-making in Georgia and the Southeast. What began as a local pottery show and celebration of the area’s Ocmulgee River region heritage now features more than 6,000 pieces of pottery by 65 ceramic artists– the state’s largest annual show and sale of functional and sculptural pottery.

Each year, Fired Works celebrates a special theme, artist or technique. The 10th Anniversary exhibition highlights the genuinely Southern tradition of Folk Pottery with works by five artists continuing the time-honored tradition of regional ceramics.

Shelia Chrzan bowl: Caption: Artists like Sheila Chrzan present their works for sale at the Fired Works Regional Ceramics Exhibition and Sale. Credit: Macon Arts Alliance

Shelia Chrzan bowl: Caption: Artists like Sheila Chrzan present their works for sale at the Fired Works Regional Ceramics Exhibition and Sale. Credit: Macon Arts Alliance

Bruce Bley, who lives in Monroe, describes himself as a “mountain person,” drawing inspiration from the North Georgia Mountains and their history of craftsmanship. Considered a rising star of the ceramic arts, Clint Alderman, from Habersham County, has been creating works of art by coil-building and pit-firing since 1995. His work is found in exhibits across the state, including the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia and the Atlanta History Center.

Both Roger Corn, of Lula, and Steve Turpin, of Homer, are decades-long potters and their work is well known. Corn has been dubbed the best potter to use the technique of pulling up his clay, creating light-as-a-feather works of art out of only small bits of clay. Turpin, a potter for more than 30 years, considers each piece he makes a tangible aspect of his personality. He says establishing the personal link created when a person feels connected enough to his works to want to purchase one is what being an artist is all about.

pottery - Caption: Wood-fired clay bowls crafted by potter Tammy Beane are reminiscent of Mississippian stamped pottery discovered at Macon’s Ocmulgee National Monument. Credit: The Macon Arts Alliance

pottery – Caption: Wood-fired clay bowls crafted by potter Tammy Beane are reminiscent of Mississippian stamped pottery discovered at Macon’s Ocmulgee National Monument.
Credit: The Macon Arts Alliance

Wayne Hewell is a fifth generation potter, a recognizable descendant of a folk potter family. He continues his father’s and grandfather’s tradition by by hand-firing all of his pottery in an old-fashioned wood-burning kiln.

Each featured folk potter will contribute between one and five pieces to the central exhibit at Fired Works, including traditional-style creations such as face jugs, snake jars and ash glazes – quintessential styles that continue to be produced by folk potters in the South.

If you go: Complete 10th Anniversary Fired Works event details; biographies of featured folk potters and the other 60-plus potters exhibiting and selling; Earth, Wine, and Fire special opening weekend packaged getaway, and schedule of talks and workshops is available at www.FiredWorksMacon.com.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Experience Appalachian Culture at the Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival

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Many travelers don’t realize that Georgia has mountains–wild, beautiful, and home to a rich legacy of Appalachian culture. Minutes away from Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in Georgia, but only two hours from Atlanta, Young Harris College will celebrate Appalachian culture, particularly the spoken word tradition, during the first annual Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival to be held on the college campus on 10th and 11th April 2015.

The festival will feature some of the brightest stars in storytelling, including Lloyd Arneach, Lyn Ford, Hannah Harvey, Andy Offutt Irwin, Bil Lepp, Minton Sparks, Cayce Terrell, Tom Lawrence, Jr., and Sweet Sunny South. Listeners of all ages will learn about the fascinating cultural history of Appalachia through Cherokee legends, Affrilachian tales, Scottish folklore, stories of coal miners, local ghost stories, tall tales, family histories, and more. The festival will also offer visitors the opportunity to become part of the legacy of storytelling. Workshops on the art of storytelling will enable visitors to claim their own voices, and our recording booth will be open for those who want to preserve their stories for future generations. We’ll explore storytelling through the work of local artisans and musicians too with a quilt display, performances of traditional Appalachian music, and a bluegrass jam.  You’re in for a treat for the eyes, ears, heart, and mind!

The Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival is free to all students 18 and under and discounted for college students. Tickets for others are only $20 for a day of entertainment, from 10AM to 9PM.

We hope you will visit the GMSF to embrace and participate in the legacy of Appalachian stories.  To learn more about the event, go to http://gmsf.eventbrite.com. You can also find them under Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival on Facebook. Feel free to contact us at storytelling@yhc.edu or 706-379-5115.