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Rain doesn't dampen annual festival

CONYERS — Umbrellas and light jackets were in tow Saturday morning as the public perused the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival.

The festival kicked off at the Georgia International Horse Park under cloudy skies with a downpour by 11 a.m. But the annual event lived up to its good name and turned out the crowds.

Before the rain, Henry County resident Rich Lunsford and his family sat at the main stage to enjoy the opening entertainment of Native American drummers and dancers. Lunsford said his wife, Tiffany, has an aunt performing as a singer.

"She's been doing this for quite awhile and we wanted the chance to come out and see her," Lunsford said.

The couple and their 3-year-old son Hunter and 6-year-old daughter Trista still had a lot more of the festival to see and were particularly interested in crafts. Though it was not exactly part of the festival, the family also planned to see the equestrian activities at the park.

"We really enjoy these things — everybody getting to come out and see the different things," Lunsford said.

Janice Stephenson of Rockdale County enjoyed a lighthearted moment with a couple of characters from the Georgia Renaissance Festival, the strolling entertainment. The characters, decked in medieval garb, talked in accents with Stephenson and her 10-month-old granddaughter Bailee in a stroller.

"They're great," Stephenson said with a laugh. "Every year, they're great."

Stephenson couldn't pick her favorite part of the festival between the crafters and the entertainment, but said it was everything.

"I just love it," Stephenson said of the festival. "We've come every year and we've always enjoyed it."

The festival brought out people from across the region, including vendor and Cherry Blossom first-timer Jared Weaver of Knoxville, Tenn. People paused at his booth to see him strumming a tune on a single-stringed piece of wood with an empty metal Spam or Coke can at the end.

"If they just look at them, they don't really know that it's an instrument," Weaver said of the instruments that lined his booth table. "So I pick one up and I play it for them."

He explained the instrument was not his idea, but originates from the mountain dulcimer.

Emiko Yonemori of Ryu Kyu Arts had a smile on her face as she explained how the group has been performing at the festival for the past 15 years. She was looking forward to the afternoon's performance of a drum dance, a traditional Okinawan dance, and karate form.

The annual Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival celebrated 30 years this year. It started as a gesture of friendship between the city and the Japanese of the former Maxell Corporation in Conyers.

Festival fun continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today with more cultural performances, entertainment, children activities and more.

Admission is free. Parking is $5.