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Progressive music festival celebrates eighth year at Olde Town Pavilion

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Special Photo Blind Drive plays for the crowds at the 2012 Lemon Bee Festival.

The Lemon Bee Festival is rapidly becoming a signature springtime event in Olde Town Conyers.

"It's growing every year, man, slow and steady," festival organizer Matthew Wilcox said. "The community is really picking up on it. Last year was definitely the biggest year we've ever had -- about 350 or so. It's getting up there."

Wilcox said that the daylong celebration of music, art and community has become so popular that his friends and associates insist -- year after year -- that the event continues.

"This is the eighth annual Lemon Bee," Wilcox, a 2002 graduate of Rockdale County High School, said. "It was and it is my birthday party, every year. That's what it originally was -- my 22nd birthday party when I put the first one together. I didn't have any idea it would turn into something like this. I threw the first one and six months later I tried to do another one, a fall music fest, which was a success, but it was too much work to do two in one year.

"After I did those, nobody that knew me would let me not do it. Even a few years ago, I was having financial trouble and couldn't get it going and my friends took up a collection across town and gave me $700 and said, 'You're doing Lemon Bee.'"

This year's festival marks Wilcox's 29th birthday ("It's all downhill from here," he joked) and he said it provides an opportunity for the folks of his generation to come out and have a good time.

"It's something that everybody looks forward to," he said. "With my age group now, a lot of people are starting to get married and have babies so they can't really get out and do things like they once did, so they really look forward to the Lemon Bee."

The latest installment of the Lemon Bee (the name of which is based on phrases Wilcox picked up from his great-grandmother) is set for 1 to 10 p.m. on June 1 at the Olde Town Pavilion. Bands scheduled to perform include The Motions, Dot Line Project, The Brotherland, Rock Ness Monster (which is the group Wilcox fronts), Elements of Style, Gyzmo and The Rave, The Stratocats and Connor Pledger.

A number of the musical ensembles -- most notably The Brotherland and Pledger -- have performed at previous Lemon Bees, and Wilcox had nothing but good things to say about this year's headliners, The Motions.

"Connor Pledger was 16 when he first played the Lemon Bee," Wilcox said of the singer-songwriter, now based in Athens. "I told him he needed to get a band when he used to play at the Celtic Tavern, and now he's got a band and is traveling the country. The Motions are a bunch of 16-year-old guys who will be our headliners. They played last year as well and they're really good. I like young talent.

"And it's all about the community so I try to get a lot of local acts to come out -- most of these bands are from the area and one's from Loganville and one or two are from Atlanta."

Special guests include Jerod Gay, Jeff Taylor, Gabe Long and Zack Best, and Wilcox said the guests play a key role in keeping the day moving along.

"They're acoustic acts," Wilcox, who owns and operates Rockdale County-based Coverall Construction, said. "I wish we had time for everybody in one day, but in between bands when we change out equipment, the special guests will come on and play about three songs apiece to keep the music rolling while the change-out is going on."

There will also be nearly two dozen vendors on site, most of whom will be marketing their artistic creations, although Wilcox said he'll operate a booth that sells food, festival T-shirts and band merchandise.

"We'll have 15 to 20 vendors this year, which is the most we've ever had," he said. "I do the food, t-shirts, band apparel and all that, and I think last year we had 13 vendors. There are all kinds of artists who will bring their works -- paintings, bottle lamps, quilts, dream catchers, homemade handbags and other kinds of folk art. It's all across the board and the artists are from the Conyers and Covington areas."

Wilcox, who has also expressed interest in developing a recording studio in Olde Town and an outdoor music venue in the community, seems happy to have Lemon Bee continue and spoke about his favorite part of the day.

"To me, the best part of Lemon Bee is gathering everybody together after the second band goes on," he said. "People need to be there by the second band, no later than 1:30 p.m. We bring everybody together and I talk a little bit about what Lemon Bee is all about, and it gives me chill bumps every year."

Admission to the Lemon Bee Festival is $10 and more information can be obtained by visiting the Lemon Bee Festival page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/pages/Lemon-Bee-Festival/231567586874346).

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. If you have a story idea, contact karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.