The best kept secret in Georgia may not be so unknown for much longer.
For over a decade people have been coming to Watkinsville in droves, parking everywhere from the Oconee County Courthouse to various churches so they can attend the most popular attraction this town has to offer.
Watkinsville's Ashford Manor Bed and Breakfast has been a cherished jewel in the heart of the city just off Main Street and Harden Hill Road, snuggled discretely behind Ashford Memorial Methodist Church. The five-acre estate encompasses much more than the lovely 1893 mansion with a half dozen gorgeous and well-appointed rooms ready to accommodate overnight guests with a new online booking system.
My favorite rooms are the penthouse suite and the garden rooms, but I have yet to stay in every room (I have hosted several social events over the years there, including a baby shower. I even had portraits taken there, too). You will never find a better place to stay with great food, tasteful appointments, security and safety. It is also dog friendly.
Co-owners Dave Shearon and Mario Castro have always taken the extra step for guests and visitors while hosting a wedding or a special event like Grace's birthday party, an annual dog party. The same can be said for their tremendous Concerts on the Lawn series, now entering its 11th season of entertaining music fans on the terraced lawn in the backyard beyond the fountain.
Tickets for this year's Concerts on the Lawn series are available for individual concerts or for the entire season online. The season pass costs $135 for 10 concerts through October, a savings of $15 over the per-concert admission.
Adult tickets are $15 for each individual concert and student tickets with an ID may be purchased for $12. Tickets for children under 12 cost $5 each and kids under the age of 6 are admitted for free. I have been taking my son to shows since the onset of the concert series, and there is plenty of space for kids to run around, even if they are not interested in the music.
This season's concert series commences with a couple of Wednesday concerts (itself an innovation, as past years' concerts have usually been on Mondays) with the smoking hot, award-winning Afro-Cuban ensemble Grogus on May 4.
Grogus grew out of a side project of the jazz band Squat, taking a more heavily percussive approach initially to jazz standards with funk and Latin flair, but lately has evolved into a more world beat approach that encompasses a wide array of influences and sound, predominately Cuban and Caribbean. I dare you to try to sit still during the band's infectious grooves.
A fortnight later guests will witness the return of the top-notch Beatles cover band Abbey Road Live. This group features the immensely skilled musicians from the longtime Athens band The Fuzzy Sprouts playing spot-on renditions of the Fab Four classics from all periods of their immense career, complete from the Liverpool pub era to the rooftop of the Apple Studios. Abbey Road Live plays music that brings generations together to enjoy the show, complete with costume changes and unanticipated segueways of songs you know every word to.
Other concerts further down the line include Motown cover band the Splits on Memorial Day; and Grammy-nominated super producer John Keane and his bands Strawberry Flats as well as his Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young cover band Deja Vu with Oconee County resident Rachel O'Neal along with veteran Athens musical all-stars Deane Quinter, Nathan Sheppard, Tim White, Tom Ryan and Scott Sanders. This show will be on June 15.
The season continues with shows from the Athens King in an Elvis Tribute on July 2, Jimmy Buffett cover band Sons of Sailors on July 30, and, after a summer break for the month of August, Half Dozen Brass Band on September 5 and musical legend Randall Bramblett September 21. New on the schedule this season is a Santana tribute on October 5, with a who's who of Athens musicians, and bluegrass traditionalist Packway Handle Band closing out the season October 19.
If a concert is rained out, there will plenty of signs and media notice posted here and elsewhere in case of inclement weather. Those shows will usually be rescheduled for one week later, but that will be decided based on a case by case basis, according to the business' website.
Another slightly new facet this year is that the grounds to Ashford Manor will open at 5 p.m. The is great if you want to bring a picnic lunch or do your best imitation of Chastain Park and bring a candelabra or other wine bottles or plastic glasses. Food is not available for purchase on the grounds, but there are restaurants, such as the newly-expanded Mirko's Pasta, Girasoles or Chops & Hops, just across Main Street that will gladly take a phone-in order to make your meal to go for such al fresco dining.
Concerts begin at 6 p.m. when the support acts or openers take the stage followed by the headliner at 7 p.m. The concerts are always over by 9 p.m., and are never too loud, even for the delicate ears of Watkinsville's neighbors. Due to topographical undulations, I can hear the shows quite well from my Morgan Manor Estates home, even after the short six-block walk or bike ride from Ashford Manor Bed and Breakfast.