Just in time for the 69th Annual North Carolina Azalea Festival (April 6-10), spring arrives in Wilmington and its island beaches with warm weather and azaleas at every turn. During early spring, azaleas dominate Wilmington landscapes with brilliant splashes of pink, red, white and purple. To say that Wilmingtonians are passionate about azaleas is an understatement. The blooming of these colorful flowering shrubs is an annual phenomenon worthy of great celebration and fanfare, as evidenced by the city’s five-day festival in its honor. Wilmington, N.C. is even certified by the Azalea Society of America as an official “Azalea City.”
A Wilmington tradition since 1948, the North Carolina Azalea Festival ushers in spring with Southern pageantry as Queen Azalea opens the festival with an official coronation. This year UNC-Wilmington graduate and FOX News reporter Anna Kooiman (anchor and co-host of Fox and Friends Weekend, based in NYC) will be crowned Queen Azalea 2016. Ms. Kooiman will be accompanied by a court of Carolina queens. Dozens of Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles, dressed in antebellum-style hoop skirts with matching parasols, will also be in attendance. In the days that follow, festival highlights will include juried arts and craft shows, fireworks (Saturday night), and a street fair (Fri./Sat./Sun.) with exhibits, vendors, live music, entertainment and kids’ activities along Market, Front and Water streets. There’s also an elaborate parade on Saturday morning (begins at 9:30 a.m.), complete with azalea-laden floats, marching bands, clowns, local pageant winners and celebrity guests. This year’s parade viewing area will be along Third Street, from Market Street to Red Cross Street.
Azaleas take center stage during the festival’s official featured tours: the Cape Fear Garden Club’s Azalea Garden Tour and the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s Azalea Home Tour. The Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Garden Tour, April 8-10, is one of the South’s longest-running and most popular garden tours. This year’s garden tour theme is “Stepping Into Spring.” The 63rd annual tour showcases 12 private and public gardens that include a mix of established and new lovingly tended landscapes. A new addition is Spectrum Gallery’s “en plein air” artists who will be painting in participating gardens. Tour price includes free admission to Airlie Gardens on Saturday and Sunday. For details and tickets: www.capefeargardenclub.org/azalea-garden-tour. Another time-honored sanctioned event is the Azalea Home Tour (April 9 and 10), showcasing nine private homes and a historic church. Homes are chosen to represent an array of architectural styles found in Wilmington. For home tour tickets: www.historicwilmington.org .
Live music is always a highlight of the N.C. Azalea Festival. This year’s headline acts include two national recording artists who hail from North Carolina: folk/rock musical sensation The Avett Brothers band on April 7 and country music maverick Chase Rice, who will share the stage with Kane Brown on April 9. A third headline concert features multi-platinum artist/actor/entertainment icon Snoop Dogg, who will delight audiences on April 8 with hits from his 13 albums, including the recently released studio album, BUSH. Rapper, record producer, and beat boxer Doug E. Fresh will open for Snoop Dogg.
All headline concerts are outdoors on the Belk Main Stage at the Cape Fear Community College Campus in Downtown Wilmington (411 N. Front Street). Concerts begin at 7:00 p.m.; gates open at 6:00 p.m. Concerts are rain or shine; standing room only. Tickets for all concerts are available online at www.ncazaleafestival.org and at the N.C. Azalea Festival Office (5724 Oleander Drive, Ste. B7; Mon.-Fri., 9am-5pm). Chairs, backpacks, umbrellas, coolers are not permitted inside the venue. Chairs, food and beverage will be available for cash purchase.
Other notable celebrities scheduled to make guest appearances include: U.S. Army-Retired four-star general Dan McNeill; Actress/author/Alzheimer’s spokesperson Bernadette Stanis (“Good Times” Thelma Evans); Nickelodeon actress Brec Bassinger (“Bella and the Bulldogs”); Author Tony Tata (former N.C. Secretary of Transportation); Author Kristy Woodson Harvey (“Dear Carolina”); Lifestyle brand owner/furniture designer Roxy Te; American Idol Season 14 runner-up Clark Beckham; Miss North Carolina Kate Peacock; 2016 Festival artist Mary Ellen Golden; and Azalea Festival Princess Lilly Kays.
Festival attendees can immerse themselves in the local culture by downloading the N.C. Azalea Festival App for up-to-date event details, breaking entertainment news, behind-the-scenes buzz and insider tips. For App details, a festival schedule and concert tickets, call 910-794-4650, visit www.ncazaleafestival.org or the festival ticket office (5725 Oleander Dr., Wilmington).
Spring brings blooms, belles, beaches and festivals to Wilmington, N.C. and its island beaches. Come for the N.C. Azalea Festival and stay a few extra days to enjoy the nearby island beaches. Wilmington is a convenient drive along I-40 and US 74. Prefer to fly? The Wilmington International Airport (ILM) offers daily flights to major airline hubs. For a free 2016 Official Visitors Guide to Wilmington, North Carolina and the island beaches of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, call 1-866-266-9690 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For spring highlights and special offers, visit www.wilmingtonandbeaches.com/season/2016-spring-highlights/.