Last year, when the Azalea Festival committee announced its springtime concerts to ring in the glory of Wilmington’s official blooms, locals cheered. The North Carolina newgrass of The Avett Brothers and the uplifting vibes of Michael Franti and Spearhead seemed the perfect music elixir for enjoying the outdoors and warmer temperatures once again. Then COVID-19 took over our lives at the beginning of March. Suddenly, the pops of color peeking through the green foliage across the county drooped in collective sadness: For the first time in seven decades, the Azalea Festival was canceled—which also meant a loss of $51 million for our local economy.
While the concerts have been thankfully rescheduled (Franti on October 16 and Avetts on October 17), the committee decided, rather than forego the festival altogether, they would adapt as best as possible virtually—a “vestival,” if you will. Though we can’t necessarily leave our homes and head downtown to the street fair or parade, festival planners—usually helped by more than 1,000 volunteers annually—hope everyone can spread the love and joy, and showcase everything great about our hometown. All virtual events are listed on the Azalea Festival’s Facebook page and encourage interactive participation.
April 1, 3-4 p.m. The Azalea Festival Queen’s Coronation normally would take place, with her arrival along the Cape Fear River. Instead the festival celebrates all past queens and asks for folks to check out their event page “Virtual #NCAF Queen’s Coronation” to tag and showcase the royalty in their own families or community—someone who shows grace, patience, kindness, leadership, perseverance, and fairness.
April 3, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. The garden party brings out the best springtime duds and suds! While we can’t enjoy day-drinking under the 100-year-old live oak at Airlie Gardens, we can enjoy the blooms in our backyards, dressed in our best hats, sipping juleps—or straight whiskey at this rate—and share photos of our family’s own garden party celebrations on the “Virtual #NCAF Garden Party” event page.
April 3, 5 p.m. Every year the festival hosts a youth art show and contest among 300 statewide public, private, and home-schooled elementary, middle-school, and high-school students. Though we can’t celebrate in person, the committee is hosting a live Facebook “Virtual #NCAF Youth Art Gallery Opening.”
April 4, 9:30 a.m. Despite the COVID-19 rain coming down hard on our parade this year, the 2019 parade will stream at the “Virtual #NCAF Parade” Facebook event page, showcasing the best of community organizations, queens and princesses, local businesses, students and more!
April 4, noon-5 p.m. The children’s area of the street fair is always fun for families. If the kids are looking for fun virtual activities, they can be found at “Virtual #NCAF Street Fair Children’s Area.”
April 4, noon-5 p.m. The multicultural stage at the street fair brings together all ethnicities to celebrate their cultures across Wilmington. Livestreams of performances from local groups can be enjoyed at “Virtual #NCAF Multicultural Stage” all day on Saturday.
April 4, noon-5 p.m. Who knew it would take a shutdown for the Azalea Festival to turns its efforts more toward local vendors and businesses over out-of-town travelers peddling their food and wares? In 2020 the committee asks folks to order art, handmade items, food, music, books and whatnot from local businesses instead. Browse local websites for your favorite offerings, or reach out and order a gift certificate from a spa or salon to look forward to once our community is up and running at full force again. Tag the businesses you support at “Virtual #NCAF Street Fair Vendor Showcase.”
April 4, 7:30-10:30 p.m. The Patron’s Party is thrown annually to celebrate those who help make the festival happen. On the “Virtual #NCAF Patron’s Party” event page, folks can tag businesses and people who support the festival and also showcase pictures of their own house parties.