There’s no hiding from it during the first (sometimes second) weekend in April: The NC Azalea Festival takes over all of Wilmington but especially downtown. The port city gains a lot of economic stimulation from five days of celebrating a flower that only peeks its deep fuschia, pink, white and red blooms a few weeks every spring (though, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and early warm temperatures, we oddly had some bushes reseeding and blooming in November across town). But, more than celebrating a flower, the NC Azalea Festival has been going strong for more than half a century in an effort to stimulate our local economy—$51 million, to be precise.
With it comes multitudes of volunteer efforts to put on the festival, from the city, nonprofits, area organizations, celebrities, and, yes, Azalea belles. They all work toward showcasing the beauty and hospitality of spring in the South, and there are plenty of ways to take part in the annual festivities. Art show, music, garden and home tours, a parade, fireworks … well, allow us to go down the list.
Old School Concert
April 5, 7 p.m., $45
Wilson Center, CFCC, 703 N. 3rd St.
While the Old School Concert typically showcases favorite R&B throwbacks at Azalea Fest, it welcomes stand-up comedian Rickey Smiley in 2019. Smiley is known for his prank calls and being a columnist on Dish Nation, but his popularity comes as host of the Atlanta-based “The Rickey Smiley Morning Show.”
Street Fair, Multicultural Stage
and Children’s Area
April 6-7, all day, Free
Market, Water and Front streets
More than 250 vendors line up along the streets of downtown Wilmington to peddle everything from giant turkey legs and deep-fried Twinkies, to homemade candles, artwork, carved woodworks, clothes, jewelry and more!
In the Cotton Exchange, facing Water Street, will be the children’s area with fun activities and games. Plus, the stage will feature a children’s variety show, lots of local dance troupe performances, area nonprofits and more. Saturday shows begin at 12:30 p.m. and last 30 minutes each through 6 p.m.; Sunday performances take place 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Located at the corner of Market and 2nd streets is the Multicultural Stage. Folks will be able to see dances from various groups representing all sectors of the global community, from China to Ireland, Africa to India. The “Multicultural March of Nations” takes place during the Azalea parade as well and will feature multiple ethnic marchers, performers and band members dressed in authentic traditional costumes and a float draped with International flags.
After Garden Get-Down
April 5, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., Free
Bluewater, 4 Marina St.
The Azalea Festival’s most anticipated event is the annual Garden Party at Airlie. For those who can’t score tickets, well, Bluewater is here to allow everyone a chance to wear their best hats. The After Garden Get Down is hosted dockside and will feature a meet-n-greet with Queen Azalea, 2:45 p.m., plus live music from Uptown Easy from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
It’s free to attend, but folks who want the whole experience can purchase VIP tickets, which include a ticket to the garden party, first-class transportation to and from the event, plus a three-course meal at Bluewater, good to use throughout the month of April ($290 at etix.com).
April 5, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., Free
Going Local, 208 N. Front St.
New to 2019 is a competition in Chalkfest—wherein area high-school students showcase their creative skills and compete to win. Held on Front Street between Chestnut and Grace, all ages are welcome to showcase their best street art, whether fun imagery or inspirational messages.
Azalea Fest Home Tour
April 6, 12:30 p.m. – 6 p.m.; April 7, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. • Various locations
$40 at Eventbrite.com
From antebellum homes to craftsman-style bungalows to Italianate structures in historic downtown, Carolina Place and Carolina Heights neighborhoods, there is a variety of architecture and décor to see on the annual Historic Wilmington Home Tour. Taking place both Saturday and Sunday during Azalea Fest, visitors will be able to tour through 10 homes.
The official ribbon-cutting kicks off at the Governor Dudley Mansion at 12:30 p.m. on April 6, with city and county dignitaries and the Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles and more to open the tour. Boombalatti’s will set up their ice cream truck at the parking lot of Temple Baptist Church at 1801 Market St. to give away free ice cream treats to ticket-holders while supplies last. Tickets are good for both days of the tour so folks can explore at their leisure. Eventbrite receipts must be presented at any house on tour to exchange for a ticket. All stops are listed on the ticket, plus full list neighborhood maps will be handed out to participants.
MGC Parade Mile
April 6, 8:30 a.m., $15-$20 to participate
Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St.
Local law firm McAngus Goudelock & Courie, Go Time and the North Carolina Azalea Festival welcome runners to take on a portion of the parade route on 3rd Street, starting and finishing in front of the parade reviewing stand. Proceeds from the race will go to the Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center, which provides spaces and services to local nonprofits, including the reduction of downtown office rent, paid utilities, parking and security, collaborative workspace with other nonprofits, networking opportunities, marketing opportunities, and more. Amateurs and competitive runners welcome, and encouraged to dress in their best seersucker suit or spring dress.
Azalea Fest Parade
April 6, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Free
3rd Street, from Market to Bladen streets
More than 100,000 viewers tune in each year live and via TV, phones, computers, for the annual Azalea Festival Parade. Floats, marching bands, horses, celebrities, the Azalea Queen and her court, community organizations, nonprofits, businesses and more take to downtown’s streets.
It’s always free to watch unless you want reserved bleacher seating. Festival bleacher tickets can be bought at the North Carolina Azalea Festival Ticket Office for $5-$8 in advance, $7-$10 on the day of.
April 6-7, all day, Free
Wilmington Convention Center, 515 Nutt St.
National and international boxers have been coming to the Azalea Fest since 1978. Boxers of all age groups and levels take to the ring. Three age groups—ages 8-16, 17-34 and master boxers, 35 and up—compete in six divisions, from 55 to 201 pounds. Queen Azalea and other VIP guests will be in attendance. Boxer entry fee is $10 online and $20 for walk-ins.
April 6, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.;
April 7, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Free
Elks Lodge, 5102 Oleander Dr.
Currency of all kinds will be presented by 30 dealers from several surrounding states who will appraise, buy, sell and trade coins and other numismatic items. Free foreign currency will be given to kids, and there will be a Kids’ Korner with games and activities. Folks can pan for gold with the Gold History Corporation, learn about Confederate money from David Meisky, and attend a Boy Scout clinic badge. It’s free to attend!
April 6, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., $1
Hotel Ballast, 301 N. Water St.
Put on those loafers and prepare to shag the day away as part of the annual contest held on the Riverwalk in the ballroom of Hotel Ballast. There will be shag demonstrations, line dancing, and contest, plus social dancing! Contest is 12:30-6 p.m. with breaks of open dancing and awards closer to 7 p.m.
April 6, 9 p.m., Free
Water Street, along the Cape Fear River
Boom, pow, sparkle, sizzle, boom! It’s the prettiest sky show outside of July 4th! Azalea Festival Firework Show will light up the dark night and river, but be sure to arrive early because the crowds and parking are insane all weekend.
April 7, 4-7 p.m., Free
Bluewater, 4 Marina St.
After five days of blooms, queens, music, gardens, antebellum architecture and more, the 72nd Azalea Festival will call it a wrap at Bluewater for the finale. Entertainment, food, booze, and giveaways will be on dock.