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The thought of downtown Wilmington evokes images of families having a stroll along the Riverwalk and maybe even taking a scenic tour. Perhaps it makes one think of fashionistas perusing the ever-expanding list of vintage shops. Foodies often will think of the host of restaurants that dot the city blocks while visionaries excite in the burgeoning Brooklyn Arts and Castle Street Art and Antique districts.


Above: (From l to r) Karen Daniels, Donna Worrell, Chris Snowden, and David Hayes. Courtesy photo.

Though plenty comes to mind when imagining downtown Wilmington today, this wasn’t always the case. Beginning in 1978, Wilmington downtown basically was a ghost town. In an effort to maintain Historic Downtown Wilmington, Riverfest launched in October 1979 to revitalize downtown. The event will kick off this year on Friday, October 3, with the annual Garden Party at Greenfield Lake (pg. 32), and will continue through Sunday, October 5.

Though it wasn’t anywhere near the caliber of celebration it is today back in 1978, the inaugural event laid the groundwork for a festival that spans multiple decades and that has funneled over $150,000 of their proceeds into the CFCC foundation—not including monies that directly went into buying equipment for CFCC’s Marine Technology program.

“Every so often we get letters from the different students [who’ve recieved scholarships], directed to the board of directors,” Donna Worrell, Riverfest president, says, “thanking us for our scholarship monies that they were awarded, and [telling us] they really appreciate everything we do. It’s very rewarding to hear how beneficial it is to the students.”

Though they were only able to donate $1,000 last year, Worrell predicts things will improve this year. “The last two years have been very difficult due to the economic situation,” she laments. “It has been very hard on all of us, including our vendors. Now, a lot of the vendors are starting to come back.” 

It’s estimated that nearly 150,000 people will take part in the festivities over the course of three days. This year Riverfest will add the Rowing Regatta, as part of its “Rediscover” theme. “We were trying to take things back to the river,” Worrell says. “There is so much the river is used for—not just for the beauty. We are a state port, so there are other benefits of our river.”

As well, this year’s official art work, created by David Hayes, perfectly captures the river’s spirit. His painting depicts the the Henrietta III, docked along the Riverwalk.  

Here’s a preview of all the events taking place throughout the weekend.



Grab a blanket and a cup of cider and enjoy this year’s free fireworks show. The brightly colored, festive hues will take over the sky on Saturday at 9 p.m. 


Check out the most exciting event to grace the Cape Fear River since Dawson Leery and Pacey Witter vied for Joey Potter’s attention in a sailboat race in the Wilmington-filmed, teen-drama “Dawson’s Creek.” For the fourth year, the stand-up paddle race will wow audiences as adventurous participants compete in either the 14-foot paddle board class men’s and women’s, 12.6-foot paddle board class men’s and women’s, unlimited men’s and women’s, or the kid’s races. As well, there will be a few races that are just for kicks. Folks can go to to download the entry form or register on Saturday at 8:30 a.m.  at The George (128 Market St.). Registration is $35 and the races start at 10 a.m. A light lunch will be provided by The George. 


Put those stems to good use by registering for the 8k River Race run—held by the  Wilmington Road Runners Club, the Port City’s oldest running group. Taking place at the CFCC parking lot (beside the PPD parking deck), registration will be from 6:30 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. on Sunday. Runners will take off from the starting line at 8 a.m. An entry fee applies, but it’s free to watch. 



Folks can sift through the arts and crafts purveyed by vendors that will line Water Street. Exhibits and displays, too, will be set up for folks to pursue. There will be food to nosh on and beverages to enjoy. Arts and crafts tables will be operational on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., and on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Food will be available on Friday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.



For those who are young at heart and of a bold spirit, the Adventure Zone will provide thrills galore. With great rides, demonstrations, and more, the amusements  will be available on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.



Ahoy, mateys! Take the young buccaneers over to Network Real Estate (106 N. Water St. #112) on Saturday at 1 p.m. to pick up a treasure map. The kiddies can spend the afternoon (1 p.m. until 4 p.m.) in search of Riverfest’s heavily sought-after booty. The activity is free and open to the public. 



Youngsters will enjoy the plethora of activities provided at the Kids’ Zone and stage. There will be rides, demonstrations and a few guest appearances from some crowd-pleasing characters, such as Sledge the Hammerhead, the Red Robin, and the Chick-fil-a cow! All events are free and take place in the Cotton Exchange parking lot on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., and on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.



Revving up the excitement this year will be the Classic Car Show. Put on by southeastern NC’s Sun Coast Cruisers, a family oriented collective of automobile enthusiasts, the event will showcase some of the hottest rides of yesteryear. Folks can check it out on Market Street on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.



Chartered in 1972, the Cape Fear chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America has been wowing locals with their selections for over four decades. With over 90 members, they will vroom into the streets of downtown Wilmington this Sunday with cars ranging from a 1978 Corvette Silver Anniversary model to a 1915 Model T. Car lovers can take a gander at their collection on Market Street from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.


New this year will be an event that revives an age-old Cape Fear tradition. Popularized during the 19th century, rowing became a local mainstay throughout the 1880s when Wilmington became a hub for crafting racing shells. Locals took to the river and showed off their speed and endurance in rowing races until the motorboat industry made the sport obsolete.

In 1989 the formation of the Cape Fear Rowing Club managed to bring the activity back into favor. The club, which steadily has grown since its inception, will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a regatta at Riverfest. Entry requires no fees and participants will meet behind the Marine Boat Building Facility at Cape Fear Community College. The event takes place on Sunday, beginning with a VIP review of the regatta boats at 11 a.m. Eight separate races will take place every half hour from noon until 4 p.m. Awards and a social gathering will endcap the event at 4 p.m.


Wilmington’s vast and talent-filled culinary scene will lend the crème de la crème of their waitstaff to compete in The Great Waiters’ Wine Race. The competition, which will be held on Sunday at the corner of Princess and Water streets, pits service-industry gurus against each other in a timed obstacle course, with an exercise in precision. First place takes home $300 and the cup. Second and third place also take home cash prizes—$200 and $100, respectively. As well, the contenders deemed best dressed and most spirited will receive a trophy. It’s $80 to compete, but free to watch. Folks can register online prior to Sunday or onsite at 1:30 p.m. The race will begin at 2 p.m. 


Get those cochleas ready for a weekend of great tunes! This year concerts will take place at Riverfront Park from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., on Saturday from noon until 11 p.m. and on Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. Folks can imbibe some ice-cold beverages while dancing the night away in the beer garden, starting at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The event is free, but pours will cost. Alternative, acoustic and country artist Brian Mayer will headline Saturday night’s show. Other performers will be Jack Jack 180, Machine Gun, CC Wilson, and Seneca Guns.

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Best Of Wilmington

Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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