With the winter cold behind us, and the warn, sunny days of spring just around the corner, the 68th annual Azalea Festival is set to thaw out the streets of downtown as Wilmington transitions into the new season.
As the festival kicks off, Wilmington will welcome a host of celebrities, such as Casey Jennings, a professional American volleyball player; Clyde Edgerton, a distinguished professor at the UNCW and the author of 10 novels; New York Times bestselling author Dan Hampton; the beautiful and charming actress from the 40s and 50s, Jacqueline White Anderson; three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings; Meg Caswell of HGTV and the winner of “Design Star” season 6; Miss NC Beth Stovall; Miss NC USA Julia Dalton; and Skai Jackson, the twelve year-old actress who has been the star of Disney’s hit series, “Jessie.” Here’s a preview of events:
Wilmington Convention Center , 515 Nutt St.
Wednesday, April 8th, 3 p.m., Free
Taking place in the grand lawn of the Wilmington Convention Center, 2013 Miss America winner Mallory Hagan will be crowned this year’s Queen Azalea. Hagan advocates against gun violence and child sexual abuse. Her first initiative as Miss America was to become the spokesperson for IHOP’s 8th annual National Pancake Day celebration, which raised millions for the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Hagan will succeed Kirsten Haglunch, last year’s Queen Azalea. In attendance will be city officials, board members, and the Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles.
Cole Bros. Circus
April 9/10: 4:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
April 11/12: 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
With more than an acre of ground for the Cole Bros. Circus Big Top, the annual circus promises to be a favorite for all ages. Combining acrobatics with costumed characters and even a human cannonball, the two-hour performance is a romp of action-packed show that will send chills, thrills, and chuckles through crowds. You can purchase your tickets in advance and skip the lines by calling (910) 794-2894.
Juried Art Show
The Hannah Block Community Arts Center
120 S. Second St.
April 10-12, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Free
Over 100 North Carolinian and national artists will present their fine paintings at the annual Juried Spring Art Show and Sale, a long standing tradition at the Azalea Festival. Awards for first, second and third places will be doled out, as well as Donor, Memorial, and People’s Choice Award, among others.
Children’s Art Contest
The Hannah Block Community Arts Center
120 S. Second St., Free
The sixth annual Children’s Art Contest broke records in 2015: 343 students put their skills to the test with their submissions. The work was unveiled on Thursday, April 2, and will be on display through April 30.
The contest is open to all elementary or middle-school students across the state. This year’s fist-place winner for the elementary school category is Becki Girolami, a fifth grader at Parsley Elementary in Wilmington. Likewise the winning middle-school piece comes from Max Brinker, an eighth grader at Cape Fear Center for Inquiry.
Downtown Wilmington on Water, Front, and Market streets
April 10: 6-10:45 p.m., April 11: 12-10:45 p.m., April 12: 1-4 p.m., Free
The Azalea Festival Street Fair will pack over 330 arts and craft vendors, 40 food vendors, four stages, and a children’s area, all into the streets of downtown Wilmington. The three-day event will fill the air with the irresistible smell of food and the sounds of live music. There also will be an area for the kiddies full of games and crafts.
There will be old favorites, like face-paintings, jewelry made from things like sea glass, antique buttons, T-shirts, and photography. But there also will be a whole new line-up of booths serving anything from wine, to candles, to hot sauces, and much more.
Food vendors will be selling funnel cakes, fresh made lemonade, gyros, kettle corn, and ice cream, deep-fried Oreos, and even the eight-pound gummy bears.
After Garden Get Down
Bluewater Waterfront Grill, 4 Marina St.
April 10, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m., Free
For the first time in the Azalea Festival’s long history, they are joining together with LM Restaurants, Inc. to put on the “After Garden Get Down.” With live music by Chase Likens, Belk Road South musician and plenty of good food for everyone, the Bluewater Grill is the place to be. The 2015 Queen Azalea, Mallory Hagan, will be in attendance for the event, and there will be live music.
Though it’s free to attend, The Bluewater Dining Package is $250 and will include one Airlie Luncheon Garden Party ticket, parking at the Bluewater Grill and shuttle service, a three-course meal at Bluewater Grill, and entry into the After Garden Get Down. There are a limited number of seats available.
Water St., April 10-12
Prices vary by ship
Every year all types of visiting ships join Wilmington during the Azalea Festival to partake in the celebration. Docked along the Cape Fear riverside, the boats are open for visitors to explore and discover.
Schwartz Center, CFCC
April 11-12, 2 p.m.-6 p.m., free
An Azalea Festival staple since 1978, the boxing tournament brings boxers from 8 and up together to participate in a competition of the finest fighters from the national and international levels. Boxers will be separated into ages 8-16, 17-34 and master boxers, 35 and up compete in six divisions—from 55 to pounds 201 pounds. Queen Azalea and other VIP guests will be in attendance.
The Elks Lodge, 5102 Oleander Dr.
April 11: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; April 12: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
A family fun day of coins and currency, the coin show will have more than 30 dealers from several surrounding states on hand to appraise, buy, sell, and trade coins and other numismatic items. Children will receive free foreign coins to learn about currency and foreign countries. Don McNeely of Gold History Corporation will be on hand. A 30-year veteran prospector, he will be speaking with attendees and teaching panning techniques throughout the event.
April 12, 9 p.m., Free
Set by the beautiful, serene Cape Fear River, the Azalea Festival Firework Show will light up the sky, so arrive early and pick the best spot you can find and enjoy the show.
Hedrick Gardner Parade Mile
April 11, 8:20 a.m.
Hendrick Gardner has partnered up with Without Limits, Go Time, and the North Carolina Azalea Festival to put on a race like never before. The course will be on 3rd Street, with a turn around in front of the grand stands of the North Carolina Azalea Festival. Proceeds from the race will benefit Habitat for Humanity. The winner of the race will ride in the Azalea Festival parade.
April 11, 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
With over 100,000 viewers each year, the Azalea Festival Parade will have floats, marching bands, horses, celebrities, and Queen Azalea herself meandering through historic downtown Wilmington. This year the parade will be given a new route. It will begin at the south end of downtown and travel north up 3rd
Street. Viewing areas will stretch from Market Street to Bladen Street, with bleachers between Grace and Chestnut, and additional seating on Market.
Street Fair Multicultural Stage
Water St. (between Chestnut and Princess)
April 11-12, free
Each year the Azalea Festival features contemporary and traditional music, dance, and ethnic pageantry.
The Street Fair Multicultural Stage brings recognition to the region’s growing ethnic population. The stage will feature some of the best Native American, Celtic, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Hawaiian, Polynesian, Indian, Techmoja, Philippine, and Japanese performing artists, dressed in authentic colorful costumes. One of the main events of the stage will be the “Children’s Multicultural March.” Children will march and represent their cultures. The march is a way to highlight our area’s growing cultural diversity and helps show the strength of our multicultural community. The event will be filled with the sounds and sights of diversity and will bring the world over to the streets of Wilmington.
Azalea Festival Beach Volleyball Tournament
Capt’n Bills Backyard Grill, 4240 Market St.
Woman’s Final: 6 p.m., Men’s Final: 7 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$35 for players; $5 for spectators
The Wilmington Volleyball Series will be pulling in some of the top athletes from across the East Coast, but the tournament will be open to all players. Contestants will be playing for prizes such as Reflekt Sunglasses, Socco Socks, and 17th Street Surf Shop merchandise.
April 12, 4 p.m.-8 p.m., Free
Bluewater Waterfront Grill, 4 Marina St.
The Festival Finale will kick off at Bluewater Grill as their Waterfront Music Series, which runs throughout summer, begins. As VIP guests dine and party at the restaurant, there will be live music by The Beatles cover band, Liverpool. They will be playing from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The first 1,500 people to show up will get a free koozie and the chance to enjoy the spring weather as this year’s Azalea Festival takes its bow.