With spring weather technically beginning at the end of February—gracing us with 80-degree beach days—the blooms across Wilmington have been bursting throughout all of March. And what a sight—to see the azaleas pop a good three weeks early, budding in the midst of an odd snow shower on March 12. Alas, here we are: the week where Wilmington is inundated with people to celebrate pollen—err, spring in the South. It’s the NC Azalea Festival!
Aside from our cover story and interview with nationally known ‘80s pop rockers Duran Duran, who play Friday night downtown, we’ve tracked some other azalea fun between April 5 and the 9. Just remember: Everything is better—traffic, music, dancing, parades—after a Mint Julep or two.
Wednesday, April 5
The queen is coming! The queen is coming! Queen Kira Kazantsev, 2015’s Miss America—who served as the national goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network—will arrive at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre (1941 Amphitheatre Dr.) for a meet-and-greet at 5 p.m. Her court of princesses, winners from local and regional pageants, including Miss NC, McKenzie Faggart, and the Azalea Belles will join her before she begins her visits over the next few days to schools, hospitals and organizations. A variety of celebrity guests will be on site, from military personnel, including Lt. Gen. Robert R. Ruark and Chaplain Maj. Gen. Dondi E. Costin, to style and beauty expert Emily Loftiss, USA women’s gymnastic team member and gold medalist Jordyn Wieber, actress Paris Berelc (Skylar, Disney’s XD’s “Lab Rats: Elite Force”), and festival artist Sean Ruttkay.
There also will be a Loop the Lake extended 5K/10K/1-mile fun walk and run at Greenfield, hosted by Cape Fear Volunteer Center. They welcome kids, dogs and costumes to the 5 p.m. run, with proceeds benefiting the Big Buddy Program.
That night, folks who have a ticket to the sold-out concert can head over to Kenan Auditorium, 8 p.m., to see ‘50s R&B/Motown sensation, The Temptations. Their well-known stage show, with syncopated choreography and recognizable sing-a-longs—“My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”—will transport listeners to garden parties of yesteryear.
Wednesday, April 6
Kids are included in the festivities every spring to showcase their vast creativity through visual art and writing. Annually, the Children’s Art Contest takes place at the Community Arts Center in the Historic Hannah Block USO Building. First through third places are awarded amongst the 440 students from 38 public, private, charter, and home elementary and middle schools across the state. Folks can view the work at 120 S. 2nd St. April 5-9.
A new contest took place this year for budding student writers. High schoolers from the tri-county area were asked to submit a poem or essay in response to: “How does the North Carolina Azalea Festival contribute to or enhance the community of Wilmington, NC?” Local writer Nan Graham—who also was part of the 1958 Azalea Festival Queen’s Court—judged the competition. Winning entries can be found in the 2017 souvenir book.
Country fans will be crooning along to their heart’s desire when Cole Swindell takes the Miller Light Stage downtown (701 N. Front St.) at 7 p.m. Swindell is a Platinum-selling recording country artist, best known for his early songwriting for Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Scott McCreery. However, since 2013, he’s released his own albums and has had six record-breaking No. 1 singles, including “You Should Be Here.” Opening will be Michael Ray and CJ Solar. Tickets are $39-$49 and can be purchased at ncazaleafestival.org.
Friday, April 7
Today is the day when all of Wilmington puts on their fanciest hats or fascinators, and bow ties, seersucker suits, as well as floral, flowy gowns. They head over to Airlie Luncheon Garden Party at Airlie Gardens for the official party of the festival. Bourbon flows like water, and delectable snacks are accompanied by the decadent regalia of the antebellum Azalea Belles. Mostly relegated to major sponsors of the event, the garden party is open to folks who wish to dish out $261 for a Bluewater Garden Party VIP Package, which includes entry into the garden party, along with transportation to and from the event, parking at Bluewater, and dinner at Bluewater with live music from Darryl Murrill and Jazzpel. Bluewater hosts the After Party Get Down from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., open to the public for free.
Today the annual Cape Fear Garden Club Tour opens to the public and runs through Sunday, April 9. It features mesmerizing manicured lawns and landscapes that will give every green-thumb enthusiast mad ideas to update their own lush foliage. The ribbon cutting takes place 10 a.m. at the home of Carole and Richard Johnson on Masonboro Sound Road, with celebrity guests in attendance. Gardens across 12 homes are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with tickets costing $25; children under 12 are admitted free with paid adult (www.capefeargardenclub.org). Plein air artists will be capturing the year’s theme “Beautiful Madness,” as seminars are given each day. Monies from the event go toward scholarships, as well as community beautification and horticultural grants, and conservation efforts at Battery Island, a National Audubon Society bird sanctuary.
More art can be appreciated at the Community Arts Center (120 S. 2nd St.) thanks to Wilmington Art Association’s annual 35th Annual Juried Spring Art Show and Sale, taking place through April 9. Judged by Raleigh, NC, artist Joseph DiGiulio, the show features a variety of mediums, from fiber art to mixed media to 3D work and paintings, by artists 18 and older, who take home over $4,000 in prizes.
The street fair opens today! Giant turkey legs and Polish dogs await the mouths of fest-fare lovers. So bring cash! New this year will be an azalea bonsai styling seminar, helicopter tours, paint-the-town community art project with Wine & Design at the corner of Front and Market, a “Signature Row,” featuring local and regional vendors, as well as an open-mic night in the Cotton Exchange parking lot, Sat., 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. And to bring in local businesses to the massive Azalea Fest fold, a social-media scavenger hunt takes place this year in the street fair zone, wherein hunters gather promotional items from participating brick-and-mortars. Music takes place at the Multicultural Stage (corner of Market and 2nd) all weekend, including a Beatles tribute band, Caroline Dare and Band and JackJack 180. The children’s area, where fun activities and performances for the wee ones take place, is located at Water and Princess streets. The street fair opens Friday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cirque Ma’Ceo brings together gypsy-themed entertainment with equine flair! Folks will see a circus filled with talented artists and horses in a multi-cultural celebration of death-defying stunts and Cossack riding. Showtimes are April 7 through the 9, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $18 to $70 at ncazaleafestival.org.
Saturday, April 8
The day starts with the annual NC Azalea Fest Parade at S. 3rd St. at 9 a.m. All celebrities and queens/princesses, local businesses, civic organizations, schools, and more will traverse downtown streets until 11:30 a.m. Folks can meet the pilots of the Bandit Flight Team in the Geico Lounge (in the heart of downtown) from noon to1 p.m.
Aside from all the ongoing tours, fairs and art shows taking place today, competitors will be heading into the boxing ring at the Wilmington Convention Center (515 Nutt St.) today and tomorrow from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The boxing competition welcomes ages 8-16 and 17-34, alongside master boxers 35 years and up, from Georgia, SC, NC, and beyond. Better yet, it’s free! (Hey, Azalea committee: What’s it gonna take to bring LL Cool J to the stage next year? And to the ring?)
Folks who would rather talk coins than jabs can head over to the Elks Lodge (5102 Oleander Dr.) where currency will be all the rage at the annual coin show. Attendees can pan for gold, buy, sell and trade with dealers, learn about confederate money with David Meisky (11 a.m. – noon), and more! Open April 9 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and the 9, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. $1 donation for raffle ticket to win hourly door prizes.
In NC dancing is a big part of our cultural tradition—specifically shagging. Born from the Big Apple and Lindy Hop, the dance is known for its southeastern coastal roots. Azalea Fest hosts its Riverwalk Shag Contest on Saturday and Sunday, with social dancing from 11 a.m. to noon and the contest beginning at 12:30 p.m. It’s an amateur-only contest, welcoming 12 adults and 12 juniors to compete. Plus, there is shag demonstrations, line dancing and more. Entry is only $1, with children under 5 entering for free. DJ Fred Rouse will spin the tunes at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside Ballroom (301 N Water St.).
What’s a celebration of spring if not mimicking the bursts of color on land with those in the air? Saturday night around 9 p.m. the fireworks display will be lighting up the sky over the Cape Fear River. Beforehand, folks at the Jason Derulo (pictured) concert will have the best seats in the house at the Miller Light Stage. Derulo is known for his Platinum singles “Wiggle,” “Talk Dirty,” “In My Head” and “Whatcha Say.” Joining him will be Prince’s right-hand men, Morris Day and the Time—an ‘80s iconic pop group known for their bombastic stage presence, soul music and dance moves. Tickets are $62.50 at ncazaleafestival.org.
ALT–ZALEA FEST: APR. 8, noon
Folks wanting to avoid the downtown crowds can head up to the fringe of the central business district onto North Fourth as Brooklyn Arts District hosts their Alt-Zalea Fest shindig on April 8th, all focused on local music and arts. Starting at noon, Detour Deli and Cafe will host music from Chris Riendeau, Annie McLelland, Laura McLean, Aidan Crofton, Dirty White Rags, Roy G Biv, and The White Noise. The Foxes Boxes will start at 3 p.m. with Cara Schauble, Nelson & the Rock-a-Fellas, David Russell & The Port City Blues, The Pariah, and Jarrett Raymond. Bottega Art Gallery will begin at 1 p.m. with Mechanical Boulevard, Budinski, Rhiannon Dewey, Vicki Burton, Slow Dance, Delia Stanley, Tumbleweed, and Rinaldi Flying Circus. Plus, they will have art vendors set up throughout the day. The Brooklyn Salon starts the sounds at noon with The Pinkerton Raid, Jeremy Mathews, Adam Mitchell, John Proctor, Mom Genes, and Emma Nelson.
Sunday, April 9
The coin show, home and garden tours, shag contest, Cirque Ma’Ceo, street fair, and more continue today. But the close of it all comes from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. with live music from Back of the Boat at Bluewater Grill and lots of fun giveaways.
And it’s free!