Spring takes hold in Wilmington in a wild, purple and pink flare. The azaleas bloom all at once and with as much urgency as pageantry. Blooming somewhere between white and fuchsia, they ignite with an intensity that can startle even the most jaded local. Since 1948 the North Carolina Azalea Festival has trumpeted nature’s shift into Spring with its own celebration. The North Carolina Azalea Festival has grown into the region’s most anticipated event. This year, from April 3 through 7, the North Carolina Azalea Festival takes over Wilmington.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival is the Cape Fear region’s most popular event. The first Azalea Festival 72 years ago boasted 60,000 spectators. Today, that number is around 300,000. The festival is anticipated to bring $50 million into the local economy this year. In its beginning the festival was an opportunity to tour Wilmington’s beautiful gardens. The Orton Gardens, Airlie Gardens, and Greenfield Lake Gardens had recently been restored and the local clubs responsible for the gardens’ resurgence were eager to show off their accomplishment.
Gardens tours are still the centerpiece of the North Carolina Azalea Festival. The Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Garden Tours shows off the wonderful blooms all over Wilmington. The festival’s signature Belle tradition began in 1969 with the Cape Fear Garden Club and today those Belles are largely responsible for taking guests through Wilmington’s lush gardens, all the while donning Antebellum period hoop skirts. This event takes place Friday through Sunday (April 5-7) and tickets are $35.
Although the garden tours might be the festival’s centerpiece, the array of entertainment that the weekend offers is the main course. The festival is a weekend of street fairs, parades, and fireworks. And that’s really only scratching the surface. There’s a dog day at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater (March 23), a boxing tournament (April 6-7), a coin show (April 6-7), a chalk art block (April 5), a Shag dancing contest (April 6) and much more. A full list of the events occuring around the festival can be found on the Azalea Festival’s website.
One of the main attractions is the Waterfront Street Fair (April 5-7). Downtown is closed to traffic and over 250 vendors line the streets selling food, drinks, crafts, and everything in between. Bands and other acts will play throughout the day. On April 6 from 9:30am to noon the parade will march down 3rd St. The best viewing areas are on 3rd St between Market St and Bladen St. This year’s headlining performers include Tyler Farr, Hank Williams, Jr, and the Old School concert performance hosted by Rickey Smiley. Tickets to these events range between $40-$55.
Fireworks conclude the event on April 6, beginning around 9:00 pm. Anywhere on the boardwalk provides a great view of the fireworks over the Cape Fear River.
Volunteer – Driven.
Every year the North Carolina Azalea Festival brings the community together to celebrate our favorite flowering shrub. It’s an event that takes place largely with the help of volunteers. The Azalea Festival only employs three people and the event is otherwise conducted by a network of over 100 volunteer committees. In the past 72 years, the North Carolina Azalea Festival has continued to get bigger and better, and that is much the work of the river-to-the-sea community that works so hard to make the festival a success. And they play as hard as they work enjoying the weekend with all the visitors eager to experience the North Carolina Azalea Festival.