When it comes to flower festivals in the South, it’s hard to top the North Carolina Azalea Festival, a Wilmington tradition since 1948. The five-day festival welcomes spring in grand style with pageantry, merriment and Southern flair. Each year, Queen Azalea opens the North Carolina Azalea Festival, arriving by riverboat for her official coronation. This year the festival’s very first queen in 1948, actress Jacqueline White Anderson, will participate in the Queen’s Coronation to crown Mallory Hagan (Miss America 2013) as Queen Azalea 2015. The fanfare continues with Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles dressed in colorful hoop skirts and parasols. In the days that follow, festival highlights include juried arts and craft shows, a traveling circus, fireworks (Saturday night), and a street fair (Fri./Sat./Sun.) with exhibits, vendors, live music, entertainment and kids’ activities. There’s also an elaborate 2-hour parade on Saturday morning (beginning at 9:30 a.m.) in historic Wilmington, complete with azalea-laden floats, marching bands, clowns, show animals, local pageant winners and celebrity guests. This year’s parade viewing area will be along Third Street, from Market to Bladen streets.
There’s also much ado about azaleas, the colorful flowering shrubs that enhance Wilmington’s landscape each spring. Azaleas make appearances at every event, but nowhere are they more prominent than at the festival’s official featured tours: the Cape Fear Garden Club’s Azalea Garden Tour and the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s Azalea Home Tour.
The Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Garden Tour, April 10-12, is one of the South’s longest-running and most popular garden tours. The 62nd annual Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Garden Tour theme is “Cherish the Past; Embrace the Future” to commemorate the club’s 90th anniversary in 2015. This year’s tour showcases 10 private and public gardens that include a mix of established and new lovingly tended landscapes. Garden tour price includes free admission to Airlie Gardens on Saturday and Sunday. For details and tickets: www.capefeargardenclub.org/azalea-garden-tour. Another time-honored sanctioned event is the Azalea Home Tour, April 12 and 13, showcasing nine private homes and a church of historical and architectural interest. Homes are chosen to represent the wide variety of architectural styles found in Wilmington. For home tour tickets: www.historicwilmington.org .
Live music is a big part of every N.C. Azalea Festival. This year’s headline acts include country superstar Alan Jackson and rap powerhouse Nelly. With more than 150 music awards to his credit, Alan Jackson brings his 25th Anniversary Keepin’ It Country Tour to the N.C. Azalea Festival on April 9. Over his 25-year music career, Jackson has sold nearly 60 million albums worldwide and ranks as one of the 10 best-selling country artists of all time. Joining Jackson are Capitol Records Nashville’s rising new artist Jon Pardi and Grammy/CMA/ACM nominated singer/songwriter Brandy Clark.
Grammy-winning superstar rapper Nelly will delight audiences on April 10 with his #1 hits like “Hot in Here” and “Dilemma.” Since his rap music debut in 2000, Nelly has made his mark as a rapper, singer, song-writer, clothing designer, actor and philanthropist. Catch Nelly in concert before he heads out on a summer tour with the New Kids on the Block and TLC.
All headline concerts are outdoors on the Miller Lite Main Stage at the Cape Fear Community College Campus in Downtown Wilmington (411 N. Front Street). Concerts begin at 7:00 p.m.; gates open at 6:00 p.m. Concerts are rain or shine; standing room only. Tickets for all concerts are available online at www.ncazaleafestival.org and at the N.C. Azalea Festival Office (5724 Oleander Drive, Ste. B7; Mon.-Fri., 9am-5pm). Chairs, backpacks, umbrellas, coolers are not permitted inside the venue. Chairs, food and beverage will be available for cash purchase.
Other notable celebrities scheduled to make guest appearances at the 2015 N.C. Azalea Festival include: Disney star Skai Jackson (plays Zuri Ross on Disney’s “Jessie”); HGTV star/interior designer Meg Caswell; Southern novelist/Azalea Festival artist Clyde Edgerton; Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings; Pro beach volleyball star Casey Jennings; NYT best-selling author/former fighter pilot Dan Hampton; Actress/first Azalea Festival queen Jacqueline White Anderson; former Miss North Carolina USA Julia Dalton; Miss North Carolina Beth Stovall; and Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan (Queen Azalea).
Introduced last year, the N.C. Azalea Festival App makes it easy for attendees to keep up with event information by providing breaking entertainment news, behind-the-scenes buzz, and insider tips. For App details, a festival schedule and concert tickets, visit www.ncazaleafestival.org or call 910-794-4650, or stop by the Festival ticket office (5725 Oleander Dr., Wilmington).
Go with the flow…and see where the water takes you. Surrounded by water, Wilmington, N.C. and its island beaches are a convenient drive from Raleigh via I-40 and Charlotte via US 74. If you’re flying in to experience the N.C. Azalea Festival, the Wilmington International Airport (ILM) offers daily flights to major airline hubs. For a free 2015 Official Visitors Guide to Wilmington, North Carolina and the island beaches of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, call 1-866-266-9690, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.GoWilmingtonAndBeaches.com.