NORTH CAROLINA AZALEA FESTIVAL IS A CAPE FEAR COAST TRADITION
A springtime tradition since 1948, the 64th Annual North Carolina Azalea Festival (April 6-10, 2011) celebrates the rich history, arts, and culture of Wilmington & North Carolina’s Cape Fear Coast (Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach). During April when our region’s landscape is dominated by thousands of brilliant pink, white, and purple azaleas, we pay homage to these dazzling flowers during the annual N.C. Azalea Festival, a five-day celebration that ushers in spring with Southern hospitality and fanfare. This is why Wilmington, N.C. was recognized as an “Azalea City” by The Azalea Society of America in December 2009.
Highlights of the N.C. Azalea Festival include Azalea belles dressed in period hoop skirts, a parade, juried arts and craft shows, a traveling circus, concerts, fireworks, and a street fair with exhibits, vendors, live entertainment, and kids’ activities. Signature events include the Cape Fear Garden Club’s Azalea Garden Tour (April 8-10), one of the South’s longest-running and most popular garden tours. The 58th annual Azalea Garden Tour’s theme, “Picture Perfect Gardens,” will showcase 12 public and private gardens that live up to its “picture-perfect” claim with a mix of established and new landscapes. For details and tickets: www.azaleagardentour.org. The 2011 Azalea Home Tour (April 9-10) showcases nine private homes and a church of historical and architectural interest.
For home tour tickets: www.historicwilmington.org. A 2-hour parade on Saturday morning (9:00am) will feature elaborate floats, marching bands, clowns, show animals, and celebrities, including Queen Azalea Heather French Henry, a former Miss America (2000) and founder of The Heather French Foundation for Veterans (in honor of her father, a disabled veteran). Leading the parade will be Grand Marshal Major General Bob Dickerson, USMC (RET). Other celebrity guests include Emmy award-winning actress LeAnn Hunley (“Days of Our Lives;” “Dawson’s Creek”); Tampa Bay Buccaneers place kicker Connor T. Barth; ABC’s former “Bachelor” Chris Lambton; Miss North Carolina 2010 Adrienne Leigh Core; Cynthia Cooper-Dyke (UNCW women’s basketball coach); and Battleship North Carolina director Capt. Terry A. Bragg, USN (RET)
Returning after a successful inaugural year is the Azalea Cake Challenge (April 10), a contest whereby professional and amateur cake artists are challenged to construct “centerpiece cakes” with azalea themes. New in 2011 is the Azalea Festival Tennis Challenge (April 10) featuring an exciting match between tennis superstars John McEnroe vs. Todd Martin at UNCW’s Trask Coliseum. A junior tennis clinic will also be offered. Also new to this year’s festival is Queen Azalea’s Battleship Salute (April 7) whereby Queen Azalea Heather French Henry will kick off the Battleship North Carolina’s 50th anniversary of its docking in Wilmington. Many of the USS North Carolina’s original crew members will be in attendance.
Music plays a major role in every N.C. Azalea Festival. This year’s headline acts performed on the 2010 Grammy Awards: The Avett Brothers and Darius Rucker. South Carolina native Darius Rucker’s musical career skyrocketed during the 1990s as the front man lead singer for the pop band Hootie & the Blowfish. In recent years, Rucker pursued a solo career in country music. In 2009 he won New Artist of the Year at the CMA awards and was nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year. His soulful vocals have made him a superstar in both country and rock genres. Rucker’s performance will feature songs from his first country album “Learn to Live” and his recent release “Charleston 1966.” Darius Rucker will please Wilmington audiences on Wednesday, April 6th when he performs at UNCW’s Trask Coliseum. Tickets available online at www.ncazaleafestival.org.
Scott and Seth Avett have come a long way from their neo-punk band days in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their careers took an acoustic turn when they teamed up with standup bass player Bob Crawford and formed The Avett Brothers. They debuted in 2001 with a self-titled six-song EP, followed by several albums. Their most recent release, “I and Love and You,” is described as a rootsy amalgam of folk, country, bluegrass, rock and pop, with an occasional jab of punk-style dynamics. The Avett Brothers’ musical evolution from a hard-working indie band to their high-profile performance with Bob Dylan at the 2010 Grammy Awards bears witness to a huge fan base. It’s no wonder their Friday night Azalea Festival concert is already sold out.
Attending festivals and events, such as the N.C. Azalea Festival, is a fun and affordable way to experience a region’s history and culture. For N.C. Azalea Festival schedule and concert tickets, visit www.ncazaleafestival.org or call 910-794-4650, or stop by the Festival ticket office (5725 Oleander Dr., Unit B7, Wilmington). For a free 2011 Official Visitors Guide to Wilmington & North Carolina’s Cape Fear Coast (Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach), call 1-866-266-9690 or visit. For spring special deals, experiences, and events, visit www.gocapefearcoast.com/spring.