by Dianna Dames
The Azalea Festival first came about in 1948 after Dr. Houston Moore, MD spent several years cultivating the Greenfield Lake area of Wilmington, NC. Inspired by the Rhododendron, or Azalea flower, he successfully rallied the support of community leaders to create a festival in its honor. Over the years, the festival has expanded to include artwork, gardening, and local history. Every year, the festival draws around 300,000 people into Wilmington.
I lived in Wilmington for several years, but it wasn’t until a friend came to visit that I finally went to the Azalea Festival. I have attended the event every year since. This year’s festival calendar was packed to the brim with events from April 3rd through 7th. Featured events included the garden party, the queen’s coronation, a boxing tournament, fireworks, and a series of concerts – this year’s big musical names were Ice Cube and Hank Williams Jr.
Though I did not attend the Luncheon Garden Party, it is definitely one of the most popular events during the festival. The best way I can describe it is southern glam. Everyone debuts their most extravagant springtime sundresses, suits, bowties, and sun hats. This upscale daytime event occurs against the beautiful backdrop of the Arlie Gardens.
I was able to swing by the After Garden Get Down, which is for festival-goers who want to continue the fun after the Luncheon Garden Party or those who couldn’t make it to the main event. The event was held at Bluewater Grill, a restaurant with a huge seating and performance area on the back patio overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.
Uptown Easy performed several covers including, Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield, and Valerie by Amy Winehouse. The audience was enthusiastic and energetic while singing and dancing along.
The next day, hundreds of people lined the streets of Wilmington to watch the parade which began on Third Street and spanned ten blocks. I got the chance to see Mayor Bill Saffo, the Multicultural March of Nations, several high school marching bands, and debutantes from Wilmington and the surrounding areas.
Afterward, the crowds sojourned to the street fair which took place two blocks down on Front Street. A three-day long event, the street fair features an abundance of vendors including wood carvers, photographers, screen printers, honey makers, oil blenders, and soap makers, to name a few.
I left the street fair and made my way to the music stage and beer garden, where there was a line-up of musicians with names that would sound familiar to anyone familiar with Wilmington’s local music scene.
I particularly enjoyed the music stage and listening to local band, De-Evolution. Its lead singer, Jared Michael Cline, is a Wilmington favorite and adorned the stage with a soulful voice accompanied by electric guitar solos and drums that created an entwinement of folk, pop and rock. He ended the set with a funky cover of Hit Me Baby One More Time by Britney Spears.
My last day of the Azalea festival was spent at the Arboretum, one of the gardens highlighted in the Garden Tour. The event is hosted by the Cape Fear Garden Club and a ticket is necessary to visit every garden on the tour, as some include private residences and are at secret locations.
Though the Arboretum is open to the public year-round, there were a few notable differences in the usual décor, courtesy of the Garden Club. There was a fairy tea party display, as well as the Azalea Belles, young women who serve as ambassadors for the Garden Tours.
The Azalea Festival is a once-a-year event that is Wilmington’s way of welcoming in the springtime. It is a celebration that is worth visiting. Next April, I encourage you to schedule a visit to Wilmington so you may enjoy the Azalea Festival too.