Circus won’t return to this year’s Azalea Fest events

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Azalea Festival organizers announced Thursday that a long-standing event staple, the Cole Bros. Circus, would not be coming to town this year. Courtesy photo.
Azalea Festival organizers announced Thursday that a long-standing event staple, the Cole Bros. Circus, would not be coming to town this year. Courtesy photo.

The big top won’t be raised in the Port City this spring.

Cole Bros. Circus, which has visited Wilmington each year during the N.C. Azalea Festival for more than three decades, is not coming to town this year, festival organizers announced Thursday.

According to a release, the Azalea Fest was notified this week that Cole Bros. has opted not to tour at all in 2016 but did not give a reason for the decision.

The circus’ website only lists information for its 2015 tour and a contact number on the page relays a message that the phone customer “has not activated their voicemail box. You will not be able to leave a message at this time.”
“The Cole Bros. Circus has been an important part of festival history,” this year’s event president Robby Collins said. “For over 30 years, hundreds of thousands of children have experienced the thrill of these acts while enjoying time spent with their families.”

Collins acknowledged the impact the absence of the long-standing tradition could have on area residents. The circus has become a highlight of the annual springtime festival, to be held this year between April 6-10 in downtown Wilmington and spots across the city.

“We know this will be a disappointment to everyone who enjoyed the special times and making those memories, and hope you will find a way to join in one of the other wonderful events happening in the community during the Azalea Festival,” he said.

Cole Bros., formerly known as Clyde Beatty Circus, was founded in 1884. The circus came under fire in recent years from animal rights groups like ASPCA and PETA. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed a complaint under the Animal Welfare Act against the circus for the treatment of its trained animals, specifically elephants. Cole Bros. settled with the USDA in 2012, agreeing to pay the USDA $15,000. A call to the USDA regarding any recent complaints or investigations was not returned at the time of this story’s publication.

Although the flying trapeze and human cannonball are out for this year’s Azalea Festival, organizers did recently announce that indie bluegrass band The Avett Brothers and country singer Chase Rice will be the 2016 headlining acts.

Other festival staples include a downtown parade and street fair, free live entertainment and garden tours. For more information and a schedule of events, visit the festival’s website.

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