Azalea Fest is in full bloom

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More than 300 arts and crafts vendors and 40 food trucks will line downtown streets this weekend during the 69th annual NC Azalea Festival. Courtesy photos.
More than 300 arts and crafts vendors and 40 food trucks will line downtown streets this weekend during the 69th annual NC Azalea Festival. Courtesy photos.

Now that this year’s NC Azalea Festival queen has her crown, the annual springtime celebration is in full swing.

Festival royalty Anna Kooiman – a Fox News personality and former Wilmington resident – returned to the Port City this week, signaling the official start of the 2016 festival.

The local tradition, which started nearly seven decades ago as an homage to the flowering shrubs, recently came in at the number five position on USA Today’s 10 best floral-themed festivals in the nation, selected from among 20 finalists.

This years Azalea queen, Fox News personality Anna Kooiman, will make appearances throughout the days-long celebration.
2016 Azalea queen, Fox News personality Anna Kooiman, will make appearances throughout the days-long celebration.

While Kooiman and her court make some stops today to visit with students and patients at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, North Carolina’s own Avett Brothers will be gearing up to take the Belk Main Stage at 411 N. Front St. for a 7 p.m. concert.

It’s the kickoff to a trio of talents that will grace the outdoor venue through the days-long fest. In addition to the indie bluegrass band, up-and-coming country artist Chase Rice and iconic rapper Snoop Dogg will perform Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Friday, some downtown roadways will be open for foot traffic only as the ever-popular street fair sets up along Water, Front and Market streets, bringing with the mouth-watering aromas only the smell of funnel cakes and corn dogs can elicit. The fair gets underway at 6 p.m. Friday with live entertainment and 40 onsite food trucks serving up traditional festival fare, as well as gyros, eight-pound gummy bears and deep-fried Oreos.

It continues from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, with more than 300 local and regional arts and crafts vendors selling everything from handcrafted jewelry to jars of honey, hot sauces to homemade candles, wine to wearables and lots more in between. The free, family-friendly fair includes a designated children’s area with plenty of inflatables, games and rides to keep the little ones busy.

Another all-ages draw, the parade, will wind through downtown ahead of Saturday’s street fair beginning at approximately 9:30 a.m. at the corner of Market and Third. From there, the long line of festive floats, tiny Shriner’s cars, marching bands, clowns and pageant-waving celebrities in convertibles will travel to Red Cross Street.

And what festival would be complete without a fireworks display? The riverfront skyline will come alive with color to the tune of “oohs” and “aahs” Saturday at 9 p.m.

Fireworks will light up the downtown sky Saturday night to round out this years festival.
Fireworks will light up the downtown sky Saturday night to round out this year’s festivities.

In between the festival staples, there’s a host of other happenings peppered about town. The brilliant pink hues of the festival’s namesake will be in full bloom and on display for the Cape Fear Garden Club’s garden tour, and Historic Wilmington Foundation will offer an inside look at 250 years of architecture with a walking home tour. Both tours run throughout the day during the Azalea Fest weekend.

There’s also a living history celebration aboard the USS Battleship in honor of the vessel’s 75th anniversary at 1:15 p.m. Saturday. US Marines will don World War II attire for the affair, and there will be a special cake-cutting ceremony, featuring appearances by the Azalea queen and other festival celebrities.

Collectors can check out the juried art show and sale and coin show, and, for the sports enthusiasts, a two-day boxing tournament featuring the finest national and international talent from ages eight to 34.

For a full schedule of events and more information, visit the NC Azalea Festival website.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.