Friday, April 12, 2024

Azalea Festival week is here: Here’s the rundown of events

The Cape Fear Garden Club Tour is one of many events taking place at the 77th annual N.C. Azalea Festival. (Courtesy Cape Fear Garden Club)

WILMINGTON — With the goal to highlight the region’s artistic and historical imprint in the South, the 77th annual Azalea Festival will kick off this week for five days of springtime celebrations.

READ MORE: Full circle: Country artist Chase Rice talks stripping down songwriting, tightening sound

With a goal of encouraging volunteerism and civic participation as it relates to the local economy, Azalea Festival brings in $50 million to the greater Wilmington area, according to a UNCW report executed more than a decade ago. Roughly 100,000 pour into the county to participate in more than 20 events.

Below are downtown streets that will be closed throughout the festival:

  • North Front Street between Red Cross and Orange streets
  • Walnut Street intersection with N. Front Street
  • Grace Street intersection with N. Front Street
  • Chestnut Street intersection with N. Front Street
  • Princess Street intersection with N. Front Street
  • Market Street between N. Front & Water streets
  • Second Street between Market and N. Front streets
  • Dock Street between Second Street and most of Water Street

The 2024 rundown of events are below:

Wednesday, April 3 

Queen’s Coronation — UPDATE: Due to inclement weather, the coronation has been moved from Battleship North Carolina to Hotel Ballast to welcome the arrival of the 77th Queen Azalea, Sharon Lawrence. Lawrence has North Carolina ties, previously having resided in both Raleigh and Charlotte. She is a UNC graduate in journalism with an honorary doctorate from North Carolina Wesleyan University, and also helped found the North Carolina Theatre. An actress, Lawrence has appeared in the TV series “Queen Sugar” and “Shameless” and recently can be seen in  “Joe Pickett” and “On Becoming a God in Central Florida.” She’s also appeared on Broadway as Velam Kelly in “Chicago.” Lawrence will be crowned at 3 p.m. at the Battleship and will be at multiple events throughout the festival, from the parade to the garden party and multiple home and garden tours.

Thursday, April 4 

Celebrity Reception — Sponsors of the annual festival are welcomed to a luncheon at the Cape Fear Country Club at 11:30 a.m. to meet Queen Lawrence and the multiple celebrity guests that are part of the 2024 event. It includes Wilmington actress Elle Graham, who can be seen in “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret,” based on the Judy Blume book, which filmed in Charlotte a few years ago. She’s also appeared on Disney Channel’s “The Secrets of Sulphur Springs.” Other guests include Miss North Carolina Taylor Lloyd, two-time national figure skating champion Gracie Gold — who also competed in the 2014 Olympics — four-star Admiral Karl L. Schultz, “Got it From My Momma” podcast host Jennifer Vickery Smith and the official Azalea Festival artist, oil painter Sharon Jones.

T-Pain — Azalea Festival is hosting two concerts for its 2024 event; the first kicks off at Live Oak Bank Pavilion along the downtown Riverwalk, featuring hip-hop artist Faheem Rashad Najm, better known as T-Pain. The rapper is attributed for popularizing Auto-Tune pitch correction in the hip-hop world, with artists like Kanye West and Snoop Dogg following suit. T-Pain has released two Grammy Award-winning hits, including “Good Life” with Kanye West and “Blame It” with Jamie Foxx. His latest effort is 2023’s “On Top of the Covers,” featuring takes on his favorite music, such as Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Rising country singer-songwriter RVSHVD (pronounced Rashad) from Georgia is opening. He’s best known for “Deal with the Devil,” featuring singer Danny Worsnop of the band Asking Alexandria. Tickets to the show here.

Friday, April 5 

Boxing Tournament — Taking place at the Wilmington Convention Center, 515 Nutt St., the annual boxing competition is underway both Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; weigh-ins are Friday. Interested participants must register here and boxers are welcome from a national and international level of competition and from the military branches. Boxers ages 8-16 and 17-34 and Master Boxers 35 and up compete in six divisions. The event is a USA Boxing Sanctioned Tournament. 

Chase Rice — Rice was raised on a farm in Asheville, North Carolina, and has performed — and vacationed — in Wilmington for years. When visiting, Rice has been seen hanging out at Jimmy’s, a popular bar near the beach. After working a stint in NASCAR and then going on the show “Survivor: Nicaragua,” the country artist launched a career in music with his 2014 bro-country release, “Ignite the Night,” scaling number one on the country charts. Rice has released six albums to date, including 2023’s “I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go to Hell.” The album set him on a more authentic and thoughtful approach on his musical path, he told Port City Daily last year — writing music that touches on deeper themes about love, the small joys of life and working through hard times. He performs at 7 p.m. at Live Oak Bank Pavilion; opening the show is Lanie Gardner. Tickets are $55 and up, available here

Airlie Garden Party — The biggest day-drinking party in Wilmington gets underway at 11 a.m. at Airlie Gardens; upward of 2,500 people show up to enjoy food, drinks and camaraderie, donning their brightest dresses, suits, fascinators and hats. The party is a private event for sponsors and VIP ticket holders only. The intersection of Airlie and Military Cutoff roads will be closed for the Garden Party between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on April 5. 

After Garden Get Down — After the Garden Party, revelers head over to Bluewater Marina Grille for the afterparty. It’s free and takes place dockside along the Intracoastal Waterway at the waterfront bar and patio. There will be a special appearance by Queen Azalea as well.

Cape Fear Garden Club Tour — The annual tour takes places 10 private gardens across town and is open April 5 through 7, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. This year’s theme is “Beyond the Garden Gate” and will also feature artists painting plein-air throughout the weekend; a final art sale takes place Sunday at Garden #9, with works created through the event for sale. It’s free for garden tour ticket holders or $5 otherwise. Proceeds from the tour and art sale benefit nonprofit organizations that help with beautification, conservation and educational projects in New Hanover County. For 21 years, more than $1 million has been awarded to various organizations. Tickets are $50, available here.

Queen’s Dance Party —The queen and her court host an annual dance for the public to get to know the royalty and mingle with the court. The event takes place at the Wilmington Convention Center from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets — $55 — include heavy appetizers, dancing, and opportunities for photographs, autographs, and getting to know the Azalea Festival royalty.

Street Fair — The street fair will close off Front Street from Red Cross to Orange streets, wherein food and arts and crafts vendors will be selling wares to the public. It’s open Friday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A performing arts stage will feature multiple multicultural events and children’s performances both Saturday and Sunday. A children’s area will feature family-friendly vendors and hands-on activities. 

Saturday, April 6 

Coin Show — Presented by the Lower Cape Fear Coin Club, the annual free coin show will take place at the Elks Lodge, 5102 Oleander Drive, on Saturday, April 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, April 16, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be coin collectors offering currency on display and for sale and trade; children will learn about currency and foreign countries and there will be a Kids Korner. More than 30 dealers from multiple states will be on hand to appraise, buy, sell and trade coins, currency, and other numismatic items.

Historic Wilmington Foundation Azalea Home Tour — The 2024 Azalea Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $40 and the foundation is spotlighting the Westbrook-Ardmore neighborhood.  It was on the National Register of Historic Places for 15 years before being recognized during last year’s home tour. Seven houses are featured on the tour, including Fire Station No. 5 on 17th Street and Wrightsville Avenue. The Spanish Colonial/Mission-style building was built in 1931 during the Great Depression with the top floor acting as a residence and the bottom floor as the home for the nonprofit Theatre for All. A kickoff party, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., is also taking place nearby in the Cargo District on Thursday, April 4, at Fermental (600 S. 17th St.) — formerly a service station. It was transformed into a bottle shop, preserving the Art Deco design, and won the 2023 Preservation Award.

Fireworks — Presented by the Battleship North Carolina, the sky above the Cape Fear River will light up starting at 9 p.m. on Saturday evening to celebrate the 77th springtime festival. It’s free to attend, but be prepared to deal with congested traffic when leaving downtown. 

Parade — Starting at 9:30 a.m. the annual Azalea Festival parade will move down Third Street from Market to Bladen streets. The main viewing area will be set up along Third, with tickets for sale $8 in advance and $10 the day of. Parking is accessible at downtown decks, with the deck at 2nd and Princess Street, accessible only via Princess, closing at 8:45 a.m. Cars cannot leave this deck until the parade has concluded. ADA parking will be available at Chestnut and Third streets, accessible via Chestnut until 8:45 a.m.

Patron’s Party Gala — A black-tie event, the Patron’s Party Gala is the final showdown for sponsors, with this year’s theme being “A Masquerade Ball.” Food, drinks and dancing will take place with live music. 

Tunes and Blooms — Greenfield Lake Amphitheater opens at 11:30 a.m. with free music kicking off all day and featuring local acts. The bill includes: noon, Fudge (UNCW’s Battle of the Bands winner); 1 p.m., Elena Woodard; 1:30 p.m., Miles Atlas; 2:30 p.m., The Delia Stanley Duo; 3 p.m.; Ruckus; 4 p.m. The Delia Stanley Duo; 4:30 p.m., Narah; 5:30 p.m. Fort Lowell Records; 6 p.m., Kicking Bird; 7:30 p.m., Fort Lowell Records; and 8 p.m. The Great Outdoors. Arts and crafts vendors, as well as games, will be set up on the campus, and food and beverages will be sold. 

Sunday, April 7

Mini Golf Party — Taking place at Jungle Rapids, the annual Mini Golf Party will have NFL Pittsburgh Steeler Alex Highsmith, a Wilmington hometown celebrity, set up at one of 18 holes to sign autographs, take photos and do a meet-and-greet with players. Participants must register for one of three slots — 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and noon to 1 p.m. — and complete the course during its duration. Rain or shine and players are grouped into parties of four. Half of the proceeds benefit the Alex Highsmith Family Foundation, to provide physical fitness, nutrition, athletic preparation, family involvement, academic, emotional, and social support for underserved youth.

Wilmington Art Association 42nd Sale and Show — Celebrating 42 years of of bringing together local artists for a show and sale, WIlmington Art Association will open its event at the Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Center, 120 S. Second St.; it runs through April 7. More than 200 artists and 300 pieces of work will be featured in an array of both 2D and 3D media. It’s free and open to the public, with artwork in bins available for sale. The event is juried, with cash prizes given in multiple categories, from Best In Show to Best 2D and Best 3D. The judge is North Carolina artist JJ Jiang, a member of the Oil Painters of America, the National Watercolor Society, and the Watercolor Society of NC (WSNCM). 


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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