The Azalea Festival marks 74 years of community celebration

Kiley Woods, Contributing Writer

To celebrate the beginning of spring, the blooming flowers and new life, pastel colors from women’s formal dresses and flowers flowed through the streets of Wilmington as The Azalea Festival began from April 7 to 11. As one of the most well-known community festivals in North Carolina, people come from all over the state dressed in floral dresses and as a participant in the festival, women carry parasols and dance in pastel-colored dresses.  

A few beloved festivities, such as the Azalea Garden Tour and the Riverwalk Shag Dance Contest, were canceled due to health concerns because the city is cautious about maintaining their number of coronavirus cases. 

“A lot of planning goes into making the festival happen each year.  It is a yearlong process, and some things take even longer to plan and carry out,” Meghan Tadlock, the events coordinator for the festival said. The festival has a dedicated year-round full-time staff, board of directors and over 1,000 volunteers that put on the festival each year.”  

The Juried Art Show and Sale, Azalea’s on Tour Porch Parade, The Azalea Sun Run, Queen’s Coronation, The Chef’s Series Presented by the Oceanic Restaurant, the Secret Garden Party and the Historic Wilmington Foundation Promenade Performances continued as scheduled

Beginning on April 3, The Juried Art Show and Sale showcased 100 national artists who presented their creations at this annual well-known event. The art show took place at the Hannah Block Building USO/Community Arts Center.  

Since some of the events had to be canceled, like the Azalea’s On Tour Porch Parade was a walk-through town to see decorated porches. People were asked to decorate their porches any way they wanted to as an effort to bring more color and joy to the downtown area. 

The Azalea Sun Run began Monday, April 5 through Sunday, April 11. This beach-inspired competition features a 5k run and rewards such as Avett Brothers tickets given at random to three people who upload their times after they complete the race.  

On April 7, Queen Azalea Victoria Huggins and families dined at Oceanic Restaurant to enjoy a four-course meal. Festival guests were welcomed to attend this event as well. The Secret Garden Party replaced the Airlie Garden Luncheon. On Friday, April 9, people were encouraged to put on their garden party dresses and jackets and go outside and enjoy the beauty that is erupting in the early days of spring.  

Lastly, the festival showcased performances sponsored by the Wilmington Historic District. This event entitled Wilmington Foundation Promenade Performances took place on Saturday, April 10 and these performances consisted of dances, readings, and stories that both celebrated and questioned Wilmington’s beloved historical impact and vast role in North Carolina’s history 

The first Azalea Festival took place in April 1948, an idea given to the city by Houston Moore who had a desire to turn the once swampy place into something beautiful. As soon as the Azalea Festival began, the streets of Wilmington looked like a flower that was blooming day by day. 60,000 people participated in the first Azalea Festival, beginning a legacy of its fame and beauty. Amongst the lineup of legendary Queen Azalea’s is Kelly Ripa, crowned in 1993, and Hollywood movie actress, Jaqueline White who was crowned as the first Azalea Queen. 

“The festival is widely celebrated due to the longevity being that this is our 74th year as well as the way it engages the community with so many different types of events and programs,” said Tadlock.