Azalea Festival celebrates 74 years of tradition during world-changing pandemic

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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WWAY) — The 74th annual Azalea Festival kicked off this week as a Journey of 74 Waves.

The Azalea Festival celebrated tradition while also envisioning new ways of celebrating during a pandemic that has changed the way the world lives.

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New, virtual programming for the festival has been developed, such as the Minecraft Creation Competition in partnership with UNCW eSports Department. The Azalea Festival also held a fundraiser with Southern Smoke BBQ to help feel a small part of the Masters Tournament this past November.

The Festival unveiled a new website, and a new monthly e-newsletter titled, “Here’s the Dirt” and even started a TikTok account.

This week, residents and businesses alike were invited to participate in our Azaleas on Tour Porch Parade — a reverse Parade concept where participants are stationary (their home or business), and spectators drive through a route to see the sites.

Over 40 homes and businesses worked to decorate their porches, stoops, and windows in spring celebration.

Also this week, guests could participate in the Festival’s first virtual 5k, the Azalea Sun Run Presented by Harris Teeter, encouraging people to get outside and visit the Cape Fear’s beaches or parks.

The Chefs’ Showcase was remade into the Chefs’ Series. That event featured three nights of small, VIP four-course dinners with wine pairings held at the festival’s sponsor partner restaurants: the Oceanic Restaurant at Crystal Pier, Hops Supply Co, and Bluewater Grill.

One major pandemic-related change was the Queen’s Coronation, which this year focused on “A Journey of 74 Socially Distant Waves.” Due to the pandemic, festival organizers did not gather 400-500 people together in one place, but still managed to highlight and honor them through a unique journey.

Queen Azalea made 74 mini-stops during the week to visit sponsors, partners, and those in the community. Each stop was only approximately 10 minutes long, and there were no public announcements of locations or invitations to these stops. This was purposefully done by organizers to keep the crowds minimal and the public safe. COVID-19 health and safety mandates were followed at each stop.

In July, the festival will host the annual Airlie Luncheon Garden Party, but August is now in the spotlight with a “Summer Festival Weekend.”

From Thursday Aug. 19 through Saturday Aug. 21, the concert stage in the new North Waterfront Park will be headlined by Sublime with Rome and the Avett Brothers.

There will also be a three-day DGX Street Fair, including the Wilmington Grill Music and Beer Stage.

Saturday, August 21st is the Dollar General Parade and the Children’s’ Area and Multicultural Area at the Street Fair.