Now in its 71st year, the N.C. Azalea Festival is a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event that continues to evolve while honoring traditions of festivals past. On Wednesday April 11, this year’s Queen Azalea, Beth Troutman (Emmy Award-winning TV personality/motivational speaker), will open the festival during a riverfront coronation, along with reigning Miss North Carolina Victoria Huggins and a court of Carolina queens. They will be joined by dozens of Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles wearing hoop skirts with matching parasols. On Saturday morning, they will join an elaborate parade along Third Street that begins at 9:30 a.m. with flowery floats, marching bands, clowns, and celebrity guests. The fun continues Saturday and Sunday with an art show, coin show, shag contests, and a waterfront street fair with exhibits, live entertainment and kids’ activities. Saturday evening events include live music and fireworks along the riverfront.

Other festival-sanctioned events include the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s Azalea Home Tour and the Cape Fear Garden Club’s Azalea Garden TourThe Azalea Home Tour (April 14-15) showcases 11 private homes. Homes are chosen to represent an array of architectural styles found in Wilmington. There’s also the ever-popular Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Garden Tour (April 13-15), one of the South’s longest-running garden tours. With the theme “Bloomin’ Beautiful,” the 65th annual tour features nearly a dozen private and public gardens that include a mix of established and new floral landscapes. Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles will greet guests and plein-air artists will paint in the gardens over the weekend, then display/sell their work at a wet paint sale at the Cape Fear Museum(Sunday).

Live music is a highlight of the N.C. Azalea Festival, featuring local, regional and national artists. This year’s national headline concerts include: Billy Currington with Drake White and Kenton Bryant (Thursday); 38 Special with Tuesdays Gone (Friday); and Ludacris with Childish Major (Saturday). Headline concerts are held outdoors on the Main Stage at the Cape Fear Community College Campus in Downtown Wilmington (411 N. Front Street). Concerts (rain or shine; standing room only) begin at 7:00 p.m.; gates open at 5:00 p.m. New to the musical lineup this year are two concerts at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater: Old School Concert (with Ying Yang Twins, Chubb Rock and The Hamiltones) at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday; and The Dark Star Orchestra (presented by 98.3 The Penguin) will perform at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Other guest celebrities who will make appearances throughout the festival include: Writer/Blogger Adrian Wood, 2018 Festival Artist Virginia Wright-Frierson, and Chef Vivian Howard (star of PBS “A Chef’s Life,” author of “Deep Run Roots,” and restaurant owner of Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in Wilmington, Chef and the Farmer and The Boiler Room in Kinston). For a complete festival schedule, ticket information and more, call 910-794-4650, click here or visit  the festival ticket office (5725 Oleander Dr., Wilmington).

Spring is in the salt air with blooms and events in Wilmington, NC and the beaches of Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach. For a free Official Visitors Guide, call 1-866-266-9690 or email visit@wilmingtonandbeaches.com. For visitor information and seasonal highlights, click here.