70th Annual NC Azalea Festival underway

Kira Kazantsev, the 70th Queen Azalea, visits patients at a local hospital in Wilmington during the 2017 Azalea Festival (Photo courtesy of the NC Azalea Festival)

WILMINGTON —— Sunshine and Southern hospitality have cascaded down on the North Carolina Azalea Festival. Celebrating 70 years, the annual community celebration and largest festival of its kind in the state kicked off this week with the arrival of Queen Azalea.”I love the people of North Carolina. They have given me such a warm welcome,” said Azalea Queen Kira Kazantsev. “They walk up to you and give you a big hug. I have never experienced the Azalea Festival before. This week has been really special and it will be hard to leave on Sunday.”

Kazantsev, Miss America 2015, has devoted her life’s work to being an advocate for women’s issues including domestic violence and self-empowerment.

“I always welcome the opportunity to spread my message through speaking or meeting with people as you never know who is listening in the room and needs to hear words of encouragement and empowerment,” said Kazantsev. “Visiting schools this week and speaking with school children, we can talk about their goals and dreams.”

“Putting on the crown you know it is a giant hunk of metal, but you realize little girls look up to it, that there is magic in it and it really lights a fire to inspire.”

Kazantsev and the Azalea Festival directors, volunteers and participants will inspire North Carolinians and visitors through activities celebrating Southern charm and the City of Wilmington this weekend.

Festival activities include celebrating the natural beauty of azaleas, star-studded entertainment, lavish galas, garden parties, family fun events and plenty of Southern traditions.Over 1 million visitors are expected to descend on the port city to attend one of the 50 events, with more than 200,000 expected to turn out for the two-day Street Fair.