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Another North Carolina Azalea Festival is fast approaching. Azaleas are starting to bloom, along with the Dogwoods and others of the Cape Fear region.  I, myself, have been absent from the Wilmington area for over 20 years, so I have not witnessed the beauty of the spring bloom in the Wilmington area for quite some time.

This year’s festival marks the 62nd annual North Carolina Festival in the city of Wilmington. For over a half a century, the festival has been a source of pride for many Wilmingtonians, starting with the coronation of the Official Azalea Queen and her Court, then throughout the week, the citizens can enjoy such entertainment as the Cole Bros circus, concerts, a street fair, garden tours, a parade, all to showcase what the south is all about. This years queen , just announced last week is Amrapali Ambegaokar. She was the silver winner in the solo competition on Superstars of Dance, the show produced and directed by mastermind Nigel Lithgow (American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance) during the finale on January 26, 2009. Other notables to have held throne over the Azalea Festival are:  actress and champion swimmer Esther Williams, actresses Polly Bergen, Shelly Fabares, Joan Van Ark, Sharon Gless, Phylicia Rashad, Kim Zimmer and talk show diva Kelly Ripa.

“I Wonder”

This years headlining concerts will feature the reigning American Idol Champion, David Cook and country superstar Kellie Pickler. Past entertainers have been a very diverse group also, such as: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Carrie Underwood, The Beach Boys, Alabama, The Judds, Jessica Simpson and Natalie Cole. Also a must-see while in town are the Garden Tours throughout the area. The Azalea Garden Tour begins Friday, April 3, 2009 with the colorful ribbon cutting ceremony at the home of Rick and Myrna Willetts. Located in the historic Forrest Hills area, the 1939 antebellum style home was built by the current owner’s grandfather. Many of the original plantings still grace this grand garden including azaleas, maples and camellias. Queen Azalea LXII and her court preside over the ceremony. The Summerall Guards, the Citadels elite senior drill team, escort over 100 beautiful Azalea Belles dressed in authentic antebellum gowns. Local and national celebrities are also present to celebrate the event, including Joe Gallison (Days of Our Lives) and Nicholas Braun (Without a Trace and Law & Order:SVU),. Following the ceremony, members of The Cape Fear Garden Club serve refreshments and hundreds of homemade cookies. Musical entertainment and media coverage complete this exciting event.

Tickets for all events may be purchased at the North Carolina Azalea Festival ticket office located at 5725 Oleander Dr in the Oleander Oaks Shopping center, or by clicking on this link.

A schedule of all events during the 62nd Annual Azalea Festival can be viewed at this link.

I hope to see and meet many of you at the festivities. Have some fun, winter is over.

 

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I like the Blues.

Do you ?

I like gumbo and all things spicy.

Do you ?

On Friday, December 12th, 2008 @ 8:00 p.m., The Beachland Ballroom presents an evening with Bill “Sauce Boss” Wharton and his band “The Ingredients” to their stage. Bill Wharton has appeared at many locations throughout northeast Ohio, including many visits to Lorain’s own “Mutt & Jeff’s”, where I first saw him. Never heard of him ? Well, you’ve missed some fine blues music to begin with, but what you also missed was a very unique show that not only involves some good blues, but, my favorite……. hot, spicy gumbo.

You see, while Bill and his band are getting you fired up with their music, he is also firing up his 30-gallon  pot on stage with him, mixing in his ingredients of roux, chicken stock, his own private label hot sauce, chicken, shrimp and “Mississippi mud bugs”.  At the end of his show, Bill invites all of his audience members on to the stage for a bowl of his gumbo.

And on another note, I also found out after doing a little research for this post, was that several years ago, Bill started a non-profit organization called “Planet Gumbo”

“The whole thing about music is it’s about gathering people together,” he said. “It’s about service, about sharing. We’ve been so blessed to be able to do what we do, we want to give back.”

“Though the 100 or so who were at the kitchen, were nothing like the 1,200 he recently served in Washington, D.C.’s largest homeless shelter, all were appreciative—even when he said, if they didn’t like okra—“too bad.”

“It’s so wonderful; the community, the ministry, the music, that they would take the time to give of themselves—we’re excited. (Wharton) asked to help the food bank and the EECM,” she said. “We just provided the ingredients and he did the rest, now I hate to go back to the office.”

Makes me like this guy so much more than I already do. So if you don’t have plans for Dec. 12th, won’t you plan a trip to the Collinwood neighborhood in Cleveland and catch Bill and his band, and get a bowl of that great gumbo. You’ll have a great time.

I guarantee it.

You can get tickets here.

And directions here

And if you care to donate to “Planet Gumbo” go here

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