I recently attended the Azalea Festival Garden Party and while I had fun, it didn't go quite as planned.

 

I planned to find ways to improve Mumfest in New Bern and the BBQ Fest on the Neuse in Kinston, based on what the massive festival in Wilmington does to attract visitors and locals.

 

For those who don’t know, the garden party held at Airlie Gardens has about 3,000 of Wilmington’s most exceptional don their brightest floral dress and the gentlemen wear seersucker, colorful sports coats and everyone wears big and bold hats. I channeled my inner Michael Martin and Nelson McDaniel when trying to put together a bright and bold outfit.

 

The garden party consisted of standing in a big grassy field, eating and drinking, getting your photo taken and taking other people’s pictures and talking to the other patrons. I understand Vivian Howard and Ben Knight were there as celebrity guests; we didn’t run into them. I did have an opportunity to talk with Majority Leader Rep. John Bell, who represents parts of Lenoir and Craven counties and his lovely wife Kelli.

 

The garden party lasted until about 3 p.m., and then the masses of finely dressed socialites descended on Wilmington in droves to local country clubs, bars, marinas and after parties. After the event, I asked around about who benefits from the Azalea Festival and the garden party. No one seemed to know.

 

Even though hordes of people were dressed a little of out of the normal for a Friday afternoon, many locals I talked to were unaware of the garden party or that the Azalea Festival was going in their town.

 

According to the festival's mission statement, it aims "to be nationally recognized as a showcase for our community’s rich array of artwork, gardens, history, and culture through recreational, educational and family-oriented events. The Festival encourages volunteerism and civic participation as it contributes to the region’s economy and promotes the unique qualities of Wilmington’s river-to-the-sea community.”

 

I understand that the committee that puts on the festival also donates to charitable causes around Wilmington. The group in charge puts on a massive event over several days, and they do a great job.

 

I don't know much about how the Azalea Festival started or who benefits, but I do know about Mumfest and the BBQ Fest on the Neuse.

 

Mumfest in New Bern came about to help financially support Swiss Bear, Inc. and local nonprofits. Nonprofits have always been involved in Mumfest providing support, staffing information booths to share their mission with locals and visitors and even charging for downtown parking to help raise some money. Nonprofits have been at the core of Mumfest since the beginning.

 

The BBQ Fest on the Neuse, coming up May 4 and 5, is one of the Kinston-Lenoir Chamber of Commerce’s biggest fundraisers. The event was created to bring people to town and to support local businesses and merchants.

 

Both Mumfest and the BBQ Fest on the Neuse attract locals and residents, and the number of guests grows annually. I hope that when Wilmington folks come to our local festivals those in the business and nonprofit community will be quick to respond and share why we are holding these events and who benefits. After all, both events support local nonprofits and deserve the continued support of our communities.

 

 

 

Chris Segal is the executive editor of the Sun Journal and The Free Press. He can be reached at Chris.Segal@Kinston.com or Chris.Segal@NewBernSJ.com