Dreamville, Merlefest, and the Azalea Festival: 12 major spring festivals to go to in NC

NC native J. Cole is the brains behind Raleigh's Dreamville Festival, the state's premiere hip, R&B, and pop festival. (Photo via Dreamville Festival)

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By Ryan Pitkin

April 1, 2024

From food and music to flowers and pirates, there are themes for everyone at these dozen festivals spread throughout the state.

Spring arrived on March 19, and we’ve just about reached that time in the Carolinas when we can trust a warm day without a cold one coming behind it. 

What comes to mind for you when you think about springtime? Flowers in bloom? The start of the baseball season? Picnics in the park? Maybe just any old reason to get yourself outside? 

Read More: Spring is here: Our guide to NC’s most pleasant (and pollinated) season

Spring marks the beginning of festival season, and North Carolina has no shortage of celebrations spread across the season and the state. We’ve compiled a list of a dozen that are worth checking out, with a range of themes so you can find something you’re interested in—be it music, food, flowers, or pirates. 

Dreamville Fest

April 6-7, Raleigh

Launched in 2018, Dreamville Fest is the annual hip-hop festival hosted by Fayetteville native J. Cole on the 300-acre Dorothea Dix Park in the state capital. The rapper invites his favorite musical artists and collaborators from across the world to perform in his home state while the festival also hosts dozens of local independently owned businesses, as well as artisans, muralists, merchants, and community organizations. 

This year’s headliners include SZA, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, and, of course, J. Cole himself, with dozens of big-name artists in support, including J.I.D, Lil Yachty, Schoolboy Q, Sexyy Redd, Jeezy, Monica, and more. 

Lost Colony Wine, Art & Culinary Festival

April 13, Outer Banks

The Lost Colony NC

“The Lost Colony” is one of coastal NC’s pre-eminent shows. (Photo via The Lost Colony)

A mix of all the things that make spring great, this festival showcases 10 of the Outer Banks’ best restaurants and chefs, who will be crafting dishes to complement the bodies and aromas of the wines poured and craft beers featured—some of which can only be found in the Outer Banks. Stroll behind The Lost Colony’s historic Waterside Theatre Stage to take in the views across the sound to Jockey’s Ridge sand dunes and Wright Brothers Memorial.

This year’s festival will feature an artist market, live music, and silent auction all set against the backdrop of the Roanoke Sound. Singer/songwriters Jessica Hudson and Thorne Wiggs are set to take the stage, following jazz guitarist Joe Mapp & the Coordinates. 

Pilot Mountain Outdoor Adventure Festival & Expo

April 12-14, Pilot Mountain

Considered “the basecamp for outdoor activity in Surry County,” the town of Pilot Mountain is nestled between Pilot Mountain State Park and Hanging Rock State Park, while also located in close proximity to Stone Mountain State Park. Rock climbing, kayaking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, hiking and much more await visitors to the area, with the annual Outdoor Adventure Festival & Expo serving as a showcase for local businesses and manufacturers. 

This year’s event will feature a Saturday night concert headlined by The Marshall Tucker Band. If you’re feeling competitive, take part in the disc golf, cornhole, and/or pickleball tournaments. There will also be yoga classes, sound baths, walks, runs, and other wellness activities. 

PirateFest

April 20, Greenville

Every spring, swashbucklers gather in the eastern NC city of Greenville to pay homage to the region’s history of pirates. (Photo via PirateFest)

Eastern NC’s Inner and Outer Banks plus secluded waterways were once a haven for pirates during the early 1700s—the Golden Age of piracy. The infamous pirate Blackbeard had a house on the Tar-Pamlico River in Bath. Every spring, swashbucklers of all ages converge on the banks just down the Tar River to pay homage to that history.

Festivities include fine arts for sale, live music, beer, wine, sword fighting, a pirate encampment, and much more. This year’s event features musical performances from Sister Hazel and Taylor Holder. The Shadow Players Stage Combat Group will also perform their show combining comedy and hi-jinks with rousing sword-fights, whip work, pirate songs, and educational information. They join other pirate crews like The Motley Tones, The Cannon Crew, Captain Jim Is Magic, and more. 

MerleFest

April 25-28, Wilkesboro

The Avett Brothers rock MerleFest in 2023. The annual festival returns for another round this year. (Photo via MerleFest)

Founded in 1988 as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College in memory of Eddy Merle Watson, MerleFest has become one of the premier music festivals in the country.

Visiting artists perform “traditional plus” music, which was best described by Merle’s equally legendary father, Doc Watson: “When Merle and I started out we called our music ‘traditional plus,’ meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play. Since the beginning, the people of the college and I have agreed that the music of MerleFest is ‘traditional plus.’”

This year’s lineup includes Old Crow Medicine Show, Donna the Buffalo, Larkin Poe, Sam Bush, S.G. Goodman, Chatham Rabbits and 92 other acts—no, that’s not a typo. Also be sure to check out The Shoppes at MerleFest, Little Pickers Family Area, Jam Camp, Pickin’ Place, a variety of nature walks and more. 

Fayetteville Dogwood Festival

April 25-28

Fayetteville Dogwood Festival

Live music, rides, food, and more at Fayetteville’s annual Dogwood Festival (Photo via Dogwood Festival)

The Fayetteville Dogwood Festival is a nonprofit, community-focused organization committed to providing a variety of family-friendly activities held throughout historic downtown Fayetteville each spring. This includes live music, carnival rides, a street fair, food trucks and more. 

The festivities are kicked off with a Cork & Fork food and wine event for ticket holders in Festival Park, where you can watch the festival be built around you as you sample local chef small bites and sip on wine. Free concerts start on Thursday and run for four nights. 

Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance

May 2-5, Pittsboro

Shakori Hills, a longtime music festival in Chatham County, is housed on a picturesque farm. (Photo via Shakori Hills)

As a collaboration between the Shakori Hills Community Arts Center and Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival Organization, the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival provides a family-friendly celebration of music, dance, art, and education, coming together to create a paradise for music lovers. 

Leading up to headliners Donna the Buffalo, look forward to performances from Watchhouse, Jupiter & Okwess, Sam Grisman Project, Butcher Brown, Scythian, Machaka Band, and many more. It’s not just about live music, though, as attendees will find food vendors, arts and craft vendors, kids activities, The Outpost for teens, music and dance workshops, yoga, sound baths, shamanic drumming, Wellness Way, and all sorts of other happenings throughout the weekend. 

North Carolina Azalea Festival

May 3-7, Wilmington

The queen’s coronation is one of the first events at Wilmington’s annual Azalea Festival, which brings together food, arts, and premiere music artists. (Photo via Azalea Festival)

The NC Azalea Festival likely has the longest history of any festival on this list, as its roots go back to 1934, when Dr. Houston Moore had a vision to transform the un-kept, swampy Greenfield Lake into a beautiful, landscaped park.

It took nearly a decade, but once his plan was realized, the park’s splendor inspired Moore to host a festival to be held annually “when the flowers burst into bloom.” Held in 1948, the first North Carolina Azalea Festival drew more than 60,000 spectators. 

Today, the festival continues to act as a showcase for the seaside Wilmington community’s rich array of artwork, gardens, history, and culture through recreational, educational, and family-oriented events.

As was the case in 1948, when movie star Jacqueline White served as the inaugural Queen Azalea, this year’s Queen is well-known actress Sharon Lawrence, known for starring in NYPD Blue for much of the ’90s and more recently in the Paramount+ series Joe Pickett. This year’s event marks the launch of the International Blooms program, which will honor the Philippines with special musical and dance performances, special guests and groups representing the country, food and art displays, and more.

Lovin’ Life Music Fest

May 3-5, Charlotte

Charlotte-based entertainment, hospitality and production company Southern Entertainment announced its plans to bring the Lovin’ Life Music Fest to the Queen City back in December, and they’ve been adding to the lineup ever since.

The organization has hosted regional country music festivals in the past—including Carolina Country Music Fest at Myrtle Beach, SC; Georgia Country Music Fest; Barefoot Country Music Fest in New Jersey; and the Greenville Country Music Fest—but this new festival promises to bring a much more diverse mix of acts. 

Headliners include locals who made it big like The Avett Brothers and Da Baby joining Stevie Nicks, Post Malone, Noah Kahan, Beach Boys, Maggie Rogers, Mt. Joy, Young the Giant, The Chainsmokers, and more. The local stage will feature up-and-coming Charlotte acts like Sweet Spine, Modern Alibi, Fox N’ Vead, Natalie Carr, Late Night Special, Laura Vinson, Ryan Trotti, Oceanic, Biking with Francis, Petrov, Deaf Andrews, and more. 

Lake Lure Arts & Crafts Festival

May 11-12, Lake Lure

Expect around 100 local artists selling their wares in this Blue Ridge Mountains event. (Photo via Lake Lure Art Festival)

Held on the scenic banks of Lake Lure, tucked into a beautiful valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Lake Lure Arts & Crafts Festival is a great way to find one-of-a-kind artisan goods while supporting a good cause, with all proceeds going to the Hickory Nut Gorge Outreach food pantry. 

This year’s festival is maxed out as far as vendors go, with around 100 local businesses and makers selling their wares. Goods range from glass, wood, jewelry, and soaps to flowers, photography, art, and aromatics. 

Got To Be NC Festival

May 17-19, Raleigh

This Raleigh fairgrounds festival celebrates all the things that NC makes. (Photo via Got To Be NC Festival)

Held at the NC State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, the Got To Be NC Festival is a one-stop shop for all things made in the Tar Heel State—and so much more.

You can enjoy a whole day at the fair—including filling up on samples at the juried food and beverage exhibit in the Got to Be NC Pavilion—without spending a buck, but you’ll want to bring a few dollars to support local and leave with some of your new favorite products. 

Bring the whole family to enjoy attractions like Action Alley, where kids gets to explore heavy equipment vehicles they don’t normally get to see close-up; Agri-Plaza, home to farm animals of all sizes; the Agri-Puppets Agritainment Show; and an antique tractor pull—and those are just the attractions that begin with A. Barbecue fans should be sure to pay the admission needed to get a taste of the 15th Annual Masonic Carolina Pig Jig BBQ Cook-off. There are endless opportunities for family fun at this spring festival. 

Livermush Festival

June 1, Marion

What’s more Southern than livermush? This Marion festival celebrates this old pork snack. (Photo via Livermush Festival)

On the first Saturday of each June, the town of Marion shuts down the streets in its downtown area to pay homage to a North Carolina staple: livermush. This breakfast and lunch product—for those visiting from out of town—is a pork and cornmeal snack made for generations by German settlers from Philadelphia coming south through the Appalachian Mountains.

It’s not all about the ‘mush in Marion, as this yearly festival also features free kids activities, a hog callin’ and pig squealin’ contest, live music performances and more than 60 vendors. The best food truck livermush dish from the food truck rodeo earns a trophy. 

Author

  • Ryan Pitkin

    Ryan Pitkin is a writer and editor based in Charlotte, where he runs an alternative weekly newspaper called Queen City Nerve. He is also editor of NoDa News, a community newsletter in the neighborhood where he has lived for 15 years.

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