"People are working frantically in their yards," noted Lisa Hillhouse of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce office. "We've already hung the banners on the street poles, and everyone is busy tending to their flowers and trees."
Hillhouse said the Chamber has received an overwhelming influx of phone calls and e-mails from people all over the country inquiring about the festival. She credits the recent publicity for all of the public interest the town is receiving.
For example, Travel Holiday, a New York-based magazine, named Charleston one of the 10 best small towns in America in its April issue.
Normally the festival takes on a theme -- but not this year. "We're not having a theme. We felt like the name (of the festival) could stand on its own," Hillhouse explained.
And it can. Food, fun, shopping, historical education and a lot more can be found at Charleston's Dogwood-Azalea Festival.
One highlight of the festival is the Candlelight Tour, which takes place Saturday night. Volunteers line the streets with white luminaries that surround the six-mile Dogwood-Azalea Trail. Residents turn spotlights on banks of azaleas, and candles line the sidewalks.
Aside from offering colorful views of azaleas and dogwoods, the festival has also offered home tours since 2000. This year there are two homes on tour -- Georgia Gremillion at 1307 E. Commercial St. and Mr. and Mrs. Bruce G. DeField at 605 East Cypress St.
Gremillion is a Charleston native and moved from Nashville, Tenn., in June of 2001. She purchased the home from Sally Winchester. The home was built in the 1950 by Mr. and Mrs. L. G. Black, parents of Rep. Lanie Black and Monroe Black of Charleston. The house was recently remodeled and is a showcase of southern tradition.
Charleston natives Bruce and Janet DeField purchased their house in 1988 from Mr. and Mrs. Bob Morris. The house was built in the late 1890s and has seen extensive renovation over the years.
Proceeds earned go toward a scholarship fund that enables the Charleston Community Teachers Association to award four $1,000 scholarships. Home tours will be Thursday through Saturday and tickets may be purchased a the Chamber of Commerce office or at the individual homes. Ticket prices are $3 for one home or $5 for both homes.
Music lovers will also appreciate the Piano Praise Concert featuring eight pianos, 16 pianists and one organist. It will take place at the First Baptist Church Saturday and Sunday. And since 1952, the Molly French Garden Club has been supplying area gardeners with azalea varieties to the region. The club sponsors a plant sale Thursday through Sunday at the Shelby Home located at 307 North Main St.
In addition to the popular established events, the festival is adding one new event to its agenda this year, Hillhouse said. The Show Me Air Kings will be making their first appearance at the Dogwood-Azalea Festival.
The Show Me Air Kings is a group of model aviation enthusiasts who enjoy taking part in radio controlled aircraft. The shows are narrated and feature a musical background as the pilots perform their aerial feats. The Air Kings fly several types of aircraft including gliders, helicopters, parachutists, speed demons, aerobactic scale, jets, biplanes, military and many others.
Hillhouse predicts the festival will have it's biggest turnout this year, but nothing can compare to last year's festival, which was also Hillhouse's first experience working with the Dogwood-Azalea Festival. And it's one she said she will never forget.
Last year a tornado hit the area about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Hillhouse recalled. The city came together and cleaned up the aftermath of the tornado, chain sawing broken tree limbs and loading them on trucks.
"It was a unique experience of the community coming together, and everything turned out fine," Hillhouse said. "It ended up being really nice."
A complete listing of the schedule of events for the Dogwood-Azalea Festival will be published in Wednesday's edition of the Standard Democrat.