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     Fayetteville’s annual celebration of spring is just around the corner. The dogwoods are getting ready to bloom and local residents, tired of cold winter days, are just itching to get outdoors and soak up some sun and enjoy one of the best weekends of the year — The Dogwood Festival.
     Celebrating its 27th year, the festival continues to grow and is on its way to becoming one of the largest events in the Southeast. More than 100 arts, crafts and food vendors will fill the streets around Festival Park while local and national headliners are set to grace the main stage throughout the weekend of April 24-26.
    {mosimage} The festival was founded in 1982 by former Fayetteville Mayor Bill Hurley, along with several other city leaders. Their goal was to improve the image of the city and to create a unified force for community events. Hurley dubbed the city the “City of Dogwoods,” and Fayetteville residents have been celebrating the bloom and the fun it brings since then.
    Over the years, the time and location of the festival have changed, but the intent hasn’t. It is designed to offer Fayetteville residents and visitors to the community a chance to celebrate Spring and their city.
     This year will be no exception, Carrie King, the director of the Dogwood Festival, thinks this year’s event is going to be the best ever. Those are some strong words, particularly if you attended last year’s event, but King has no worries.
“The staff and board have worked hard all year long with the idea of making this the best festival ever,” she said. “We have grown the festival, we are offering more music, we have more vendors and we think people will agree with us.”
     Last year the festival was held for the most part in Festival Park and up and down Ray Avenue. This year, the street festival will move back on to Hay Street, as well. King said the sheer number of participants made keeping everything within the Festival Park footprint impossible. She also wanted to give the local merchants on Hay Street an opportunity to benefit from the traffic at the festival. She thinks the move will be a win/win situation for festival goers and local business owners.
     While you can stroll the streets to shop from the vendors, you can stay within the footprint to take in the music, exciting displays and the midway, all of which kicks-off on Friday night at the Bloom and Boom party.
     The Bloom and Boom event coincides with Fayetteville’s 4th Friday, but organizers believe having the events run together will bring more visitors to both venues. So, you may need to call in sick on Friday in order to rest up for the marathon of activities on Friday night, but make sure your boss isn’t coming to the event first!
     Before you head down to Festival Park for the party, you may want to stop off at the Harris Teeter parking lot to buy a plate, or two or three, of some of the best BBQ in the city at the Crime Stoppers annual BBQ plate sale. Plates are just $6, and all the money goes back into the community. If you decide to do that, make sure you eat the BBQ before you get to the festival because no outside food or coolers are allowed in Festival Park.
     Once you get downtown, take some time to check out all of the fabulous art venues offered throughout the historic city center. In particular you’ll want to hit the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County and check out the annual exhibit of Public Works. You might just see something you made in third grade that you’re mother couldn’t help but enter.
     Then head on over to the midway to ride some of your favorite carnival rides, and as night falls, make sure you are in Festival Park to hear the rocking sounds of .38 Special. That’s one concert you’re not going to want to miss.
     The same can be said of the two concerts that follow on Saturday and Sunday. King said that the festival’s office phone has been ringing off the hook about the concert lineup for this year’s event. She said there are folks coming from as far away as Atlanta to take in the concerts. So be sure to get there in plenty of time to reserve your spot on the lawn. On Saturday, Collective Soul will take the stage. This is a group that King admits has her a little star struck.
     “I would love to be able to meet them,” she said. “I’ve been a big fan for a long time.”
     On Sunday, Ray J will take the stage for what King calls a “short set.”
     “Having three national music groups play this year has been a really big deal,” said King. “This is the only festival in the Southeast where these kinds of concerts are offered free to the public, and we’re excited that our community gets behind the festival and sponsors help us make that possible.”
     After the last notes are heard on Friday night, make sure to keep your eyes on the skies, as the Boom part of the party gets underway with a fireworks display. King said that this particular event is one of her favorites.
     “It’s one of the few times I actually sit back and take a moment to take it all in,” she said.
     On Saturday morning, if you’re an early bird you can enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of motorcycles and convertibles roaring down the city streets as the Hogs and Rags Spring Rally gets underway at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum.
     At noon, you can start shopping. If you are looking for arts and crafts, look no further. Visitors can expect to find virtually every kind of arts and crafts vendor possible. Vendors signed up to participate include pottery, paintings, jewelry, sculptures and much more. Once you’ve shopped ‘till you’ve dropped, be sure to follow your nose to the highlight of most festivals — the food court! You can expect to find some of your favorite foods on hand: gyros, funnel cakes, ice cream, ribbon fries and pineapple chicken will all be on the menu, as well as many of your other favorites.
     In addition to all the arts and crafts that adults love, the Partnership’s Kidstuff, presented by the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County, will feature a Two by Two Zoo, the Zoo with the Roo, and the Toddler Zone, which is an inflatable maze of castles and tunnels that the toddlers will love, face painting, interactive games.
     Sponsor booths will be located on the Festival Park promenade and will feature fun giveaways and much more.    With all of that in mind, you may want to take a deep breath and just plunge into the spirit of the event, and the best place to do that is at Festival Park. The Dogwood Festival will kickoff with the Bloom & Boom Kickoff Party on Friday, April 24, at 6 p.m. On Saturday, April 25, the street festival starts at noon and runs through 10 p.m., and on Sunday it begins at 1 p.m. and runs through 6 p.m.
     Anyone who has ever attended an event at the park knows that parking is at a premium, but don’t worry, a park and ride shuttle service will again be available. Free parking is available in city lots on Person Street and Hay Street, as well as other various downtown locations. Parking is also available in the Systel Parking Lot on Green Street for a $5 fee.
     Free off-site shuttle service will be available at the Fayetteville Parks and Recreation Center on Lamon Street. The shuttle service will run approximately every 15 minutes to transport passengers to the festival footprint.
     Disabled parking will be designated in the Bank of America parking lot at the corner of Ray Avenue and Mason Street and the Hay Street United Methodist Church parking lot. Availability is on a first come, first served basis.   Organizers remind people that animals and coolers are not allowed. Service animals are permitted.
     There’s a whole host of events occurring in conjunction with the festival, and you don’t want to miss even one of them. For complete information and a schedule of events, read on.

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