NORFOLK - April marks the 60th anniversary of Norfolk NATO Festival.

To kick off the Festival's main weekend, NATO members and civilians will come together on Friday, April 26, at 5 p.m. for a flag raising ceremony on Norfolk's Scope Plaza, accompanied by flag bearers from each of the 28 nations and our very own U.S. Fleet Forces Band. This event will be free and open to the public.

The centerpieces of Norfolk NATO Festival formerly known as the International Azalea Festival will be the annual Parade of Nations on April 27 immediately followed by NATOFest, the outdoor extravaganza of music, food, and family fun in Town Point Park to honor the 28 countries that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Both events are also free and open to the public.

The parade through downtown Norfolk steps off at 10 a.m. and will feature more than 100 units including high school and military bands, along with colorful floats representing the 28 member nations.

At noon, immediately following the parade, the celebration will move to Town Point Park, where festival‐goers can enjoy international cuisine, entertainment by The Original Elbe‐Musikanten German Band, a German brass orchestra, and the internationally acclaimed Celtic rock band Tempest, and a large Beer Garden featuring European craft brews. What's more, each member nation will have a tent where visitors can greet NATO representatives and learn about that nation's culture.

The origins of the festival date back to 1951, when the Women's Club of Norfolk and a number of Norfolk's garden clubs embraced an idea espoused by Fred Heutte, the city's Superintendant of Parks and Forestry, to promote the city's floral beauty through an annual festival. Named the Norfolk Crape Myrtle Festival, it took place in Stone Park, located at the north end of The Hague.

Two years later, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization established its headquarters in Norfolk, the city moved the festival to the 100‐acre Norfolk Botanical Garden and made NATO the focal point. It remains the only such festival in the country honoring the only NATO command outside of Europe. Today, the Norfolk‐based NATO command is known as Allied Command Transformation (ACT), and serves as the think tank for the Alliance. This year's festival will also mark the 10th anniversary of ACT in Norfolk.

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