Charlotte Asian Festival returns to Cornelius Saturday

Members of the the Jei Jei Team of Little Lotus Group were among performers in recent years at the Charlotte Asian Festival. T.ORTEGA
Members of the the Jei Jei Team of Little Lotus Group were among performers in recent years at the Charlotte Asian Festival. T.ORTEGA T.Ortega Gaines-ogaines@charlott

The annual celebration of Asian culture and traditions returns on Saturday with the Charlotte Asian Festival.

The festival is one of the biggest community events of the year for the local Asian community, drawing as many as 5,000 people to Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius.

The free event is scheduled in May to coincide with Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. Highlights include vendors, the 11th annual Charlotte Dragon Boat Festival races and a talent competition called the Asian Music & Dance Fest – a first in the Asian Festival’s 17-year history.

The competition will pick winners for best dance solo, group dance, music solo, music group and vocal solo, as well as a judges’ choice award. One winner will get a chance to perform at a red carpet event for the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, according to the event’s organizers.

“We want to reach out to a broader segment of the Asian community,” festival chairman John Chen said of the talent competition. “This new program will allow us to have the flexibility to do that. We have participants from early teens or younger to maybe the seniors.”

The Dragon Boat Festival gives the Charlotte region a version of one of the top three festivals in China. The race, also known in China as the double fifth, occurs there on the fifth day of May on the lunar calendar.

“We look at it as a team-building or community-building event,” Chen said, explaining that a rowboat is a symbol for teamwork.

Charlotte’s Dragon Boat Festival began in 2006, organized by Chen, with 18 teams. This year 51 teams will compete for medals, including groups of high schoolers, cancer survivors and corporate rowers. Visiting teams will travel from Canada, Baltimore, Charleston and Raleigh.

Teams consist of 20 rowers, a steerer at the back of the boat and a drummer up front to set the pace. Teams cover a 200-meter course three times. Rounds take a little over a minute, Chen said.

Elsewhere at the festival, food and desserts will be available representing eight Asian countries and regions, including Burma, China, Korea, the Middle East, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Grand Asia Market will be among more than 30 vendors. A culture showcase will present arts and crafts from about 13 countries and regions.

The event is presented by the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and Visit Lake Norman.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms

Charlotte Asian Festival

When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ramsey Creek Park, 18441 Nantz Road, Cornelius.

Parking: Shuttle buses will be available from the Newell Rubbermaid complex, 8900 Northpointe Executive Park Drive, Huntersville.