Charleston, South Carolina Spoleto Festival

This Memorial Day Weekend I spent down in Charleston, South Carolina at the Spoleto Festival. The festival, which mirrors the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto Italy, is one of the largest arts festivals in the U.S. I was lucky enough to spend the long weekend covering some of the various events for the Charleston Digitel and a few other publications. The Digitel was extremely accommodating and is a great publication for getting up-to-the-second information on Charleston.

Though just in my twenties, I’ve certainly had my share of holiday festivals. Many of these featured large bands and grand performances with thousands of spectators. Spoleto is much different, because it’s a string of performances that include dance, art, music and theater over a two-week period. The city of Charleston hosts a Spoleto spin-off during the 17-day festival, called Piccolo Spoleto, which features the same type of entertainment, except with local and regional performers. With that said, this was probably one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to, and have all likelihood of returning, and probably even before it ends on June 13th.

The first show was a jazz show with the Norma Winstone Trio. Winstone, an internationally acclaimed Jazz artist, isn’t your typical jazz performer. It’s certainly no motown and not what you’ll hear at any jazz club in the U.S. Though it wasn’t really my style, Norma is extremely talented. Her voice has such range and I loved the various scats she did throughout each song.

The real meat and potatoes of the weekend for me were two shows. The play, Present Laughter, was a little long, but absolutely hilarious. The farce begins with an egotistical actor in the early 1900s who makes an innocent decision, which snowballs into consequences that affect everyone around him. The other show was actually a dance performance, and was absolutely one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. It takes a lot, especially with dance, to provoke emotion from me and the Gallim Dance Company’s I See Myself in Your Pupil sent chills through my body; which is a first. The performance features a string of 4 to 6 minute dances, set to funky music and even funkier dances. Yet each dance tells a different story, expressing strong emotion through each dancer’s moves. I can’t imagine there being a better performance at the Charleston Spoleto Festival then this performance.

What makes Spoleto USA such a great festival is the city of Charleston itself. The cobblestone streets, antebellum homes, horse-drawn carriages and waterfront location; it just can’t be beat. In between shows, there’s the Charleston Farmers Market at Marion Square, which is one of the best farmers markets in the U.S. The market features fresh local-grown food, including fruit, vegetables, seafood and pickles, but also includes artwork, crafts and merchants selling a variety of items. My favorite is the food vendors, which include everything from Nutella Crepes to grilled bratwursts to lamb gyros.

Don’t start making plans for next year, because there’s still plenty of time to buy tickets and make this year’s festival. If nothing else, be there for the finale on Sunday, June 13th, which will include a special performance from one of the most talented and unique musicians, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and fireworks on the waterfront.