Spoleto Fests Large and Small in Charleston

A carriage ride is a great way to get your bearings in Charleston.

“We just love the way y’all talk,” a Charleston carriage driver comments on my Midwestern accent. He says it, no doubt, with a bit of irony because so many Midwesterners say the same thing to him. Our banter is all in good fun. As we roll through some of Charleston’s most historic and elegant neighborhoods, I feel the warm, humid breeze from the bay blow over me and start to settle into the friendly, genteel hospitality of Charleston. It’s clear that the city still holds the same appeal that it did for Rhett Butler in the closing lines of Gone With the Wind. He tells Scarlett O’Hara that he’s going back home to Charleston, where he can find “the calm dignity life can have when it’s lived by gentle folks, the genial grace of days that are gone. When I lived those days, I didn’t realize the slow charm of them.”

Charleston is one of America’s oldest cities and many of its old guard trace their roots to English colonists, who laid out its series of broad, elegant boulevards. But while the city works hard to preserve its colonial and antebellum historic sites, it is by no means stuck in the days of tight corsets and hoop skirts.  The city is home to charming shops (see upper and lower King Street and Broad Street) and restaurants such as Husk that I dream about long after I leave. Most notably, Charleston displays its vibrant cultural life with the Spoleto Festival USA which runs until June 9  and fills the city’s historic theaters, churches and outdoor spaces with performances by world renowned artists as well as emerging performers in opera; theater; dance; and chamber, symphonic, choral and jazz music.

Spoleto brings in artists from around the world. It’s the big boy in town. But if you’re

Piccolo Spoleto Poster
Piccolo Spoleto Poster

looking for a taste of regional arts and culture head for Piccolo Spoleto, which focuses primarily on artists of the Southeast region with an emphasis on events for children and families.  There’s also a piccolo literary festival. Piccolo Spoleto offers performances and event either free of charge or at prices that are more affordable than its big brother.

No matter which Spoleto you choose, or if you prefer to simply stroll Charleston’s streets or visit nearby plantations, you’ll feel as at home here as Rhett Butler did. Heading for Charleston?  Here are a few don’t-miss books to read before you go:

Pat Conroy- South of Broad, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music 

Dorothea Benton Frank – Bulls Island, Folly Beach, Lowcountry Summer

Gloria Naylor, Mama Day

Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family

Alphonso Brown- A Gullah Guide to Charleston: Walking Through Black History.

Looking for an itinerary for your visit to Charleston? The city is a featured destination in Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways.


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