Charleston, South Carolina may have dozens of big events throughout the year, but the one that brings it the most acclaim is Spoleto Festival USA, an arts and music festival that was based on the Festival Dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Gian Carlo Menotti brought it to the southern city in 1977 and it has brought in artists from all over the world ever since. It’s even a course for students at the College of Charleston, where they can volunteer with the festival and study the works.
But in addition to the main festival, there are a handful of unofficial events that fall around the festival dates, including Piccolo Spoleto, which hosts smaller events throughout the city, and Piccolo Fringe, akin to the international fringe festivals.
1. Get yourself tickets. The bigger name events, which are talked up in the local newspapers months ahead of time, run out of tickets quickly, as do the opening and closing night galas at Middleton Place. Thankfully, there’s an event for every price range, whether it’s the free daytime performances on the lawn or the prime time events with seated dinners. Events are at venues all over town.
2. Find out who will be the “next big thing.” Many musicians, actors, and dancers get their start at the Spoleto Festival, including Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, and Jake Shimabukuro. Some plays also go on to have full runs or go on tour throughout the country. Read up on what’s being said about the artists and performers before you go. And don’t be afraid to change your plans when you arrive to hear the buzz about a specific act.
3. Give yourself time to explore. The festival goes on for some two weeks, so it’s easy to get worn out if you’re constantly going to performances. Set aside lunch or dinnertime to check out some of the city’s best restaurants, as that’s where many of the locals and artists will be. You can also learn more about Charleston’s history and what made it such a choice for the home of Spoleto.
4. Attend the after-parties. Nearly every bar and restaurant in town has some sort of special during Spoleto to bring in those post-performance crowds. You never know who you could run into at these late-night mixers of fellow art lovers.
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