Charlestonians know that this city has a lot to offer visitors. From scenic views to historic houses to a bustling nightlife, there is no shortage of entertainment.
For the 17 days of Spoleto, the peninsula is flooded with droves of visiting artists from around the world. And while most of their time is spent in rehearsals, meetings and performances, the hordes of performers, directors and technicians visiting Charleston still find fun things to do.
But how do these artists get from place A to place B?
Most artists stay in dorms, rentals or hotels during the festival and few have access to a vehicle. Fortunately, Charleston was named one of Bicycling Magazine’s 50 best cities for biking in 2012.
“Downtown Charleston is a collection of small, low-speed streets,” said Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves, a local bicycle advocacy group. “(The Peninsula) was designed long before cars, so it wasn’t meant to be seen from behind a windshield.”
True Applegate, owner of The Bicycle Shoppe on Meeting Street said her business often rents to tourists and artists during Spoleto. “We’ll rent up to 60 bikes a day depending on the weather,” she said. “They’re usually for people who want to see the city when they don’t have an event to go to or something else to do.”
Chamber music violist Lesley Robertson prefers seeing the city from beyond the handlebars of her bike.
“For a decade or more my favorite Spoleto pastime was cycling the streets of Charleston after dark,” she said. “I love discovering various frog choruses and could spend an entire evening cycling.”
Robertson is a founding member of a small club of chamber musicians who share three aptly named hand-me-down bikes every year at Spoleto — the Wadsworth Wheeler, the Charleston Chamber Charger, and the Song Cycle. Robertson and two friends purchased the three used bicycles online several years ago and, after some painting and assembly, gave each its quirky name.
Dock Street Theatre stagehand and Charleston native Walter Crocker stores and cares for the group’s bikes during the long offseason between festivals.
“Every year he has the bikes tuned up and ready to go on our arrival,” Robertson said. “And a few years ago he found a bicycle wagon, which allows me to haul around my now 5-year-old daughter.”
Crocker also loans his 1953 Humber Sport 3-speed to director-violinist Geoff Nuttall and has loaned bicycles to numerous other musicians over the years.
Stephen Prutsman, a chamber music pianist, also commutes by bike, but rented his this year.
“We’ve all got very different transportation needs, and we’re all over the place,” he said of the chamber music performers. “Having the bike is quicker; it saves me probably a few hours a day.”
Prutsman was on his bike when reached for this story Tuesday afternoon, and it had just started to rain. Fortunately, he said, the musicians keep a large wardrobe at the Dock Street Theatre so they don’t have to worry about ruining their concert dress on the way to a performance.
Chris Baker is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.