“Floral bodysuit, shoulders swing.”
That’s the first phrase I scribbled down this festival season. The writing itself is essentially illegible and, in hindsight, factually inaccurate — it wasn’t a bodysuit. Overalls. They were floral overalls.
For me, musical performances are a collection of moments. As I watch, these moments — good and bad, patterned and solid — are recorded in my brain and, if I’m reviewing, on paper. I’m talking about tallying instances of vivid experience, and it’s an exciting business.
Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto provided a variety of opportunities for this pseudo-scientific process, and I’d like to share a few of these “spots of time.” If you happened to attend any of the events mentioned below, I hope that you enjoyed the moments as much as I did.
Cecile McLorin Salvant, May 26
The floral overalls belonged to Salvant, and I distinctly remember the way their cotton legs billowed as she strode across the stage in the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard to her microphone.
“Bathed in blue, purple, and red light” — I jotted that down as beams of spotlight landed in pools on the stage, illuminating the Spanish moss that seemed to frame Salvant and the Aaron Diehl Trio. Her performance was wonderful, and those opening minutes set Spoleto in motion for me.
Virgina Rodrigues, May 28“Labareda” was Rodrigues’ last song that evening, an encore. The entire performance at the Gaillard Auditorium had been surprisingly powerful, as Rodrigues and guitarist Alex Mesquita emitted more energy than most full bands.
At night’s end the duo seemed to funnel all of that churned-up verve into “Labareda.” Rodrigues ended the night spinning around onstage with her scarf while Mesquita scratched furiously at his guitar.
Both were smiling and the audience joined in, clapping — mostly out of time — and hooting. A lot of artists forget that creating art is meant to be fun, but Rodrigues and Mesquita clearly had not.
Jake Shimabukuro, June 1The ukelele is a merely a novelty item — I held dearly to this stance until around the halfway mark of Shimabukuro’s first show at the Cistern.
The musician prefaced his take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with some quick anecdote about how it was one of his favorite songs. How rare, someone who actually likes “Hallelujah.”
Shortly after, Shimabukuro completely deflated my cynicism. He swiped the first few mournful chords of that song, and did they ring. I’d never heard such warm intonation out of a ukelele. You didn’t need to hear the words, for Shimabukuro told Cohen’s story in vivid detail with each shimmering strum.
Orchestra Uncaged, June 3I went to this concert at the Sottile Theatre for the bean pods. Earlier that week I had helped film a video with Spoleto orchestra violinist Samantha Bennett. During the shoot she demonstrated how the bean pods would be used during “Orchestra Uncaged” — basically rhythmic string tapping — and I was intrigued to say the least.
I spent the stop-watched John Cage portion of “Uncaged” anticipating Johnny Greenwood’s “48 Responses to Polymorphia,” the bean pod piece. It came immediately after intermission.
Amid cocked heads and a few laughs, John Kennedy conducted a rattling orchestra. The pods lent Greenwood’s piece an exciting texture and a tangible energy. Maybe I loved “48 Responses” because it followed Cage’s brooding sparseness. Maybe I just loved it.
Mavis Staples, June 6This was the show I’d been waiting for since the Spoleto lineup was announced in January. Mavis Staples is the embodiment of this country’s most progressive period of musical and social development, the 1950s and ‘60s.
Decades later, Staples retains the energy she possessed as a teenage member of The Staple Singers. I sat in the orchestra section during the concert, a few rows away from Staples and her six-piece band. It felt like a church service inside the Gaillard. The audience was clapping along, sometimes shouting their appreciation towards the stage.
A few songs in, Staples covered The Band’s “The Weight.” She dedicated it to The Band’s drummer-vocalist Levon Helm, who died in April. Staples quickly followed with a somber take on “You’re Not Alone,” a song penned by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
The Gaillard fell into silence at this. The air was heavy with melancholy. Heavy.
Josh Breeden is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse Univeristy.