Can't afford the high ticket prices of Spoleto? No worries, that's why Piccolo Spoleto exists.

The more accessible and affordable counterpart to the annual Spoleto Arts Festival returns from May 24 through June 8 with a variety of events, many of which are free. 

The festival's most popular free annual traditions include the opening night Sunset Serenade concert at the U.S. Custom House, featuring the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. This year, it's at 8 p.m. May 24, and the program includes popular selections alongside classical favorites at the harborside setting. 

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The Charleston Symphony Orchestra performs at the United States Custom House to kick off the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Michael Pronzato/ Staff

There are also a few Marion Square festivities, like Family Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 25 and the Memorial Day Concert at 3 p.m. May 27. Family Day features fun activities for children of all ages and a midday performance by the Seed & Feed Marching Abominable Band. This year's Memorial Day Concert will then star a patriotic performance from the combined Charleston and Columbia Community Bands, from rousing marches to Broadway show tunes.

You can also head to the beach for the Isle of Palms Sand Sculpting Competition between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. June 1. It's the 31st annual installment on the front beach where artists compete for prizes in six categories as they take raw sand and transform it into artwork.

The Piccolo Spoleto Finale then wraps things up from 5-10 p.m. June 8 at Hampton Park with a lineup of local musicians and food trucks for a laid-back picnic-in-the-park affair. 

Beyond those traditions, though, there are many new original events at this year's Piccolo Spoleto that won't cost you a dime. Here are a few more highlights:

Piccolo Spoleto's theatre features this year include magician Howard Blackwell, an adaptation from "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the story of Frederick Douglass. One particular local endeavor, which occurs monthly and coincides with Piccolo this year, is the Truth Is Storytelling Showcase. A group of storytellers from all walks of life gather and recount true, personal stories for this thought-provoking experience. You can attend for free at the Cannon Street Arts Center, 134 Cannon Street, at 6 p.m. June 4. 

The Notes for Nourishment Event Series is a 14-part concert series featuring internationally renowned musicians who will help expand your cultural horizons. They will be performing daily concerts at the Pauline Bookstore Event Room, 243 King St., for free from May 24-31. Among performers are Israeli vocalist and Klezmer clarinetist Asaf Ophir, Latin American harp soloist and tango specialist Anna Maria Mendieta and Chinese guzheng master Winnie Wong.  

Coming to Monuments, an interactive demonstration with dance, poetry and music excerpts, is another unique Piccolo Spoleto event this year. It will unpack the history of Confederate monuments and their conflicted legacy at 1 p.m. May 26 at the Charleston Museum Courtyard, 342 Meeting St. 

The dance lineup for this year's Piccolo Spoleto features quite a range of styles, from ballet to swing to "physical poetry." And while all dance performances have a ticket price at $35 or less, the Charleston Dance Showcase at 3 p.m. May 26 is entirely free. It will feature professional ballet and modern local dance companies presenting short pieces and excerpts alongside other invited dance troupes. Head to the Charleston Music Hall, 37 John Street, for this one.

Two literary events are also worth checking out, and both are entirely free. Hear some verses come to life at the Sundown Poetry Series at the Dock Street Theatre Courtyard, 135 Church St., which has multiple dates. Then, get immersed in some short stories by fiction writers for Piccolo Fiction, the festival's longest-running event, at 5 p.m. June 1 at Blue Bicycle Books, 420 King St. 

This year's poets include:

  • Marilyn Nelson, 6:30 p.m. May 27
  • Cecilia Woloch, 6:30 p.m. May 28
  • Friends of Susan Laughter Meyers read from her last book, 6:30 p.m. May 29
  • Dustin Pearson, 6:45 p.m. May 30
  • Len Lawson, 6:30 p.m. May 31
  • Teddy Norris, 6:30 p.m. June 3
  • Judith Pacht, 6:30 p.m. June 4
  • Elizabeth Bernardin, 6:30 p.m. June 5
  • Timothy Conroy, 6:30 p.m. June 6
  • Fred Dings, 6:30 p.m. June 7

This year's fiction authors are eat and drink editor at Charleston Magazine Jennifer Hope Choi; American Library Association Alex Award winner Tupelo Hassman; author of many prize-winning novels Jonathan Rabb; and College of Charleston Creative Writing MFA graduate Emma Stough. 

For a full list of Piccolo Spoleto events and this year's schedule, visit

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Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.

Kalyn Oyer is a Charleston native who covers arts and entertainment for The Post and Courier's Thursday edition, Charleston Scene. She used to write about music for the Charleston City Paper and Scene SC.