Festival comes to an end

The Red Stick Ramblers

A few days after Tropical Storm Andrea rolled through the area, dampening the latter days of the Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto festivals and forcing J.D. McPherson to seek cover in TD Arena, the weather forecast for the weekend’s closing events included the possibility of more wet weather.

The Piccolo finale in Hampton Park on Saturday stayed dry and drew hundreds. Today, patrons heading out to Middleton Place for picnics and music by the Red Stick Ramblers might not be so lucky.

“We’re going to play that one rain or shine,” said Michael Grofsorean, director of the Wells Fargo Jazz Series. “There’s no alternative. Where can we put it?”

The finale potentially is one of the largest events of the Spoleto Festival. The beautiful location, covered stage and festive atmosphere can pull in huge numbers of ticket holders — when the weather is good.

“In 2010 we had the Carolina Chocolate Drops and sold approximately 3,200 (tickets), which was great,” said Paula Edwards, the festival’s director of marketing and public relations. Last year, about 1,500 people turned out for Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole in the pouring rain, but Edwards is staying positive, thanks to strong advance ticket sales, she said.

“With good weather, which is the key factor here, we’d like to top the 2010 Chocolate Drops,” she said.

The finale is the last piece of the festival’s financial puzzle, as well as the last hoorah. A successful draw can push the festival’s revenue past the break-even point, and put the not-for-profit organization in a good position for next year.

“So we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the weather is going to hold out, and this restructuring, with having the beer garden out there and adding the local music scene to the afternoon, will hopefully draw people out there as well,” Edwards said.

Ah yes, the beer garden.

Adding it last year was an attempt to generate activity earlier in the day, to encourage patrons to take advantage of the 3:30 p.m. gate-opening and have some fun before the headliner took the stage at 8:30 p.m.

Starting at 4:15 today, regional bands, including Charleston-based ‘Olu ‘Olu, Rabbitfoot from Athens, Ga., and Mandolin Orange of Chapel Hill, N.C., will perform in the garden. Picnic food staples, including barbecue, fried chicken and beer on tap, will be available.

The Red Stick Ramblers make Cajun music infused with western swing, jazz and blues. Grofsorean said their music is perfect for big events like the finale.

“This notion of ... playing for a gathering of people who are happy to see each other, talk with each other, dance together, that’s what they come from,” he said. “They have great spirit in what they do and I couldn’t think of a better band or set of musicians for this event.”

Downtown, Piccolo Spoleto’s finale wrapped up Saturday night.

Festival producer Ellen Dressler Moryl said rain would have been unwelcomed, of course, but the festival had a contingency.

“We do have McAlister Field House available,” she said. “We had to put a hold on it and put money down on it in case we (needed) it.”

Corporate sponsors and the popularity of the returning Motown Madness performance helped keep the event free, she said.

“And that raises our reputation of not only producing a great variety of many different art forms, but things that bring people together and build community,” Moryl said.

The Spoleto Festival finale at Middleton Place, with its Frisbees and fireworks, also produces a sense of community.

Grofsorean said the event has evolved into something especially social, a gathering of “the Spoleto tribe.”

“It’s potentially the one event where everyone can come,” he said. “We don’t have any other events scheduled at that time. We close everything else down, and then that’s it and we’re all heading out to Middleton.”

Rain be damned.

“I think the philosophy is to make the best of this day with what it brings us,” Grofsorean added. “We’re not going to get a shot at it again.”

Joseph DiDomizio is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.