Thirty-eight years ago, 130 million people watched the TV miniseries "Roots"; "Star Wars" began its extraordinary run at the movies; and "Saturday Night Fever" started the disco craze.

Meanwhile, in Charleston, audiences were introduced to the Spoleto Festival USA - "The Consul," Gian Carlo Menotti's dark opera about desperation and bureaucratic obstinance, and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's darker opera, "The Queen of Spades," about greed and obsession.

People loved it. Or enough people loved it to call it a success - and a reason to make it an annual event. Over the next three decades, it helped establish Charleston's reputation as an arts destination. And it revealed to people that they really, really like chamber music. Who knew?

It's a little early to say which of this year's events will get people talking the most. The festival began Friday.

Will it be the athleticism and energy of "Gravity & Other Myths" performed by an Australian acrobatic ensemble?

Will it be "El Nino," an opera that recounts the birth of Christ? That subject is always good for some pushback.

One thing that is almost assured is the high quality of performances. As Spoleto's resident conductor and director of orchestra activities, John Kennedy, said, "At the festival we have ... an ethos that really inspires everyone to give their best, just because it's so ephemeral. It goes up and comes down so quickly."

Fortunately, the festival has just begun, so there's still time to discover your new favorite actor or soprano. Or maybe your latent love for jazz will emerge and surprise you.

So join in. The Spoleto Festival USA, and its companion Piccolo Spoleto, have a proud history - and they add interesting new chapters every year.