For 30 of the past 39 years of Spoleto Festival USA, I have missed only two opening ceremonies, which always occur on the first Friday of the festival, Memorial Day weekend, at noon in front of City Hall.
This charming gathering of board members, elected officials, tourists, patrons, locals and press has always created a very poignant hour for me, demonstrating the true community of Charleston.
The hour started on Friday with the ringing of the bells of St. Michael’s Church at high noon, and moves to opening comments, a prayer, the singing of the National Anthem, words from Mayor Riley and other officials, and ends with a taste of entertainment from one of the performance troupes.
Seeing Mayor Riley standing on the front steps of City Hall carrying on the tradition he started almost 40 years ago, between two planters filled with cut oleander the way that his mother had provided in the beginning, is a living tradition and should not change.
Hearing Mayor Riley speak in Italian and keeping the spirit of founder Gian Carlo Menotti alive is nostalgic, meaningful, and poignant, for without him, regardless of his faults, there would not be a Spoleto Festival.
Seeing the balloons drop, and now the confetti cannon shoot off, gives everyone goose bumps, signifying the start of seventeen days of magic.
Though he will not be mayor after November, I do hope that Mayor Riley will continue this tradition. He worked hard to make the festival happen and has seen it through the best and worst of times.
He deserves to be the one who always starts off this world-class magical festival of arts.