For the first time in Spoleto Festival USA's 42-year history, its finale will be on the Charleston peninsula — at Joseph P. Riley Park.
The stadium, which is home to Charleston’s minor league baseball team the RiverDogs and known to most Charlestonians as “The Joe,” will host the Americana bands The Lone Bellow and The War and Treaty on Sunday. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.; the music starts at 6 p.m.
In previous years, the finale was held at Middleton Place, a historic plantation site 30 minutes from downtown Charleston along the Ashley River.
“The finale has changed, especially in the last decade, and last year we came to a mutual decision with Middleton Place to part ways for this event," said Jessie Bagley, the festival’s director of marketing and public relations. "We are both nonprofits, so we both have to keep our mission in mind.”
East Tennessee native Floyd Jernigan, who has been coming to Spoleto since the 1970s, is among those who were pleasantly surprised to learn of the change of venue.
“I love the Joe,” he said. “I think it is more convenient. Middleton, although very scenic, was not good to travel to with a large number of cars."
Bagley said the move to the Joe should shave at least a half hour off each leg of the trip for festivalgoers in downtown Charleston, leaving more time to tuck into Kitchen Sink Chips, She-Crab Sweet Fries and other concessions familiar to RiverDogs fans.
Although The Joe’s relationship with Spoleto is new, Dave Echols, general manager of the RiverDogs, said stadium staff try to book at least one or two concerts every year, working around the RiverDogs’ baseball schedule. Echols said that presenting entertainment is an important part of the team’s overall strategy.
“Anytime we can put on a baseball game or a special event to generate community goodwill or to generate revenue for the ball club, we want to try to look at it and see if it makes sense,” Echols said.
The ballpark has hosted Florida Georgia Line and Dave Matthews Band, as well as a recent series of country music shows that have featured Chris Young, Billy Currington and Big and Rich. The Joe also has served as a venue for the MOJA Arts Festival.
Echols said concerts bring new faces to the park, people who might want to come back for a game. But during the season, timing is everything. Echols said he was glad the festival finale didn't conflict with a home game.
Bagley said the partnership is paying off.
“They let us come in and essentially use the space however we saw fit,” she said.
Spoleto sets ticket prices, which range from $15 for general admission seating to $185 for club-level seats, and has free rein of the space.
“The vibe of the finale has changed a lot,” Bagley said.
Years ago, the concert featured the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra. Then, in 2010, the festival started to present rock, Americana and folk musicians with name recognition and the audience expanded. That led to a search for a new, higher-capacity venue, Bagley said.
Echols said his arrangement with Spoleto is unique, in part because the festival is an established Charleston tradition.
“There are some aspects that we wouldn’t do with another promoter that we’re doing with this show,” Echols said.
Guests will have access to the outfield grass to watch the show. Blankets are allowed but not lawn chairs. Food trucks won't line the parking lot, but grub and brews can be purchased from regular ballpark vendors. The RiverDogs have a game the day after the finale, which means they’ll have to work into the early morning to get the field ready.
And there will be the traditional fireworks show to close out the finale.
In spite of the extra stress of hosting the finale, Echols said the team is glad for the partnership.
He doesn’t know whether the finale will return to The Joe in the future, but Echols said he surely wouldn’t mind if it did if all goes well this time.
Joe Allen is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University. Goldring Arts Journalist Basadi Dibeela contributed to this report.