“I now leave Charleston, the seat of Satan, dissipation, and folly,” wrote Francis Asbury, a late-1700s itinerant minister in the muggy, swampy Lowcountry. Asbury later became a bishop and earned the moniker “Father of American Methodism.” That’s an entirely different story altogether. Surely it was climate more than catechism that led would-be bishop Francis to decree Charleston the seat of Satan; anyone who’s been there in midsummer can vouch that it’s hot as Hades. (Last July I spent most of my visit ducking into shops on King Street, buying clothes to replace the ones drenched with sweat. Again, another story.)
Back to dissipation and folly. Ah, those are to be found on a grand scale as the outrageous seventeen days of the Spoleto Festival
and sibling affair, Piccolo Spoleto
, wrap up their programs on June 7. The festivals—counterparts to those in Spoleto, Italy—involve hundreds of events staged throughout the city: juried visual art, classical music, opera (a highlight this year is Gustave Charpentier’s Louise), blues, literary salons (including the intriguing “Diehard [James] Dickey Weekend”). Interspersed are street fairs, harbor tours, artists markets, and other excuses to linger in the charmed streets of the 300-year-old city or sit on a rooftop balcony with a cocktail, observing the humanity below.
At the tail end of Spoleto comes the lower-key but more storied Sweetgrass Festival
, (June 5–6), a weekend celebrating the region’s Gullah-Geechee culture—particularly the basket-weaving tradition, a craft whose legacy spans more than three centuries. Watch basket-making demonstrations, listen to traditional storytelling or gospel and praise music, or overindulge in Lowcountry fare.
For those partial to hijinks and high-seas adventures, the Charleston Harbor Fest
(June 26–29) offers the chance to observe a fleet of tall ships in the historic waterfront. You can sign up for a two-hour cruise aboard the Spirit of South Carolina, tour a number of stately schooners, or merely relax and watch the closing Parade of Ships.