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Spoleto Festival and Carolina Chocolate Drops

June 15, 2010

Last night was such an interesting experience. The Carolina Chocolate Drops performed during the Spoleto Festival Finale held on Middleton Plantation just outside of South Carolina. With heat indeces measuring temperatures near 100, the plan for the evening was to get to the grounds early and find some shade where we could plant our coolers full of chicken salad, pimento cheese, lemon and pickling cucumbers and red peppers from the market for dipping, various fruits, and, of course, some lively spirits.

With an on again, off again breeze, the air temperature grew more bearable with each tick toward sundown. The open field dotted with stages and lights and speakers was quite full by the time we arrived an hour before the show – and by the end of the evening there were easily 5,000 people in attendance, sitting in lawn chairs, lounging on blankets, and kicking and stomping around to the music. The plantation boasts a garden that borders the Ashley River and on the other side of brick wall, concert goers wandered the areas, taking pictures and talking and checking out the boats out on the river. The plantation itself is around 250 years old; it is one of those places that can be both breathtaking and heart wrenching considering all the history and people who had passed over those grounds.

Spoleto Festival USA is something of a middle to upper class event, which created a sense of irony in my own perceptions of the venue and performers. Dom Flemons did make mention that it was great to be playing in such a historical venue that is still a representation for many of a horribly oppressive time in our nation. It was hard not to notice that most of those in attendance at the festival were caucasian. The opportunity to broaden its audience was lost on those organizing the event, even though they brought in the Carolina Chocolate Drops as an alternative to how they have ended the festival in the past – with symphonic bands and orchestras. As the event was closing down and I was thanking the person from whom we got the tickets before she needed to resume her duties with the festival, I overheard someone saying how they sold out about 5,000 tickets this year, when in the past the finales had only sold around 1,200 tickets. While this information is completely hearsay, it is hard not to think that even though the plantation grounds were filled with white people (mostly) listening to a traditional african american ensemble that the organizers are at least trying to broaden the reach of the festival. Maybe they’ll figure out a way to reduce ticket prices, so more interested, possibly underserved populations, can experience what is Spoleto.

Below are some videos of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I had only heard sampling of their music prior to last night. I thought the performance was quite impressive musically, and it created a unique energy amongst the crowd, even though they are seated for most of the evening. I’m going to see how they were received at Bonnaroo, if I can find some clips of their performances. It will be interesting to compare the two. Enjoy.

The mosquitoes were pretty thick and aggressive and fought right through the bug spray, so excuse my shaky hand at times (and excuse the guy in the visor who appears in some of the later videos).

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