Monday, May 25, 2015

Five Charleston Lowcountry Events You Want To Experience Before July

As the "number one tourist destination in America", Charleston embraces its lofty claim to fame by providing an endless summer of things to do. Its sun-drenched beaches, beautiful parks, historic landmarks, and hospitable communities are its pride and joy. From the heart of its Old City Market to all points of its surrounding Lowcountry, it is a multifaceted topography jam packed with interesting tours, yearly festivals, tasty cuisine, fashionable shopping, rooftop bars, and an active nightlife to fill your days and evenings.

From Charleston's expansive catalog of things to do, I have picked five events you will want to do before July arrives.

Spoleto Festival Finale
Internationally recognized as America’s premier performing arts festival, the 17-day Spoleto Festival is a celebration dedicated to showcasing and honoring the artists and performers while providing high caliber entertainment from beginning to end for all its patrons.

Beautiful, historic Middleton Place Plantation, home of "the oldest gardens in America", is the host and the backdrop for the finale. The setting is unmatched, the music is entertaining, and the fireworks at the close are spectacular. This is one of my top must-do events.

The 3rd Annual Beer Garden begins at 3:30 p.m. with local craft beers, gourmet picnic fare, and music from the best local and regional bands--4:15pm - 5:00pm Johnny Delaware, and 5:15pm - 6:00pm Steven Fiore. At dusk, the attention turns toward the main stage performance featuring the Alabama-based seven-piece soul band, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, at 8:30pm.

Patrons are welcome to bring their own chairs, blankets, and picnics; food and beverage will also be available for purchase until 7:30pm. Adult Advance ($35.00), Senior ($31.50), Military ($31.50), Child ($15.00). Video of fireworks from 2014. Purchase tickets.

Party at the Point
Charleston Harbor Resort on Patriots Point hosts this beach party every Friday from April to July. You can kick off whatever foot wear you are wearing and sink your toes into its soft, cool sand while listening to the tunes of local bands--one of the top ten on my list of things to do.

Connected to the beach, a long walking pier provides you with a great view of the whole harbor while its balmy breezes wash over you with a splash of salt water scent. It is the only beach in Charleston where you can drink a brew.

The schedule--Seven Handle Circus with The Kenny George Band - May 29th, Banana Pancakes - June 5th, Sol Driven Train with Jordan Igoe June 12th, Reggae Night with The Dubplates - June 19th, and Season Finale with The Dave Matthews Tribute Band - June 26th. Party begins at 5:30pm with a cover charge of $7. More pictures.

Party in the Park
With a stunning view of the Ravenel Bridge towering over the pier at beautiful Memorial Waterfront Park, the Party in the Park offers free music concerts featuring national country music recording artists every Tuesday evening in June at 6:30pm to 8:30pm. The Firefly red pick-up truck is always a welcome sight for me. I always enjoy Firefly's Sweet Tea Vodkas and Moonshine mixes.

The complete lineup: JUNE 2ND--Dan and Shay, JUNE 9TH--Kelsea Ballerini and John King, JUNE 16TH--Canaan Smith and Mo Pitney, JUNE 23RD--Chase Bryant and Craig Wayne Boyd, JUNE 30TH--Kristian Bush and Mickey Guyton.

It is highly recommended you park offsite and hop on a Lowcountry Loop Trolley for a free ride. No coolers allowed; food and beverage are available for purchase.

Wednesday Wine Stroll
The weather and the setting were perfect. There was but a whisper of a breeze playing on the long branches of the old oaks. The fading sun cast a tranquil shade of pleasant over the beautified gardens. The numerous reflective ponds, alive with the chatter of its amphibious residents, were one with the surroundings. Their mirror like surfaces disturbed only by the watchful eyes of the long-toothed reptiles common to these Lowcountry waters.

Beyond the gated ruins and overlooking the Ashley, the four strategically placed tables were elegantly set, two bottles of vino on each, servers in place. Friends, relatives, acquaintances, and couples with cups in hand soaked in the ambiance and engaged in light conversation as they walked from table to table and strolled the numerous intertwined paths of the plantation landscape. All this is courtesy of Middleton Place and its Wednesday Wine Stroll--More pictures. Purchase tickets.

The final stroll is May 27th beginning at 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

Record Smashing Tea Party
The annual celebration of National Iced Tea Day occurs on June 10th. The day is set aside to celebrate the summer drink that has become one of the most popular ways to quench one's thirst in the United States. As an alternative to carbonated soft drinks, iced tea makes up about 85% of all tea consumed. It can be enjoyed sweetened or unsweetened, but here, in the South, sweetened is infused, and the historical concoction is proudly called sweet tea.

On June 10th, the Birthplace of Sweet Tea is going to celebrate the day by attempting to set a new World Record for the World's Largest Glass of Iced Tea, and you are invited to participate. Summerville will be making from scratch a single 1,400 gallon glass of sweet tea, brewed with local tea leaves from America's only tea grower, the Charleston Tea Plantation, and the brew will be sweetened by Dixie Crystals--the sugar of the south.

An Adjudicator from the Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand to oversee, verify and present the record for the 'World's Largest Iced Tea'. It all takes place at 5:00pm - 8:00pm at the southern end of Hutchinson Square in front of Town Hall.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Little Shop Of Horrors" Is One Bloody Good Show--Now Showing At The James F. Dean Theatre

What does the 1980's musical spoof Little Shop of Horrors strangely have in common with the classic fairy tale story of Sleeping Beauty. Well, for one, the plot eerily includes someone pricking their finger, which in turn changes their life. Second, the script contains a boy falls in love with girl element, a cranky, demanding shop owner who adopts the boy to benefit himself, and a malevolent character with evil designs. But despite these similarities, the two diverge at their climax. There is no happily-ever-after for the Little Shop of Horrors. Although, the final analysis can be dependent on one's point of view. Whatever way you may see it in the end, you will be happy you came to the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville because Little Shop of Horrors is a bloody good show.

With a story line loosely taken from a B-rated film of the 1960's bearing the same name, the musical Little Shop of Horrors is a wacky combination of comedy horror and rock musical--lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken; Alan Menken ironically has a Disney connection, but Sleeping Beauty was not one of his works. Ashman and Menken use a combination of rock and roll, doo-wop and early Motown music sang by a trio of street urchins to set the scenes and tell their story.

Set in the 1960's with a Skid Row backdrop, the character who pricks their finger is a down-and-out, socially inept employee of the run-down Mushnik's Skid Row Florists by the name of Seymour. Perplexed over the dire condition of a mysterious plant he had been caring for since coming into possession of it, he accidentally pricks his finger and in the process discovers what the plant craves--blood. The realization changes his life profoundly. Audrey II, named after a fellow employee Seymour has been secretly in love with, flourishes on Seymour's finger pricking's. As it grows, so does its appetite and its demands. Mushnik's flower shop also flourishes due to the plants fame and fearful of losing Seymour and the monetary benefits to other suitors, offers to adopt Seymour. With the help of Audrey II, Seymour gets the girl and unwittingly a whole lot more. In the end, the malevolent plant's evil design is revealed.

Director Jean Gaston and Company successfully synchronize a true winner. The plays eye-popping set and props are beautifully constructed and functionally serve the scene changes well. The sound system delivered the lines and numerous musical scores with a rich clarity.

The four Doo-wop Girls, Allison Brower, Tiffany Eliason, Chanel Mariette, and Alex Shanko, delivered their harmonies in Supreme style. In his usual high energy fashion, David McLaughlin showed his musical talent and was spot-on convincing as the nebbish Seymour. In her first production as a Flowertown Player, Elissa Horrell as Audrey will win you over with her quirky Jersey girl accent and affectionate smile--loved her delivery and vocals in Somewhere That's Green. Danny Jones was a dead ringer for a Mushnik and Tyler Reed was a gas as the obnoxious, abusive dentist, Orin. Tyler also played a host of other characters in the play.

The show stealing character, and rightfully so, was the blood-thirsty, talking Audrey II, which was a collaboration between Robert Venne and Daniel Rich. Robert artfully designed the plant and operated it through its various stages of growth and Daniel provided the deep, booming, voice--at times reminiscent of Otis Redding. Watching the flawless synchronization between the two of them was spellbinding. You are totally persuaded into believing the voice was coming directly from the plant, when in reality, it wasn't. That's how good Robert and Daniel were. Daniel also made a brief appearance in the beginning as a homeless person on Skid Row.

The play is loaded full of musical favorites with a 60's flavor such as Skid Row (Downtown), Mushnik and Son, Sominex/Suppertime, and my play favorite, Suddenly, Seymour.

The Flowertown Players close-out the 2015 season with another blockbuster hit. Little Shop of Horrors was both delightfully entertaining and comically humorous. Just plant yourself in a seat and it will grow on you. I guarantee it.

Purchase tickets at Flowertown Players Little Shop of Horrors.

8PM Shows May 15th, 16th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 28th, 29th, and 30th
3PM Shows May 17th, 24th, and 31st

Director-Jean Gaston, Musical Director-David McLaughlin, Asst. Director-Chrissy Eliason, Choreographer-Karyn Ellis and Tiffany Eliason, Stage Manager-Alex Skipper, Assistant Stage Manager-Adriana Melendez, Run Crew-Sarah Smith and Erik Brower, Set Design-Jason Olson, Set Carpenter-Ernie Eliason, Light Board Operator-Jeff Wolf, Lighting Designer-JC Conway, Costumer-Diana Reeves.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Get That Peaceful Easy Feeling--Wednesday Wine Stroll At Middleton Place

With the Ashley River lazily meandering in the distance, a peaceful easy feeling came over me as I sat on a wooden bench leisurely sipping on a plastic cup of red wine. I was in the company of one of the oldest oak trees in the Charleston Lowcountry. Greyed from age and bearing the scars of a sometimes tumultuous past, the Great Oak's long, broad branches majestically overshadowed the calming waters of the Rice Fields where fish launched themselves into the air like mortar shells and alligators prowled the surface like the H. L. Hunley in search of an unwary prey.

Clinging to the tree's weather-beaten bark, a cardinal curiously watched my every move. We weren't alone. With the Octagonal Garden to the right and the Sundial Garden behind, the soft, intimate chatter and light laughter of fellow strollers navigating the garden's preened pathways filled the warm evening air. The occasion was Wednesday Wine Stroll at Middleton Place.

The Wednesday Wine Strolls were started as a way for visitors to experience the beauty of Middleton Place in the early evening light and a more relaxed atmosphere--no tour guides needed. It is just you, the gardens, and a world renowned vino. The Wine Strolls are an invitation to drink in the incomparable natural beauty of the plantations 274 year old gardens--the oldest landscaped gardens in America. Each week, samples of specially selected wines from around the world are uncorked by the Middleton Place Restaurant for you to savor. A different wine region and beautiful garden location in bloom is chosen for the stroll.

This week's selected location was the southern magnolia-lined walkway along the spring-fed Reflection Pond. The four white-cloth covered tables were evenly spread out under the tall trees the full distance of the pond and strategically located at pathway entrances for easy access into the sprawling gardens. On each table were two bottles of wine--one red and one white. Each setting was accompanied by a basket of crackers for cleansing the palette between tastings.

The wine region selected was South America. At Table One, Tomero Torrontes 2013 from Mendoza, Argentina was the white offering and Malma Malbec 2012 from Patagonia, Argentina was the red. At Table Two, the white offering was Cautivo Chardonnay 2014 from Mendoza and the red was Errazuric Max Reserva Carmenere from the Villa de Aconcagua, Chile 2011. Moving to Table Three, Arido Moscato 2013 from Mendoza was the white and Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Clasico 2013 from Mendoza was the red. Table Four topped off the selections with a Sangria Blanco and a Sangria Roja.

The correct pronunciations I leave to you to figure out--some Spanish required. The Cautivo Chardonnay was my white wine favorite and the Bonarda Clasico was the red I sipped under the Great Oak. After a few glasses of the South American vino and a dash of imagination, I found myself rubbing shoulders and clinking glasses with Henry and Mary as a guest of their garden party. Blame my whimsical tryst to the past on the wine.

If you want to get that peaceful easy feeling, Middleton's Wednesday Wine Stroll is where you want to be. It is a perfect blend of fine wine and floral gardens accented with the aroma of magnolias and oaks interlaced with a tremendous concentration of gentle sunlight. With a long finish, this event is elegant and well-balanced...Enjoy the pictures.