Monday, August 24, 2015

September's Top Five Must-do Events And Festivals In The Charleston Lowcountry

September is an exceptional month in Charleston. As for the temperatures, the days are still warm, but not scorching, and with the decreasing humidity, the evenings are comfortable. Although, it is peak hurricane season for the Atlantic, the likelihood of a major storm is statistically slim. The last hurricane to hit the area was 26 years ago. With these ideal weather conditions and Charleston's world renowned hospitality, it all makes for a pleasant environment to participate in the plethora of events scheduled throughout the month.

From September 9-20, one of the most highly anticipated culinary events in the Charleston area takes place. With more fine dining establishments per capita than any other city in the South, the list of recognized and celebrated restaurants participating in the 3 for $30 and 3 for $40 specials is extensive and elite. Charleston Restaurant Week is the ideal opportunity to sample the culinary creations of the finest chefs in the Holy City at a reasonable price and the perfect occasion to explore a new restaurant. Downtown streets and alleys will be saturated with captivating aromas and famished restaurant patrons. The Charleston Restaurant Association provides a full list of participating restaurants, their menus, and their websites for you to peruse to assist you in making a final determination. In some cases, a link is included to reserve your table.

The local craft beer industry has been growing like a Bulls Bay oyster bed over the past few years. New production breweries have been popping their bungs all over the Charleston area. In recognition of this surging craft beer wave, Charleston was named one of the five "Beeriest Beach Towns" in America--another best added to the Holy City's list of acknowledgements. To celebrate, Charleston's flourishing craft beer community has scheduled a wide variety of events for your beer pleasure and to highlight the breweries and diversity of brands available locally. It is the annual Charleston Beer Week and it runs from September 13-19. There is a long list of beer events scheduled throughout the seven days. One of the highlights is the Craft Beer Kickball at The Joe set for Sunday, September 13, 5:30pm to 11:00pm. For $20, you can participate in the competition or for $5, be a spectator. For more information, go to Craft Beer Kickball.

Historic and beautiful Boone Hall Plantation is an appropriate backdrop for the culminating day of Southern Living Taste of Charleston on September 27th beginning at 10am. From the moment you enter the plantation gates, driving under the canopy of the broad and spacious Avenue of Oaks leading the way to the house, you sense the grace and charm that is the trademark of the Charleston experience. The event is a celebration to the culinary expertise of Charleston's renowned chefs and famed restaurants overshadowed by its historic roots. A perfect confluence of the past and the present. It is a 3-day event beginning with the Iron Chef Competition on Friday, 6pm to 9pm at the Culinary Institute of Charleston--Main Campus at 7000 Rivers Ave, North Charleston. Sweet and Southern on Charleston Harbor takes place on Day 2 beginning 6pm at the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. Purchase tickets for the Southern Living Taste of Charleston.

This popular Holy City dish evolved from the simple breakfast fare favored by shrimpers along the South Carolina coast. In its humble beginnings, the convenient dish was a marriage of two staples the South Carolina Lowcountry had in abundance, shrimp and rice. In the late 1800's, the rice was replaced with ground-corn grits at the time called hominy. In the 1990's, Shrimp and Grits would become elevated in the ranks of fine cuisine by Chef Donald Barickman and synonymous with the city of Charleston. On September 19th, the Second Annual Shrimp and Grits Chefs' Competition will be held at the Joe Riley Stadium at 6pm to 9pm. The 2014 Award for Best Shrimp and Grits went to Michaels On The Alley. You can buy tickets at Shrimp and Grits Charleston.

The Sweet Tea Festival will be celebrated September 17th on Third Thursday in Summerville at Hutchinson Square. Party with the locals in historic downtown Summerville, where you can sip and savor the local flavor. Get here early for your Souvenir Sweet Tea Cups and Posters. Other Summerville events in September:

Beer and Appetizer Pairings with Oak Road Brewery and Mellow Mushroom Summerville
September 13, 4:00pm
Mellow Mushroom
1306 N Main Street, Summerville
Taste the brand new Coffee Porter

Even More Local Part II at Homegrown Brewhouse
September 14, 5:00pm
Homegrown Brewhouse
117 South Main Street, Summerville

Allagash Brewing Tap Takeover at Coastal Coffee Roasters
September 16, 6:00pm
Coastal Coffee Roasters
108 E 3rd N Street, Summerville

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Seven Highly Recommended Charleston Boat Excursions and Paddleboarding Locations

Visit the Charleston Peninsula and you will be surrounded by elegance and charm at every turn of the corner. But the historic downtown district is only the cake of the Charleston Lowcountry. Step outside of Charleston’s city limits and you will be covered in its sweet frosting. The Holy City is encircled by beautiful inlets, grassy creeks, pristine marshes and a host of barrier islands, each framed by water-soaked, sandy beaches. From Edisto Island in the ACE Basin to Bulls Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, it is a water enthusiast’s paradise offering an abundant assortment of boat tours and watersport activities including kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, jet skiing, and boating.

I have picked seven of my favorite boat excursions and paddleboarding locations for your consideration on your next visit and if you are a local, for your next outing.

1) Bulls Island Beach Drop With Coastal Expeditions--Thoroughly Enlightening And Deeply Soul Soothing
Uninhabited and secluded, Bulls Island is a place where civilization only makes periodic and scheduled visits. It is a natural maritime wonder teaming with wildlife and covered with pristine beauty. The Bulls Island Beach Drop offered by Coastal Expeditions is 5 hours of "wow" well worth the $40...Read more.

2) A Charleston Barrier Island Tour Highly Worth A Trip To The Past
With each step, the soft, water-soaked sand oozed through my toes and over my feet. I could feel and smell the fresh, salty island air as it encompassed me. Adding to the feeling of remoteness, I navigated around scattered piles of reddish-brown seaweed beached by the ocean's relentless waves...Read more.

3) Waverunner Safari Adventure with Tidal Wave Water Sports We collectively mounted our assigned personal watercraft and familiarized ourselves with its various controls and buttons. After hooking the shut-off cord to our floatation vests, our slumbering high velocity watercraft were one by one gently nudged from their plastic cradles. After fully slipping into the warm, salty waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, I immediately depressed the start button. With my jet ski aroused to consciousness, I squeezed the throttle propelling it forward onto the first leg of an unbelievably riotous Waverunner Safari Adventure with Tidal Wave Water Sports...Read more.

4) Bask In The Aura Of Historic Charleston Harbor On The Wind And A Sail--Schooner Pride
The mooring lines were loosened and we drifted away from the murky tidal waters of the docks. The captain fired-up the Schooner Pride's cruising engine and we entered the bluer, deeper waters of the harbor where the crew, with the help of volunteers, unfurled the canvas sails and secured the running rigging beginning with the jib...Read more.

5) Stand Up Paddleboarding Picturesque Morgan Creek With Ocean Fitness
At the northern end of the Isle of Palms, on the edge of the island’s vast backwater estuary, is the rising and ebbing tidal waters of Morgan Creek—a meandering stretch of water with a dual personality. It is home to the IOP Marina and the Morgan Creek Grill—both located where the creek opens up into the Intracoastal Waterway from which visitors and diners are treated to an unparalleled panoramic view of the estuary’s saltwater marshes...Read more.

6) Firefly Friday Aboard The Palmetto Breeze--Intoxicating
Thunderstorms were scattered about the Charleston area but the Harbor around Mt. Pleasant's popular waterside mecca of watering holes at Shem Creek was luckily spared and was basking in a moisture-rich late afternoon sun. Departure time had arrived...Read more.

7) Walking On The Waters Of Shem Creek-Stand Up Paddleboard Style
We went down a ramp covered with pluff mud-soaked carpets to the edge of the creek, which was six feet lower than high tide levels. It was low tide. We proceeded to mount the boards one at a time starting in a kneeling position. With the water levels so low, standing would have been trickier. I pushed off with my paddle into the gentle current and pointed the board towards Charleston Bay...Read more.

Other paddleboard locations on Shem Creek are Coastal Expeditions and Charleston Paddler.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bulls Island Beach Drop With Coastal Expeditions--Thoroughly Enlightening And Deeply Soul Soothing

I had been eagerly looking forward to this day since I booked the Bulls Island Beach Drop with Coastal Expeditions three weeks ago, but truth be told, it is an excursion that had been on my radar for many, many months prior. Once leaving Highway 17 in Awendaw, it was a pleasant drive on Seewee and Bulls Island Road. On Bulls Island Road, I passed a sign proclaiming my arrival into the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge just before the road ended at the parking area of Garris Landing where a long, cement walking pier extended out into the serene, nutrient rich saltwater estuary. Beyond the thick patches of marsh grass, some three miles in the far distance, the trees of Bulls Island rose into the partly cloudy blue skies of the morning.

The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge extends 22 miles along the Atlantic Coast consisting of over 35,000 acres of beach and sand dunes, salt marsh, maritime forests, tidal creeks, fresh and brackish water impoundments, and 31,000 acres of open water. Zealously protected, it is home of the cleanest and nutrient rich waters in the world. Bulls Island is the southern boundary and consists of 5000 acres--to put that in perspective, a little larger than Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms combined. These were all pertinent facts our barefooted biologist/guide shared with us as the captain steered the ferry away from the dock and guided it through the winding estuary waters towards Bulls Bay.

We cruised past a couple of perched brown pelicans and a few great egrets foraging for food along the edge of the marsh grass. In the estuary, you are either a producer or a consumer, and birds are consumers. Other birds were flying about in the near distance. Nick pulled out a pair of binoculars to get a closer look. After identifying a few of the 293 species in the Refuge, he turned his attention back to his narrative.

He picked up a cluster of oyster shells from off a table in the middle of the ferry. "Notice the larger shell surrounded by smaller ones," he says pointing, "The biggest oyster in a cluster is the female, the smaller ones are males." He continues, "In the estuary, its hard work being the female, producing an ample cluster." To the oysterman who work the Bulls Island estuary, the larger female is what they prize, hacking it from the cluster with a hammer. Now, came the provocative piece of information. "To replace the lost female, one of the males changes its sex to female." He added, "If need be, the female can likewise change its sex to male." Oysters from the Bulls Island estuary are the best in the world.

Next, he pulled a skull from the collection of bones and shells. "Who can tell me what creature this belongs to?" One of the passengers calls out, "It’s a sea turtle." "Yes, but what kind of sea turtle?" He informs us, "It is a loggerhead sea turtle, the largest turtle in the world." Only 1 in 1000 loggerheads survive to adulthood. On Bulls Island, there are about a hundred protected nests--each marked with a PVC pipe sticking out of the sand to warn the beachgoers and shell collectors. Each nest produces about a hundred eggs. So, the dilemma is obvious and protecting the nests is imperative." With its powerful jaws, it can crush the shells of blue crabs, stone crabs, whelks and other shelled creatures crawling around in the estuary's waters, but interestingly its favorite food is jellyfish.

As we neared the north end of Bulls Island and our drop location, Nick discussed the importance pluff mud plays in the ecosystem of the estuary and shared a local story about a rusted out piece of abandoned machinery along the shoreline of Bulls Island. Then, he drew our attention to the island's trees and a steel tower located at its midpoint. He asked, "What happened in 1989?" Several passengers responded, "Hurricane Hugo." Continuing, he said, "Subjected to the full fury of the storm, the trees on Bulls Island were totally wiped out. Notice the height of the trees in comparison to the tower. Before Hurricane Hugo, you would not have been able to see the tower."

The drop location was in sight and Captain Richard slowed the Caretta and eased it up onto the shoreline. A walking plank was extended from the bow and one by one we disembarked the ferry and stepped onto the gently upward sloping beach. Just below the surface of the water, blue crab scurried along the edge of the shoreline. For the next three hours, we were free to explore, collect shells, swim or simply plant a beach chair on the soft sand and sit back to soak in the wonder of it all. From our drop location, on the Bulls Bay side of the island, it was about a two mile walk to the famed Boneyard Beach--my destination.

Still water-soaked from high tide and cool to the touch, the islands soft, virgin sands gave way to my feet as I walked, leaving an imprint of my steps behind. Large groups of pelicans basking in the warm morning sun socialized along the water’s edge. As I rounded the northern tip and trekked southward towards the Boneyard, the beach grew larger with every passing minute. The tide was on the wane and the surf was retreating back into the Atlantic Ocean, exposing more beach. Beyond the low grassy dunes to my right, I could see some of the backwater impoundments. Trapped tidal waters spilled onto the beach cutting a path of swiftly moving water to the ocean. Just beyond, rising out the sand, bleached white from the sun and rubbed smooth by the wind and surf, stood the first grouping of the hauntingly weathered trees of Boneyard Beach.

Uninhabited and secluded, Bulls Island is a place where civilization only makes periodic and scheduled visits. It is a natural maritime wonder teaming with wildlife and covered with pristine beauty. The Bulls Island Beach Drop offered by Coastal Expeditions is 5 hours of "wow" well worth the $40. Our biologist and guide for the excursion was friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to answer any and all questions. His narrative to and from Bulls Island was informative, entertaining, and ingeniously laced with a balanced blend of wit and humor. The three plus hours spent on the island soaking in the unmatched beauty was thoroughly enlightening and deeply soul soothing.

New dates have been added for the Beach Drop. Click here and book.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Emotional Roller Coaster Ride Of Love And Tragedy Not To Be Missed--West Side Story Now Showing

There was more than a few tears shed at the packed James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville for Friday night’s opening of the 1957 classic American musical West Side Story and please excuse my humble alteration of a well-known idiom, but you could have heard a Kleenex tissue drop after the deafening pop of gunfire cleared the emotionally charged atmosphere with Tony (Chris Berry) laying on the cold pavement mortally wounded and painfully heartbroken Maria (Olivia Juretich) tearfully kneeling at his side.

I did not see the 1957 Tony Award winning Broadway musical production of West Side Story, but I am well familiar with the 1961 Academy Award winning movie musical starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn--one of my all-time favorites.

Around the time of the musical's release, New York newspapers were filled with articles about gang warfare, thus making the story line timely. Set in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York in the mid-1950s, the play explores the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds--the Caucasian Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. To make matters worse, a former member of the Jets, Tony, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the Shark's leader, Bernardo. The results are both uplifting and explosive. In this dark tragedy, hate seemingly wins out over love, but at the end, there is a glimmer of hope after the ultimate sacrifice had been paid and three Sharks assist three Jets with carrying the lifeless body of Tony away from the tragic scene as the darkness descended upon the solitary silhouette of devastated Maria.

Walter Kerr, a critic of the time, wrote this about the play, "The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning. Director, choreographer, and idea-man Jerome Robbins has put together, and then blasted apart, the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we've been exposed to in a dozen seasons...the show rides with a catastrophic roar over the spider-web fire-escapes, the shadowed trestles, and the plain dirt battlegrounds of a big city feud...there is fresh excitement in the next debacle, and the next."

West Side Story is a powerful blend of acting, dance, and music. It requires a group of actors with a unique skill set--the ability to perform in all three categories. Kerr's words were a tribute to the play's cast, crew and director, and with those words in mind, Jerome Roberts and Company would unequivocally approve with what director, choreographer, and musical director David McLaughlin and Company assembled and accomplished on the humble stage of the James F. Dean Theatre.

The collection of changing scenes, masterfully handled by the crew, takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride carrying you to heights of ecstasy only to thrust you back down into the depths of despair. The set was phenomenal and the lighting was provocative. The dance choreography of 35 flailing bodies was a miracle of movement. The songs were executed near flawlessly and powerfully.

Olivia Juretich's captivating smile was only surpassed by her clean, crisp vocals, while her partner, Chris Berry, turned in a performance highlighted with power and passion, skillfully scaling fire escapes and fences to be with his beloved Maria. When together, their relationship was believably authentic and the two shined brightly in score favorites Tonight, One Hand, One Heart, and Somewhere.

Alex Shanko as Anita was a delight to watch executing her role and vocals with the necessary pizzazz demanded of her character. Honorable mentions go to Eric Brower (Riff), who advised his cohorts to play it Cool, Ethan Goodman (Bernardo) for great dance moves, and Robert Venne (Action) along with the rest of the Jets for their spot-on rendition of one of the more amusing pieces of the play, Gee, Officer Krupke. Zipping in and out of the shadows, Jean Gaston was the perfect choice for the wannabe a Jet tomboy, Anybodys. The more ominous figure of the play, Lt. Schrank, was skillfully played by towering Ernie Eliason and the least ominous figure, Glad Hands, was played by none other than, Ernie Eliason.


So many names, so many to mention. So, I will sum it up with this final note, beautifully done cast and crew. The provocative and artful blend of music, dance and plot in West Side Story was a great way to kick-off the 40th season at the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville.

Now showing from July 31st to August 16th
To purchase tickets, go to West Side Story.

The complete set of pictures.

Interesting note: Four-letter curse words were uncommon in the theater at the time. Laurents ultimately invented what sounded like real street talk but actually was not: "cut the frabba-jabba", for example. You will hear words like this used by the Jets.