Spoletians gathered at the Memminger Friday night for the first official event of the year, the Spoleto USA Auction. Guests bid on luxe items like European vacations and private chef’s dinners, but the Rene Marie Quartet stole the show.

The evening began with a cocktail hour featuring Manhattans and pink cosmopolitans complemented by passed hors d’oeuvres like duck confit and spicy tuna wontons. Dressed in a range from business casual to formal evening gowns, guests mixed and mingled in high spirits. They had an opportunity to view and bid on the online auction items via laptops on tables colorfully decorated with funky turquoise lamps.  Once the guests took their seats under glittering waterfall chandeliers, the crowd grew silent as Marie and her musicians took the stage.

The chanteuse opened with a powerful, soulful version of “Shenandoah.” Although an extended version, the crowd hung on every note. She immediately topped that with several upbeat and lively tunes, including the sexy title track to their next album, Black Lace Freudian Slip. Her set ended too quickly.

The main event, the live auction to raise funds for the Spoleto orchestra, featured some serious bidding wars. The two Richard Hagerty paintings, “Jazz I” and “Jazz II,” went for a total of $9,500 to a single buyer. In addition to experiences like vacations and private dinner parties hosted by some of Charleston’s leading chefs, guests were also able to sponsor seats for the Spoleto Orchestra, with 52 of these being purchased.

As the quartet took the stage for a second time, the audience wasn’t over the thrill of the auction and took a few minutes to settle down. Those who left before the second set missed another explosive performance. At the end of the evening, Marie had the auctioneer return to the stage to auction off the opportunity to have drinks with the band, raising the final $7,000 needed to meet the auction’s goal of $90,000. If the jazz performance is a sneak peak of what is to come, Spoleto 2011 will be a year to remember.

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