The Spoleto season is a mind-blowing 17-day arts extravaganza. There’s so much stuff going on in Charleston that it can be overwhelming. Some people, confronted with the hundreds of options, simply turn tail and run to the nearest beach. Others head to the box office and indiscriminately buy tickets to whatever their finger lands on in the program, ending up at performances that could very well mortally offend their sensibilities (hence the rows of blue-hairs who stand up and exit in a huff when the first f-bomb gets dropped).

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You could let the City Paper be your guide to what’s worth seeing. We’ve put together a rather nonscientific list of must-see shows from both Spoleto Festival USA and its low-cost little sister Piccolo, produced by the City of Charleston. Our recommendations are based on information our writers compiled while researching this year’s shows. In addition to the must-see events we’ve chosen, the schedule has additional critics’ picks.

Keep in mind that most of them reflect the City Paper’s sensibilities, so we’ve made the one show that has an f-bomb in its name one of our must-sees. No easily offended blue-hairs allowed.

Winter Stories by Paolo Ventura

This Italian artist’s show at the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute promises to delight and dismay. Tiny miniature sets were painstakingly crafted by the artist and then photographed, providing lush and contemplative images that evoke a dreamy history.

The Red Shoes

Kneehigh Theatre travels from Cornwall, England, for their third Spoleto appearance (in 2009, they staged the sexy Don John). The Red Shoes is quite different, tackling a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a girl and her obsession.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

The Druid Theatre of Galway, Ireland, brings its highly acclaimed production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comic play to town. World-class theater in the historic Dock Street should not be missed. Ever.


This is the American premiere of significant Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s monodramatic opera, starring soprano Elizabeth Futral, who is also making her Spoleto debut.


A modern circus event (think Cirque du Soleil, not Ringling Bros.) that should appeal to the entire family.

Festival Concert

Guest conductor James Gaffigan will lead the Spoleto Festival Orchestra through its paces, tackling Strauss, Debussy, and Prokofiev. A good bet for concert music lovers.

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue

Down in the Treme, Trombone Shorty is jamming and having fun. And you will be too at this outdoor concert at the Cistern. Don’t miss the after-party on Friday that City Paper is throwing with Spoleto SCENE. It’ll be epic.

Béla Fleck and the Original Flecktones

The banjo-playing bluegrass maestro has a lot of fans in Charleston, and tickets have been selling like hot cakes since this show was announced. So don’t delay if you have any hope of getting into the Gaillard on Sunday night.

The Gospel at Colonus

Local church choirs are supplying the thunder for this rousing musical based on Oedipus at Colonus and set in a Pentecostal church. Expect the singing by the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and Jevetta Steele to bring the house down too.

Spoleto Festival Finale

This is the ultimate ticket — an all-day outdoor event with live music from the Del McCoury Band and a fireworks capper is the best way to see the festival to its conclusion.

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