In case you hadn’t noticed, there are not one, not two, but three arts festivals heating up in the Lowcountry. That’s not even including the Colour of Music Festival, which kicks off later in October.

It can be overwhelming to decide what arts events to attend when there are simply so many to choose from, which is why we’ve come up with this handy guide — it’s like choose your own adventure, but the adventure is one of the mind. Or whatever. OK, enough with the chit chat, here’s our totally unofficial short-ish guide to MOJA, Free Verse, and the Charleston Arts Festival.

MOJA: A Celebration of African-American and Caribbean Arts

What it is: Well, the name is pretty self-explanatory, but … the MOJA festival is one of the longest running festivals in the city, and is now in its 34th year. In addition to traditional arts-related events — think visual art exhibits, concerts, and theater productions — MOJA always features an opening day parade (that’s tomorrow, y’all), block parties, and a tennis tournament for adults and kids.

Why you should attend: Because African-American and Caribbean Arts are THE arts of Charleston. They tell our whole history, not just the pretty stuff we often see in landscape scenes and Lowcountry musicals. Because if something’s been around for 34 years, you better believe it’s important.

Our top picks:

MOJA Opening Day Street Parade, Thurs. Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. Marion Square. Free
The annual parade through downtown is fun and free and features dance performances, a marching band, youth ensembles, community groups, and more. It’s a great way to get a taste of the excitement surrounding MOJA, and to learn more about what’s being offered during the festival.
Evidence, A Dance Company, Tues. Oct. 3 at 5 p.m. 10 Wharfside St. Free
Ronald K. Brown’s Dance company, Evidence, brings both a free workshop and a free performance to Gadsden’s Wharf, the future location of the International African American Museum.
Sugar in the Grits, Sat. Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. Circular Congregational Church. $21
The Gullah Geechee Angel Network and We Are Family present this play, written and performed by Vanity Reid Deterville, about a transwoman’s journey after growing up in a family with strong Baptist roots.

Free Verse

What it is: Charleston’s first poetry festival, Free Verse was created by the city’s first poet laureate Marcus Amaker and features a full month of performances, workshops, street art, music, and open mics.

Why you should attend: You heard us say that this is the city’s first poetry festival, right? Few things get us as excited as other people getting excited about words, both spoken and written. And in our interview with Amaker, we learned that he wanted to make the fest “intentionally black,” giving a platform to poets who often don’t have other places to express themselves.
[content-2] Our top picks:

Poetic Jazz Society, Wed. Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. Dock Street Theatre. $11
This throwback evening features poetry from Amaker and former Charleston resident and poet Jonathan Brown, as well as music from Charlton Singleton and Quentin Baxter, and more.

Blank Page Poetry, Sat. Oct 14 at 6 & 8 p.m. PURE Theatre. $11
Poets stand behind a blank screen and recite their works (hence the name of this event). What we like best about this event though, is its timeliness — poets will be speaking about gentrification in Charleston.

Queen City CLTive, Sat. Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. 492. Free to attend
Amaker sings the praises of Charlotte, N.C.-based group, Queen City CLTive, who fuse acoustic soul and free verse in their performances. The venue, 492, has a kickass outdoor patio, and Amaker can’t wait for Saturday night interlopers to hear spoken word on Upper King.

Charleston Arts Festival

What it is: Now in its second year, the Charleston Arts Festival (CAF) describes itself as an extension and reincarnation of JAIL BREAK, a multi-disciplinary festival/party that took place in the old City Jail. CAF adds, “Charleston Arts Festival seeks to bridge the gap between artist intention and audience expectation by leveraging creative collaboration across artistic disciplines.”

Why you should attend: Because CAF highlights contemporary visual art in Charleston and we want to see more of it!

Our top pick: (There are far fewer CAF events than MOJA or Free Verse. Mirroring that, we’ve only emphasized one pick here. Your best option, always, is to go to everything).

Art Ride, Fri. Sept. 29 at 5:30 p.m. Starts at Redux. Free to attend
Co-sponsored by CAF and Charleston Moves, this art ride is just what it sounds like — a ride featuring tons of art. Start at Redux at 5:30 p.m. where you will learn about the results of a study Artspace conducted last year regarding arts-related spaces in the city. Then bike (that’s the whole point, isn’t it?) to The Southern for New Painting, a multi-artist exhibition featuring painters experimenting with techniques new and old — CP writer Vincent Harris talks all about it in “New Perspectives.”

After that take your wheels to Beresford Studios for Stories from Firn, with new works by Vik Hart. Firn, according to Hart, is a land made of swirling masses of color and unfamiliar sights. Phew. Bring your stamina.

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