• Julia Lynn

Out-of-town motorists are ignoring lane markings and stop lights. Passers-by are greeting each other with smiles. Marion Square is filled with more tents than a boy scout jamboree.

Actually, that sounds like a typical weekend in Charleston. But right now Spoleto’s giving the city an art injection and the results are all around us.

The festival’s impact shouldn’t be underestimated. It doesn’t just bring much-needed business to local theater companies and King Street stores, but also to tour companies, restaurants, bars, and even the locals who drive performers around town.

Most of the shows I saw yesterday were packed, and the mood was optimistic. Surprisingly, all of the people I talked to were recidivists — they’d come to Spoleto at least once before and in some cases for 20-30 years. They didn’t leave the Dock Street Theatre disappointed. Geoff Nuttall was so excited to open his Chamber Music series that he forgot to introduce himself. The talented, charismatic, and slightly forgetful director is a big reason who so many people flock to hear obscure 200-year-old music.

Spoleto isn’t all about getting butts on seats. To earn the respect of arts lovers across the country it needs an experimental edge, too. This year, it’s delivered mainly by Piccolo. The first night of the unusual one-man show Thom Pain was seen by only a handful of people, but they all had an unforgettable experience. It’s those kinds of memories, and the feeling that they’re seeing something challenging, that will bring patrons back for more in years to come.