The Shovels & Rope-curated High Water Festival is in its third year, and that’s a good sign that things are going swimmingly. What began as a What-If idea over drinks years ago is now — and has been, from the word go — a top-shelf culinary and music event ushering in big-name acts, like this year’s headliners Leon Bridges and the Head and the Heart.
But it’s not just the incredible lineup of music each year that works — it’s the festival’s boutique size, the diversity in artists, the lack of competing stages, and the inclusion of special Lowcountry touches, like local beer, chefs, and culinary experiences. It’s how High Water has partnered with local nonprofits like Water Mission, the Green Heart Project, and Charleston Waterkeeper to benefit surrounding communities. It’s watching Shovels & Rope serenade their hometown as they always have, only now it’s at dusk — the Ashley River providing vistas and breezes for days — in front of 10,000 fans. It’s all this and so much more.
So how did the ShoRo team manage to perfect a festival in its early stages?
“In the first couple of years, when things started going really well for [Shovels & Rope], and they were playing a lot of festivals — we couldn’t help but take notes,” says the duo’s manager and head honcho of all-things High Water, Paul Bannister (Dogwood Management). “In the first two to three years, they’d done the Coachellas and the Bonnaroos, all the way to the Pickathons and the Newports, the smaller, folkier festivals across the Southeast. We gleaned a lot from the things that were good and the things that weren’t.”
And then the wheels started turning: How nice would it be to do something like this in Charleston, they wondered.
“It’s obviously a destination city; people want to go to Charleston anyway,” Bannister explains. “But we also thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do something for all the bands that don’t tour through Charleston, all the bands you don’t get to see here. One of the many hopes is to get them here, for them to do well and find an audience here so they can return.”
It couldn’t hurt to bring some business closer to home, too. “There’s the reality of being gone all the time,” Bannister admits.
And so, with the help of AC Entertainment and their know-how, paired with Team ShoRo’s personal touches that are so endearingly Charleston-centric, High Water came to life in 2017. And we are here to reap the benefits. From the Low Tide Social kick-off event featuring local acts like the Garage Cuban Band and the Marshgrass Mamas (of which ShoRo’s Cary Ann Hearst is a member), freshly shucked local oysters, and a Lowcountry Boil to the festival’s local food vendors — like Lewis Barbecue, Roti Rolls, Verde, and Platia Food Truck — offering grub all weekend, it’s all designed to offer a little something that’s altogether unique.
Bannister says, “Ultimately, we wanted to do something here that felt meaningful.” That, it is.