It’s hard not to love Wells Fargo’s Middleton Place-based Spoleto finale. Last night, as the sun was setting, I stood under huge oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Hundreds of people spread across the lawn, feasting on picnics atop colorful blankets and deep inside cushy lounge chairs (no, really, some people brought furniture from home). This may be Spoleto’s closest thing to bang for your buck — yeah, advance tickets are $35, but you can bring your own food and alcohol, and you get to watch four bands and a flashy fireworks display. Let freedom ring.
The evening’s music started off with three opening acts: Charleston transplant, singer-songwriter Johnny Delaware, former Charlestonian Steven Fiore, and Holy City-based The Tarlatans. I’ll blame it on the fact that we were in a field, but each of these acts was kind of hard to hear (no fault of their own — we were just pretty far away from the stage), and there was a substantial period of time between each performance. This was a big opportunity for these lesser known acts to reach a wider audience, and I wish more people had paid attention to them.
Despite Middleton Place’s poor acoustics, most picnic-ers seemed to be having a great time. Everyone was indulging in cold beverages and I had my chilled rose at the ready. Like I’ve already acknowledged, there’s a communal feel to Spoleto’s finale. Come one, come all, let’s join hands and cheese plates.
The energy shifted right before St. Paul and the Broken Bones took the stage. People stood up, shook the crumbs off of their laps, and grabbed the cooler’s last Bud Light on their way to the stage. We stepped over blankets and toddlers, making our way to the swaying crowd before us. The sun set, the lights lit up the stage, and seven suit-clad musicians took the stage. “Hello Charleston!” rang out from what I slowly began to realize were the monumental lungs of Paul Janeway.
And they are Mon-u-mental. Janeway can wail. He can croon. He can seduce the shit out of an entire crowd of half-drunks.
Hailing from Birmingham, Ala., this talented group of guys struck a chord with the audience, playing to our heartstrings. “We had y’all dancing, now we’re gonna rip out your hearts,” Janeway said with a smile as he moved from upbeat jams to the slow and rolling “Broken Bones and Pocket Change.” Touche, Janeway. At one point he even asked us to find someone to dance with — “like you did in middle school.”
Clapping along to Janeway’s voice I tried to pin down what was so appealing about him. He puts on a great performance — he isn’t tied down by any instrument (nothing against mulit-tasking singers), so he could move freely across the stage. He commits. Sweating through my sundress I wondered how he could maintain any semblance of calm in his full suit. He took a break every once in a while to drink some “honey,” which I think, because he doesn’t drink, was actually honey. A honey-drenched voice? Yes, yes, and yes.
It’s all about love for St. Paul and the Broken Bones. From the pleading lines of “It’s Midnight:” “I’ve been bad/ I’ve been bad,” to the Ray LaMontagne-esque “Let it Be So,” Janeway and his band are, as my Spoleto partner-crime sister remarked, “universally appealing.”
Of course, she’d had a bottle of wine prior to that statement, but I think that’s all part of the fun. Thanks for showin’ us the love St. Paul and crew.