So who will be providing the City Paper‘s critical voice this season? We started wondering that same thing about six months ago. Covering the 17-day Spoleto season is a challenge that requires stamina, endurance, and wit — not to mention writing chops and a critical voice that leans toward the low brow side of things.

We needed to find someone who could give us serious (but irreverent) coverage of the festivals. Someone with institutional knowledge. Someone dumb enough to enlist for a whirlwind adventure on the CP payscale.

We started by sending a jokey email to our former arts editor, Patrick Sharbaugh, who lives and works in Vietnam these days. He’s a half a world away, teaching something called Asian Cybercultures and communication theory at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Saigon, but his ties to Charleston are long and deep.

He served as our first, full-time arts editor from 2003-2007. That first year not only did he jump in at the beginning of Spoleto, but he covered my maternity leave, which happened at nearly the same time, and got firsthand knowledge of what a challenge finding an overview critic can be (that year’s critic was canned after his first installment failed to live up to our expectations).

In 2004, he became our ultimate Spoleto critic, arming himself with technology and an arsenal of tricks on how to park in downtown Charleston without getting towed or ticketed. He made the City Paper’s very first podcast. He created the Spoleto Buzz Blog, which won a national award. In effect, he became our very own modern-day Robert Jones (the longtime Post and Courier critic who passed away in 2004 — and has never been effectively replaced). Jones was well-respected and loved for his ability to cover the high and low ends of the festival season, writing readable columns for the paper each day. Patrick did the same for us, but he had a much more modern, City Paper-approach to it all.

  • Sharbaugh, back in the day

Lucky for us, Patrick didn’t die. He just moved far, far away. And he always comes home to visit his family for a couple of weeks each year. We wondered if, perhaps, he might like to schedule his vacation during Spoleto and maybe he’d consider reprising his role as our award-winning critic. It took some doing and some wooing, but — to our dismayed relief — he agreed. He’ll be making the 24-hour trip sometime later this week and jumping into the deep end of the pool just as soon as he arrives.

He’s leaving behind his students and his job as communications and social media manager for his custom scooter tour company, Vietnam Vespa Adventures, to take on this fun but exhausting task.

You can expect him to make daily posts to our blog, write a weekly overview column that capably breaks down the important themes and artistic accomplishments of this year’s Spoleto season, and ultimately, help guide you through the entire 17 days of the festival.

When it’s all said and done, we’ll ship him back to Vietnam limp and trembling with the exhaustion that only Spoleto can provide. We can only assume that he missed us and Charleston and Spoleto so much that he forgot the rather frenzied reality of it all. I can’t wait to ask him how he feels about the assignment when he’s sweating his ass off and listening to Mayor Riley speak at the opening ceremonies on Friday.