Spoleto Festival USA opening 37th season

(Stacy Jacobson/WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP/WCIV) -- The 37th season of the internationally-known Spoleto Festival USA kicked off with an opening ceremony on Friday.

The festival was founded in Charleston by the late composer Gian Carlo Menotti. It opened Friday on the steps of Charleston's City Hall with a brass fanfare, speeches and a shower of confetti.

"It starts out the festival atmosphere in the city during the duration of the festival," said Charleston resident Mary Elizabeth Shue.

As preparations for the opening ceremonies went on at City Hall, Charleston police officers did a standard security sweep using K9 units around the venue.

Joseph Flummerfelt, the festival's longtime artistic director for choral activities, delivered the main address. Flummerfelt is in his final season after more than 30 years with the festival.

This year, there are 160 performances during the 17-day festival run.

Spoleto was established in Charleston in 1977 as a companion festival to the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.

Mayor Joe Riley paid homage to its companion festival by speaking in Italian at the ceremony.

Travel journalist Eileen Robinson Smith said she has attended every Spoleto Festival USA since it started.

"It's one of the reasons I moved to Charleston," she said.

She also took time to visit the festival in Italy. She said Charleston is not the same city today, as it was in 1977. The festival has enhanced the cultural offerings and reputation of the city.

"It's my annual dose of culture I tell people. It's my annual injection," she said. I lock myself out for three weeks going to as many things as I can."

It was the opposite for Oregon-native Linda Heslekrants, who arrived in Charleston with her husband Friday for a wedding-anniversary trip.

"We came down just to look at historic downtown and just happened to be like, 'All those people are down there! Let's check it out!' so I kind of feel like it was meant to be because there were no plans," she said.

They plan to check out more of the festival during their trip, she said.

Locals said it showed why Spoleto is a perfect fit for Charleston.

"We are a historic city but have a relevance in today's world and in the arts. It's just such a great place to come and see history and the arts all at one place," Shue said.

The festival lasts until June 9.