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Live Review: Spoleto Festival USA 2019

Over a torrid stretch of South Carolina nights, outdoor headliners beat the heat

Esperanza Spalding, Songwrights Apothecary Lab founder
Esperanza Spalding at the 2019 Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, S.C. (photo: Leigh Webber)

There had never been anything like it before at Spoleto Festival USA—four consecutive days of 100-degree heat—and nothing like it before in Charleston, S.C., where temperatures that torrid had not previously been recorded in May. Fortunately, two of the three outdoor headliners in Spoleto’s jazz lineup skirted the worst of the heat wave: bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, on the opening two nights of the festival (May 24 and 25), and pianist and composer Carla Bley, on the last night of the month, after the heat had broken. Somewhat.

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, on the other hand, was caught smack in the middle of the cauldron (on May 30), leading a tribute to the late pianist and composer Geri Allen in Cistern Yard. “How do you people deal with this heat?” she cried out shortly after sitting down at her kit. “It’s like a sauna up here!” Carrington may have asked the question, but it was clear that her all-star quintet, fronted by pianist Craig Taborn and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, had the answer: They would fight fire with fire.

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Perry Tannenbaum

Perry Tannenbaum has been covering the performing arts in Charlotte, the Carolinas, and beyond for over 30 years. Aside from JazzTimes, his work has appeared in AllAboutJazz, Backstage, Classical Voice North America, Dance International, BroadwayWorld, Queen City Nerve,, Creative Loafing, and American Record Guide. Since 1991, he has likely logged more reviews and features on Spoleto Festival USA than any other writer and is currently working on a fictionalized account of the festival’s founding and history.