This weekend marks Charleston's first mayoral celebration in decades, and mayor-elect John Tecklenburg and his team mean to make it pretty special. And because Tecklenburg is a music man himself, the festivities are chock full of some really exciting live, local sounds.
So why is it important to Tecklenburg to feature music so prominently this weekend? "Well, first there's just the fact that I love music," he tells us. "It's been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. But, even more than that, music is a universal language. It has the power to bring people together in shared moments of mutual understanding and appreciation. And I very much wanted that idea — the idea of Charlestonians of all kinds coming together in a spirit of unity and hope and purpose, to lie at the heart of this inauguration, and of everything we do going forward."
Tecklenburg's personal investment in the arts began a long time ago. His passion for early jazz is inspired by the legacy of his great uncle, Fud Livingston, who co-penned the popular jazz standard "I'm Thru With Love" during his heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. In high school, Tecklenburg studied piano under classical pianist George Darden. Later, after earning a chemistry degree at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., Tecklenburg continued his musical journey at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied piano and jazz. A one-time jazz coordinator for Piccolo Spoleto, the mayor's John Tecklenburg Jazz Ensemble has played Piccolo Spoleto jazz cruises in recent years and remains active in the community at both church and charitable functions.
Now, the mayor-elect is set on showing the city his appreciation for the arts with his inaugural celebration. What we've nicknamed as Teck Fest will kick off on Saturday with a community concert and family day at Hampton Park. Roving entertainers — balloon artists, clowns, face painters, stilt walkers, jugglers, street dancers, interactive hula-hoopers — will work the crowd all day, while on the main stage a lineup of local acts will perform. Local author and poet Eugene Platt will recite a poem he's prepared at 1 p.m. before everything from blues to rock 'n' roll soundtracks the whole experience.
The Music Battery Drum Line, a local initiative that tutors kids ages eight and up with their homework and free drumming instruction, will perform first, followed by the Buist Academy Choir, the Bright Family gospel singers, guitarist/vocalist John Cusatis, local blues legends and long-time buddies of the mayor-elect, Smoky Weiner & the Hot Links, gypsy-blues rockers HoneySmoke, and vintage rock 'n' rollers the High Divers.
And here's the really interesting part: you'll get a chance to marvel at Tecklenburg's musical talents as well. At the park, he will have a "piano lounge" set up, where Tecklenburg will perform jazz piano songs all afternoon. "It will be very simple, really," he says. "Just me and a piano and a large tip jar, where people can leave suggestions for what they think we can do to make our city an even better place and to improve our citizens' quality of life."
It gets better. On Monday, Charlton Singleton will lead a New Orleans-style second line jazz parade from Church Street to the City Hall steps on Broad Street moments before the new mayor is sworn in. The idea for the parade came to Tecklenburg after experiencing a second line in Charleston a few years ago. "In 2011, I was honored to play in the second line at my friend Jack McCray's funeral," he says. "And as we were putting all of this together, I thought back on that and felt it would be a wonderful tribute, both to Jack and to all the musicians — some famous, some not — who've brought so much meaning and pleasure to the lives of our city's citizens down through the years."
Singleton, who's led a few second lines in his day, says it'll be a free-style sort of affair. "You really just call up some musicians that know that style, and let it rip," he says. "So far, we will have me on trumpet, Mark Sterbank on clarinet, Billy McSweeney on trombone, and Chris Bluemel on sousaphone."
Led by Nathan Nelson and Sandra Barhardt, local choir the Lowcountry Voices will also perform several songs, including the Star Spangled Banner, at the inauguration on Monday, and poets Marjory Wentworth and Marcus Amaker will recite a poem they wrote together for the occasion. Later that night from 7 until 10 p.m., Tecklenburg and company will take the party to the Gaillard Center, where attendees can get down with local party band 17 South in the Grand Ball Room.
How's that for an introduction to our city's new leader?
For Gaillard tickets and more inaugural information, go to charlestontogether.org.
Sat. Jan. 9 at Hampton Park
Free and open to the public
1 p.m. - Music Battery
1:20 p.m. - Tecklenburg Welcome
1:30 p.m. - Buist Academy Choir
1:50 p.m. - Bright Family
2:05 p.m. - John Cusatis
2:35 p.m. - Smoky Weiner & the Hot Links
3:10 p.m. - HoneySmoke
4:10 p.m. - The High Divers
Mon. Jan. 11 at City Hall
Free and open to the public
11:45 a.m. - Second Line from Church Street to City Hall
12-2 p.m. - Swearing-in ceremony continues at City Hall, followed by a reception at Washington Park
Mon. Jan. 11 at the Gaillard Center
7 p.m. - Party with 17 South