Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Charleston Tea Plantation
Pulling off a festival in Charleston ain't easy. We don't buy tickets early, we say we don't like to drive far away if we want to drink (but we do), and we make our decisions by the weather.
But First Flush has it figured out. Granted, there's no football in mid-May, and there are more 80-degree-and-sunny afternoons than rainy days this time of year. The stars aligned last Sunday at the American Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, and a crowd of at least a few thousand gathered to sip all-you-can-drink tea and dig some tunes.
About midway through the afternoon, the grassy fields and lots were packed solid. Nationally popular singer-songwriter Cory Chisel took the main stage after local troubadour Mac Leaphart, playing a fairly subdued set of mellow pop ballads. Mark Bryan followed with an "and friends" show that included appearances by local talents Joal Rush and Danielle Howle.
Although more than a few folks complained that the acoustic music was rather subdued and garden party-esque for the hoedown they'd hoped to see, that banter was put to rest when Robert Randolph & The Family Band took the stage.
"It's good to be in South Carolina," said the Jersey-bred pedal-steel virtuoso. "I got family down here. We used to come as a kid. I still hang in Goose Creek."
Randolph grinned big and clearly had fun, even breaking out "The March" early in the set and strutting across the stage. Randolph's amusing outfit seemed ridiculous for such a hot day, which included a doo-rag, a red tie emblazoned with his initials, and black tights under jean shorts. The other half came by watching excited fans attempting to leap across the deceivingly muddy ditch that separated the crowd from the stage, only to be caught knee deep in muck while The Bridge's Joel Frank pointed and screamed at them to turn around.
About midway through the set, Randolph broke the divide between himself and the audience, inviting about two dozen women onto the stage to dance with the band. That party vibe stayed strong for the show's duration, leaving a multitude of smiling faces to meander back through row upon row of tea plants toward their cars.
When it comes to staying power, in the opinion of this writer, First Flush has more momentum than most any other festival in Charleston. Kudos go to The Bridge at 105.5 and the American Tea Plantation for pulling off a winner.