Next year, Spoleto needs to bring in a ringer for their finale at Middleton Place. 2010 and 2011 had them — the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Del McCoury Band will always draw a crowd. Cedric Watson in 2012? Artsy move, and it might have worked if the day wasn’t literally a deluge. But the Red Stick Ramblers? Not a ringer.
That’s not to say their show wasn’t enjoyable on Sunday evening. But from their introduction to their final waltz, there were more people asking, "What is this band’s name again?" than there were lining up to buy CDs.
Actually, there were not any CDs available, because the Red Stick Ramblers have essentially broken up. Twice, they encouraged us to buy their music on iTunes when we got home — silliness. They reunite a few times a year for special one-off gigs, like Spoleto. Which begs the question — If you’re not in a van or on a bus, traveling to a different city each night and understandably confused about your present geography, how could you give us the classic "Thank you, Charlotte," that so many touring bands do when they visit Charleston?
Mavis Staples did it last year, but she was on tour. Even though Spoleto should feel like a special gig and she should know where she’s sleeping that night, we forgive her. But the Ramblers? They flew or drove straight to Charleston. But they still addressed us as Charlotte.
Maybe it’s a reminder that we don’t need to get too big for our britches, despite all the Condé Nast and New York love for Charleston and our highfalutin arts festival each spring. We still might as well be Charlotte to most Americans.
Maybe the band was put off by the jerk in the audience who booed when they asked if anyone spoke French. We were then treated to a tired Freedom Fry joke and left with a translation of their Cajun French words into English for “those of you who don’t speak ‘Freedom.’”
Again, it was a good show. We made up our own version of the waltz and twirled our dates around the grassy field. And there was plenty of room for dancing, since the turnout seemed about on par with the previous rainy year’s attendance — it was no packed house. Even though the Ramblers were musically terrific, swapping accordion licks with double-fiddle two-steps in a Bob Wills-meets-the-swamp fusion, the night lacked the star quality and the on-stage exuberance of previous Spoleto finales, and the turnout seemed to show that.
The fireworks, however, were tremendous.