Now in its third year, High Water Festival curates a meaningful Lowcountry experience 

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Todd Cooper

The Shovels & Rope-curated High Water Festival is in its third year, and that’s a good sign that things are going swimmingly. What began as a What-If idea over drinks years ago is now — and has been, from the word go — a top-shelf culinary and music event ushering in big-name acts, like this year’s headliners Leon Bridges and the Head and the Heart.

But it’s not just the incredible lineup of music each year that works — it’s the festival’s boutique size, the diversity in artists, the lack of competing stages, and the inclusion of special Lowcountry touches, like local beer, chefs, and culinary experiences. It’s how High Water has partnered with local nonprofits like Water Mission, the Green Heart Project, and Charleston Waterkeeper to benefit surrounding communities. It’s watching Shovels & Rope serenade their hometown as they always have, only now it’s at dusk — the Ashley River providing vistas and breezes for days — in front of 10,000 fans. It’s all this and so much more.

So how did the ShoRo team manage to perfect a festival in its early stages?

“In the first couple of years, when things started going really well for [Shovels & Rope], and they were playing a lot of festivals — we couldn’t help but take notes,” says the duo’s manager and head honcho of all-things High Water, Paul Bannister (Dogwood Management). “In the first two to three years, they’d done the Coachellas and the Bonnaroos, all the way to the Pickathons and the Newports, the smaller, folkier festivals across the Southeast. We gleaned a lot from the things that were good and the things that weren’t.”

And then the wheels started turning: How nice would it be to do something like this in Charleston, they wondered.

“It’s obviously a destination city; people want to go to Charleston anyway,” Bannister explains. “But we also thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do something for all the bands that don’t tour through Charleston, all the bands you don’t get to see here. One of the many hopes is to get them here, for them to do well and find an audience here so they can return.”

It couldn’t hurt to bring some business closer to home, too. “There’s the reality of being gone all the time,” Bannister admits.

And so, with the help of AC Entertainment and their know-how, paired with Team ShoRo’s personal touches that are so endearingly Charleston-centric, High Water came to life in 2017. And we are here to reap the benefits. From the Low Tide Social kick-off event featuring local acts like the Garage Cuban Band and the Marshgrass Mamas (of which ShoRo’s Cary Ann Hearst is a member), freshly shucked local oysters, and a Lowcountry Boil to the festival’s local food vendors — like Lewis Barbecue, Roti Rolls, Verde, and Platia Food Truck — offering grub all weekend, it’s all designed to offer a little something that’s altogether unique.

Bannister says, “Ultimately, we wanted to do something here that felt meaningful.” That, it is.

Five highlights from High Water 2019 Day Two, including Shovels & Rope
Five highlights from High Water 2019 Day Two, including Shovels & Rope Tangled Up in Blue (Suits)

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Five (of the many) highlights from High Water 2019 Day One
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<i>By Blood</i> is Shovels & Rope's most "zero-fucks-given release yet"
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Q&A with Shovels & Rope
Q&A with Shovels & Rope

Shovels & Rope — Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent — have a ton going on this year, besides curating their High Water Festival. For starters, the husband-and-wife duo also welcomed their second child to the world and, last month, premiered live concert film (with a touching twist) Shovels & Rope: The Movie at the Charleston Film Festival. — Kelly Rae Smith


In High Water's third year, Pass the Peas promises "serious joy" with a locally crafted multi-course brunch
In High Water's third year, Pass the Peas promises "serious joy" with a locally crafted multi-course brunch Big flavor energy

"Music food and wine are three of the most heroic things in life and we should celebrate them together more," says Pass the Peas organizer Leigh-Ann Beverly. Whether that music is Echo playing Maggie Rogers on repeat or, for Larson, Ranky Tanky, more often than not it's the tunes that make the meal. "Pass the Peas, at the core of it, it's a celebration of the magic that happens when like minds break bread over music and food." — Mary Scott Hardaway


Lineup Announced: Leon Bridges, The Head and the Heart, Jenny Lewis among 2019 High Water Festival acts
Lineup Announced: Leon Bridges, The Head and the Heart, Jenny Lewis among 2019 High Water Festival acts It's good. It's real good.

It's time! The lineup for High Water Festival 2019 is here — and if you thought that Shovels & Rope, who founded the fest three years ago, would outdo themselves this year then you thought right. You thought absolutely right. — Kelly Rae Smith


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