City Paper overview critic Jon Santiago on his first time

So, that happened

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You remember your first time. Of course you do. It makes no difference if that first time was soul-stirring or less than stellar; breathtaking or just the tiniest bit uncomfortable. It doesn't matter if it was a little disorienting. Your first Spoleto is a game changer.

My first was a blind date, set up by City Paper. CP had hired me on within days of my feet hitting the pavement in the Holy City and by the time that year's Spoleto rolled around, at least some of the newly transplanted sheen had worn off me. I had five months on the job, one barely survived Best Of issue (and Best Of party) under my belt, and still no idea that a Lowcountry summer feels like getting slapped in the kisser with a dripping wet sponge.

I was to meet my blind date at the Galliard. Someone at CP must have reckoned that Buenos Aires-born me might hit it off with a Brazilian guitarist. And we did get along well enough, sure; but when the evening ended, it was not the Brazilian that lingered in my thoughts. The festival itself, the buzz in the crowd, the sense that a playful genie had stolen into town: those notions stayed with me.

Another year flew by. I was growing accustomed to my surroundings. I learned what "from off" means.

That year, 2008, was the year of Monkey: Journey to the West and Amistad but it was Happenstance Theatre's intimate Low Tide Hotel that got to me. I called the show a "valentine to wonder."

As I've come to know Spoleto better over the years, I find that much of what I wrote about Low Tide Hotel, applies equally to the festival. When Spoleto arrives, a gentle, springtime sort of madness embraces the Holy City. We get a little extra-spruced-up. We head out the door a little antsy.

This year, I'm looking forward to drinking in everything on offer. This year, as in years past, I know that there will be many moments when some festival event leaves me wondering, "Where have you been all my life?"

I'm looking forward to a whole string of blind dates.

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