2 May 2023
It’s appropriate that the Charleston Gaillard Center has the word “center” in its name. In many ways, The Gaillard is at the very center of the city’s cultural scene.The Gaillard is both historical and high-tech, blending perfectly into the landscape of Charleston. Its acoustics are superb. It’s gorgeous and elegant, providing the perfect stage for some of the top performers on the planet.
How do the performers describe it?
Keb' Mo' is an amazing blues musician, singer, guitarist and songwriter who’s been nominated for 13 Grammys and has won five. He performed to a packed crowd at the Gaillard back in 2021. While on stage between songs, he had this to say to the audience…
“Everything just sounds better in this place."
And then there’s the Steep Canyon Rangers. They’re a fantastic bluegrass band, also Grammy winners, who often perform with Steve Martin on banjo. Here’s what they said about the Gaillard…
“This has to be the most beautiful theater, not only in South Carolina, but in the whole Southeast.”
May 1st marks the announcement of the Gaillard’s new season, and it’s a great one. More about that in a minute. First, a bit of what the Gaillard is and how it came to be...
The modern Charleston Gaillard Center is made up of the Martha & John M. Rivers Performance Hall, with seating for 1,818, as well as the 16,000 square foot exhibition hall, plus three floors of offices for the City of Charleston. It was designed by a top team of architects, acousticians and theater consultants - Schwarz, Akustiks LLC, and Fisher Dachs Associates, respectively.
The Gaillard Center became a nonprofit in 2015. It is dedicated to the betterment of the community in a myriad of ways, like bringing classes and exposure to the performing arts to 30,000 school kids each year.
The Gaillard’s history
The Gaillard Municipal Auditorium and Exhibition Hall first opened way back in July of 1968. The original facility hit the ground running as the main performance/exhibit space in the region, complete with a 2,750 seat main auditorium and a flex-use exhibition hall.
For forty years, the original Gaillard was where all the big concerts, shows, events and conferences took place. In the early 1980’s, it became home to the Charleston Symphony, and it was a primary venue for the world famous Spoleto Festival right from its very beginning in 1977.
The Gaillard is named after longtime Charleston mayor John Palmer Gaillard, Jr., who served as Charleston’s mayor from 1959 through 1975, before the tenure of longtime mayor Joe Riley. During his time as mayor, he oversaw the annexation of West Ashley - which effectively doubled the size of the City of Charleston - as well as creation of the City Marina and the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium and Exhibition Hall.
A major reno
The Gaillard launched things to the next level with a massive, $142 million renovation about a decade ago. Half of the funding came from the City of Charleston and half from private donors. The two major visionaries behind the project were then-Mayor Joe Riley, and philanthropist Martha Rivers Ingram. Their goal: to create a truly world-class facility, fit for the world-class city Charleston had become.
Construction began in August of 2012 and was eventually completed in October of 2015. The end result was the glorious new Charleston Gaillard Center.
A surprising discovery during construction
In February of 2013, as construction workers were excavating for a foundation along Anson Street, they stumbled upon something quite unexpected - human remains. Work ceased on the spot until authorities (police and the coroner) were called in to investigate.
It turns out the remains were quite old and were those of 36 deceased ancestors of African descent. Historians and archaeologists soon joined the investigation. Although historical research continues, these “Gaillard Graves” were likely part of some sort of undocumented burial site. You can read much more about it on Nic Butler’s “Charleston Time Machine” report on the Charleston Library website, or listen to his terrific podcast on the subject.
To honor the memory of these unnamed individuals, the Gaillard is partnering with the Anson Street African Burial Ground Project to create an Anson African Burial Memorial. The centerpiece of the memorial will be a large fountain by artist Stephen Hayes, featuring cast hands honoring the 36 people who were discovered there. The memorial and fountain should be finished and dedicated later this year.
May 1st – The 2023-24 season is announced!
The new season has been officially unveiled. There’s a huge slate of more than 40 shows - concerts with Broadway performers, classical music, rock, country, blues, jazz, comedy, five different dance companies, off-Broadway shows, family fare, plus a very special theatrical production based on the life of a true Lowcountry hero.
Here’s just a sampling of what’s on tap this season:
· Lady A
· Lyle Lovett and his Large Band
· Don Felder (of The Eagles)
· Lowcountry Jazz Festival
· Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls
· Patti LuPone
· The Nashville Ballet
· Coco in Concert
· Madagascar the Musical
· Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience
· Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical
· Big Band Holidays
· The Illusionists
· Sutton Foster
· Vienna Boys Choir
· The Righteous Brothers
· An Intimate Evening with David Foster & Katharine McPhee
· Jagged Little Pill: The Musical
· Jurassic Park in Concert
· Ranky Tanky
Check out the full season here. Tickets go on sale to the public on Wednesday, May 10th. Tip: if you become a member of the Gaillard and support its fine work, you get early access to tickets.
So come to the Gaillard, and experience world-class performances in a stellar venue.
All best, Lowcountry Lisa
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger