As the warmer weather sneaks into the Lowcountry this month, many start anticipating the spring festival season around town.
From the Spring Jam Music Fest at Brittlebank Park later this month to the two-and-a-half week run of Spoleto Festival USA in May and June, there'll be plenty of bustling events to consider attending.
And while some festival's main events snag headlines and lure attention, it's often important to dig a little at times to seek out alternative happenings, late-night excursions and shows going on a bit off the beaten path.
This weekend, the annual BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival will explore and celebrate the Lowcountry's rich culinary scene with multiple events, especially in the restaurant rows of downtown Charleston. It's a full week of special events, food pairings, seminars and competitions.
For those who may not be enthralled by the fancy fare and vino of the Wine + Food Festival, there are plenty of other exciting, and affordable, options for entertainment in town through the next week.
Here are a few standout events taking place all over the greater Charleston area.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents Built To Amaze!
When: 7 p.m. Thursday; 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: North Charleston Coliseum, 5001 Coliseum Drive
Still billed as "the greatest show on earth," the popular, long-running Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus brings its Built To Amaze! production to the North Charleston Coliseum.
Designed with an ambitious concept, it allows the audience to see the show getting built and constructed as it progresses.
As part of the 143rd edition, Built To Amaze! starts out with a bare stage and gradually adds set pieces and mini stages as each act performs. There'll be a continual string of clowns, trapeze artists, costumed acrobats, flashy athletes and carefully choreographed dance troupes.
"Surprise and wonder delights audiences with over-the-top feats of strength, agility and courage. As the momentum builds so does the anticipation, anything can happen," the circus's press release states.
High-wire acts, acrobatic basketball players, horseback riders, elephants ... this family-friendly show could very well be one of the most memorable of the year.
When: Thursday, doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Music Farm, 32 Ann St.
Located in a spacious, historic building on Ann Street (between Meeting and King streets), the Music Farm is one of Charleston's biggest and longest-running live music venues.
Easily accessible from the restaurant and bar scene along King Street, it regularly draws young music fans and visitors with an eclectic variety of alternative rock, pop, reggae, electronic, metal and Americana acts.
On Thursday, acclaimed singer/songwriter ZZ Ward (short for Zsuzsanna Eva Ward) will headline a show with support from Grizfolk and The O' My's.
Based in Los Angeles, Ward handles guitar, piano, harmonica and vocals within a cool blend of electric blues, modern hip-hop, rock and neo-soul on her debut studio album, "Til the Casket Drops."
Ward has toured through Charleston and performed at local clubs several times in recent years. The buzz is that she's an engaging, intense, sultry performer with great vocal range and a terrific sense of drama and showmanship; something she's sure to show off when she performs at Coachella and Bonnaroo later this year.
She sounds confident on the 13-song "Til the Casket Drops," switching from fluid rap and spoken word to more exotic singing styles, so she's worth a listen.
When: Thursday, doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Charleston Music Hall
If the rock, hip-hop and soul going down at the Music Farm doesn't sound inviting, an evening of high-spirited Celtic music a block away at the Charleston Music Hall might appeal.
Led by veteran songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, Philadelphia-based Irish-American folk-rock troupe Solas will return to the large, seated venue Thursday for two sets of traditional fare and originals.
On the band's new album, "Shamrock City," a dynamic, thematic group of songs set in Butte, Mont., in the 1910s, Egan handles the banjo, mandolin, low whistle and acoustic guitar alongside bandmates Winifred Horan (fiddle), Mick McAuley (vocals, accordion, guitar), Eamon McElholm (guitar, vocals, electric bass, keyboards) and Niamh Varian-Barry (vocals, viola).
Special guests on the album include Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Aoife O'Donovan of Crooked Still.
As a conceptual album, "Shamrock City" explores Egan's own family's immigration story of copper mining, struggle, crime, dignity and redemption. It's a bold leap from playing traditional tavern songs and Celtic ditties.
"There's certainly a fascination with how Irish music and Scottish music arrived there and made its way up into the Appalachians," Egan says. "It came over as pure drop (the real thing) and then blended in that part of the world. It became part of what we now know as Appalachian music, and it became a part of bluegrass and country. The influence of Celtic music on American music and thistle music, that bloodline doesn't go back very far."
Local acoustic duo Banna de Dha - fiddler Tom Morley and singer/guitarist Hazel Ketchum - open the show.
Dusty Slay's Homegrown Stand-Up Showcase
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St.
There's a vibrant and thriving comedy scene in the Lowcountry these days with a wild variety of stand-up comics, improvisers and sketch performers hitting the stages from season to season.
The scene has caught the attention of national touring comedians and improv troupes, and the loyal local audiences regularly show support and interest.
One of Charleston's most popular stand-up comics these days is Dusty Slay, a good ol' boy with a dry wit and deadpan delivery.
Slay started out in the local stand-up scene during the early 2000s. He enrolled in improv classes at Theatre 99 before hitting a few of the local open mics and comedy showcases. He quickly solidified his material and developed his distinctive style.
In 2011, Slay snagged first place in the Charleston Comedy Festival Stand Up Competition at Theatre 99. Encouraged and empowered, he ventured out farther as a professional comedian, booking several tours and hosting his own open mic series downtown at Big Gun Burger.
In 2012, Slay again won the Charleston Comedy Festival Stand Up Competition before kicking off a series of Charleston-based stand-up comedy shows, billed as Dusty Slay's Homegrown Stand-Up Showcase.
Held at Theatre 99, they offer an amusing mix of styles. Every season, comedians and comedy fans alike pack into the cozy theater to watch and vote for some of the funniest performers. Each series features a new cast of comics.
Ladies' Arm Wrestling Tournament
When: Saturday, doors open at 8 p.m. with tournament registration ending at 10 p.m. and the competition starting at 10:30 p.m.
Where: Tin Roof, 1117 Magnolia Road
Price: $7 admission, $3 to register
West Ashley's Tin Roof has the look of a dive bar, the vibe of a great indie rock club, and the spirit of optimism and inclusiveness. It's a great hotspot for independent music, cheap beer, clever cocktails and alternative culture.
Each month, the Tin Roof books a slew of local and touring bands to perform on its tiny stage, but they also present unique performances, fundraisers and tastings.
On Saturday, it will welcome the team behind the Trans Love Fund back to the main room for the Ladies' Arm Wrestling Tournament, a fun mixed-gender competition aimed at raising money and awareness for transgender youth.
The Trans Love Fund hosted its first-ever event at the Tin Roof in December to raise funds and support for a local 14-year-old transgender girl who'd been recently denied coverage of her hormone suppression medication by an insurance company. The event sold out and raised more than the $1,500 necessary to cover one of her quarterly treatments.
Saturday's events will feature dance-off duels, thumb wrestling, and leg and arm wrestling matches.
Charleston singer-songwriter Lily Slay of the Royal Tinfoil will emcee and referee the event. Local spinner DJ Lanatron will host the late-night dance party after the winners are announced.
When: Wednesday and March 13, shows are at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. both days with doors opening an hour before each show
Where: Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St.
Young comedian and actor Aziz Ansari, a South Carolina native, will be back in the Lowcountry next week for two nights of stand-up action.
Known best among TV viewers as part of the cast of NBC's "Parks and Recreation," Ansari has a loyal audience for his spiky, high-energy stand-up comedy, as well.
Ansari started doing stand-up and sketch comedy in New York City in the early 2000s while attending New York University.
In the late 2000s, he started landing roles on HBO's "The Flight of the Conchords" and performed alongside Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel on the sketch comedy show "Human Giant" on MTV. Ansari also landed acting roles in feature films, including "Funny People," "I Love You, Man," "Observe and Report" and "30 Minutes or Less."
As a stand-up, Ansari released his debut CD/DVD, "Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening," in 2010 via Comedy Central Records. He recently completed his third major tour of new material, "Buried Alive," in 2013.
In 2012, Ansari's stand-up shows at the Charleston Music Hall and Theatre 99 sold out quickly. Tickets for his two Wednesday night sets at the Charleston Music Hall have sold fast, too, so the venue recently added an additional two shows on March 13.