South Carolina’s lack of dominant metro areas — its biggest city, Columbia , isn’t really that big — means that its original patchwork of small communities is more or less intact. And of course the whole state’s got that Southern Gothic thing going for it.
This translates into the fact that nearly every town seems to have its own trademark festival or event. In some cases the festivals celebrate important local crops or products, sometimes long after said crops and products have faded into irrelevance. In other cases the events have grown out of a more basic desire to jumpstart tourism.
In any case, laugh all you want, but many of them are quite well-attended and successful. Here is but a partial list of South Carolina ’s many offbeat local festivals.
No discussion of offbeat festivals in the Palmetto State is complete without a long mention of the Miss South Carolina (rotating venues, 864/843-9090, http://misssouthcarolina.com , $30–40 per night, $125 combo tickets for both pageants) beauty pageant. Held each July — the most recent was in North Charleston, though the preceding several were in Spartanburg — this event is where every Miss South Carolina and Miss South Carolina Teen is crowned. (The latter title has gained pop culture notoriety in the wake of Caitlin Upton’s unfortunate YouTube-topping performance at the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant, in which she referenced “U.S. Americans” and “the Iraq,” among other malapropisms.)
This is a great place to soak in the Southern beauty pageant culture in all its maudlin glory: the smiles, the tears, the talent competition, the wearing of high heels with bikinis. Local papers throughout South Carolina report the ongoing results of the multi-day competition as the Washington Post might report on a key vote in Congress. One thing you won’t find at this pageant is the stereotypical “big hair” and caked-on makeup of legend. Pageants like this one have become major breeding grounds for future modeling and show-biz stars — Vanessa Minnillo is a former Miss South Carolina Teen — and the contestants’ hairstyles and makeup are state-of-the-art (though certainly nowhere close to edgy).