Day Trips: Spotlight on Upstate culture, cuisine at Artisphere

Artisphere – May 13-15 in downtown Greenville, S.C. – celebrates the arts and cuisine of the Upstate.
Artisphere – May 13-15 in downtown Greenville, S.C. – celebrates the arts and cuisine of the Upstate.

A case can be easily made that Greenville, S.C., is Asheville south of N.C. line. Similar Southern Appalachian climate, a well-preserved and bustling downtown, a college-friendly vibe, etc.

Asheville has the outdoors and summer-long Shindig on the Green music series. Warm-weather Greenville has the Upstate Shakespeare Festival, staged in Falls Park, and an under-the-big-top Chautauqua.

And Greenville has Artisphere, which wraps food music and arts into one enormous package May 13-15. It runs along the heart of Main Street, from the West End Historic District, across the Reedy River and to Greenville’s city hall.

The six- or seven-block venue itself sets the tone. Faced with a declining and dowdy downtown a couple decades ago, Greenville narrowed Main Street by widening its sidewalk and adding pedestrian-friendly flourishes, like decorative trees lit with lights yearround, the amazing pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge and series of well-groomed trails linking Falls Park to other locations along the river.

A great destination any time of year, the free-admission Artisphere is a heavy topping of great frosting.

There are four stages: One all-music, one with acoustic music, one with a mix of music, theater and dance. The fourth, Art in Action, is given over to performance painter Brian Olsen whose metier is large portraits of celebrities – executed as entertainment (choreographed to music).

A trio of “artist rows” on different sections of Main Street with 135 artist-staffed booths featuring photography, painting, sculpture, glass, ceramics, digital art and more.

An outdoor Wine & Craft Beer Experience all three days lets you sample and savor in the sun; five tastes is $10.

STEAM, an outreach exhibit by nearby Clemson University, has faculty and students showcasing sciences, engineering and the arts through interactive displays, demos and activities. (A great souvenir from this? An infrared selfie.)

There’s a Kidsphere area with fine arts activities for youngsters (they can make their own super hero masks, for instance), an Art Lab where you can watch artists at work and also try your hand at what they do, and an Artist Demo Row on the Main Street bridge where you can see glassblowers, printmakers, woodworkers and other artisans in action.

The Culinary Arts Cafe, at East Broad Street, offers fare from eight local restaurants: The Trappe Door, Barley’s, Larkin’s on the River, Stick Fingers, Brazwells, Gringos, Babaziki and Mimi’s Steakhouse of Japan.

No hot dog purveyors in this lineup, but the range of fare is boggling: an array of specialty tacos, pitas and pizzas, etc. Sliders alone include those made with conventional burgers as well as short ribs and bison.

John Bordsen: 704-358-5251

Want to go?

Artisphere is May 13-15 along Main Street in downtown Greenville, S.C. – less than two hours southwest of Charlotte, via I-85. Details: Area info: