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Whether or not it's your cup of tea, Spoleto Festival USA has been sparking dialogue, provoking debate, and offering commentary on art and culture since 1977. It has championed brilliant (and sometimes baffling) work, captivated an international audience year after year, and garnered a healthy share of deserved acclaim. But in addition to lighting up local stages with its esoteric fare for 17 days and nights every spring, Spoleto ignites the fête set's zeal to party hearty. Patrons plan, host, and attend scores of annual affairs for which the festival is the official beneficiary. And this is, after all, the party report, so let's get down to business.

The scene on Friday night at the official kick-off of the 2010 Spoleto party circuit—La Dolce Vita auction—was festive but a shade subdued compared to years past when vignette-style themes gave rise to whimsical attire or an aura of theatricality on par with the innovative festival. The cue was pearls, a nod to the gift traditionally associated with a 30th anniversary (the milestone number marked by this year's auction). A triple strand of cherry tomato-sized gems valued at $30,000 was by far the most eye-popping auction lot of the night.

Designed for noted goldsmith Arthur King, whose intricate wax casting techniques and shops in New York, London, Miami, Paris and Havana made him the toast of the 1960 - 70s jet set echelon, the necklace is a fabulous piece of avant-garde wearable art. Photos of the prized pearls popped up on Facebook the day following the auction, although it's not clear as to who now owns the majestic necklace. Perhaps the one-of-a-kind treasure will make an appearance at the festival's opening weekend gala.

Apparel was decidedly more eclectic than conservative cocktail, which was delicious fun (We're looking at you, Peggy Lewis, Annie Stone, Sue Soderlund, Callie White, Denise Barto, Carolyn Matalene, and Meredith Dunnan).

Lynn Hanlin wore a gorgeous coin-pearl necklace from Dixie Dunbar Studio, which she won at a previous Spoleto auction, while Gil Evans successfully defeated the other silent auction bidders vying for a necklace donated by The Finicky Filly (perhaps it will adorn the neck of the lucky recipient at next year's auction)!

Amid the legion of veteran supporters whose faces are synonymous with Spoleto parties were two fresh spirits: the heavily bearded Michael James Moran and the beautiful Sally King Benedict. A piece of Moran's bespoke woodworking—a nine-foot cherry wood dining table—and King's original painting, which served as the auction's signature work, each fetched a handsome sum in the live auction.

The auditorium had been divided into two rooms, framework that sustained the progressive nature of the evening. Once the silent auction ended in the recessed portion of the room, guests were directed to the tiered seating side of the auditorium. "Sitting in the audience" during the live auction felt like foreshadowing for the U.S. premiere of This is What Happens Next, which opens on June 1 at Memminger.

We love hearing patron Denise Barto's Spoleto memories: Ella Fitzgerald singing in the Cistern at midnight, talking til dawn with Karen Kandel, and sipping champagne with every noted musician, dancer, playwright, and socialite to breeze through town May - June. What about YOU? What is your favorite Spoleto memory? Head over to our Facebook page and tell us your favorite memory or what you're looking forward to experiencing this year.

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