Friday, June 30, 2006

Diggin' Devaughn

Raheem Devaughn continues to impress. On his CD the most of the songs blend together and the tempo isn't varied enough. His live performances, however, are a must see. The diminutive singer's energy fills the stage. (And Amos' has a big stage). He's the sensual thug lover with his tattooed arms and cornrows. He's stepped up his show since I last saw him at Tonic. He has a four-piece band, two background singers and a painter. Yes a painter. It sounds too gimmicky, but it worked. He painted a piece with the Bobcats and Panthers logos.

Devaughn stretched and wound songs off "Love Experience" into more than an hour-long set. He didn't just stretch his songs into jams, but tossed in soul staples such as Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind and Fire. He even threw in a go-go set and, of course, he got on the floor and danced with the ladies. After the show he signed autographs and posed for pictures for about an hour.

Thursday's show drew a who's who of the neo-soul scene: DJ Stacy Blackman, promoter Thomas Washington, Brian Springs of Groove Records, WBAV's Letha Taylor and Tempo's Juamane were a few of the folks in there.

Oh, I can’t forget J.C. He put it down as the MC and DJ D.R. gave fans a blazing' mixing of old school hip-hop, dancehall reggae and go-go.

The new Amos' Southend

Amos' Southend is the now the best live venue for big shows. I finally got a chance to see the remodeled space on Thursday night for the Raheem Devaughn show. Devaughn was as good as expected, but I was blown away by the changes at Amos'. It's hard to imagine it's the same space. The inside was completely gutted and to ceiling raised to show exposed wood beams. It's so high you could shoot basketball inside. The stage is twice as big and takes up one wall.

The dance floor or stage viewing area stretches from the front wall to the rear, and the upstairs is completely different. It consists of balconies on both sides that overlook the floor and stage. There's a bar upstairs on the far wall. The bar downstairs wraps down one wall and there's another bar on the far wall.

The capacity is like 1,500 so even if there's a line outside, there's plenty of room inside. For example, did you go to the matchbox twenty or the Roots concert at Tremont? Remember how stifling and packed it was? Those shows would fit comfortable in Amos' now.

Oh, there aren't any chairs yet, but owner John Ellison said he'll be getting some chairs and tables soon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bobby Brown getting down

After seeing Bobby Brown's various escapades on television, I wasn't sure what to expect live. On Saturday, he hosted Big O's Celebrity Birthday Bash at Studio 74. The crowd was lighter than I anticipated, and was lethargic until Bobby got on the mike.

He arrived about 12:45 a.m. and after chilling and eating in the VIP room, he joined the party. Bobby was a surprisingly fun host. He sang along to "My Prerogative" and "Every Little Step."

Since Bobby musical career was mostly in the '90s, the DJ spun a lot of '90s hip-hop. Bobby sang along with most of what the DJ spun, and he cajoled the crowd into dancing instead of standing around. He posed for pictures and the men were surprisingly as excited as the women. Okay, the guy didn’t scream, but I saw several guys doing old New Edition steps. By 1:30 a.m., Bobby joined the ladies on stage for some grind time.

I was impressed. Often celebrity hosts say a quick what's up and retreat to the VIP, but Bobby got down with everybody and turned what could have been a weak party into something memorable.

No, Whitney didn't show.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Time to eat

I originally went to Macleod's because I figured an Irish bar would have good fish and chips, but by the time I arrived the kitchen was closed. When I left World Grotto about 1 a.m., I was starving so I headed down to the Strip in search of Jimmy John's. The waitress at the Urban Bar and Corner Cafe said Jimmy John's had the best sandwiches and stayed open late.

I found the spot easily enough and was relieved that there wasn't a line. It's a sub shop with fancy names for typical sandwiches. For example, I ordered the Vito, an Italian sub. The food was decent and considering that I paid $3.75 for an eight-inch sub, I was ecstatic. Their giant sandwiches were only a $1 more. Heck, their Jimmy John's potato chips were only 75 cents and they were yummy too. If you're in Knoxville and doing the late night thing, I highly recommend Jimmy John's.

Oh, did I mention that clubs here stay open until 3 a.m. and the bars have a real happy hour, typically from 3-7 p.m. In North Carolina, drinks prices must remain fixed all day so happy hour is based on food specials. Oh, and gas is 20 cents cheaper per gallon here too.

Today, I'm headed to Soccer Taco to watch World Cup. Oh, and to the bike rally.

My kind of place

After Macleod's I headed up the block to World Grotto, and that was a whole other experience. See for yourself:

The concept is a little forced, but the energy was undeniable. World Grotto is a middle-Eastern themed nightclub, marketplace and gallery. On the first level it's a gallery with exhibits and downstairs is a spacious club with a dance floor, stage, bar, lounge and huge VIP lounge. I say the concept is forced because the downstairs is made of faux rocks to give you the feeling that you're in a cave. The furniture is cushioned benches covered in exotic fabrics and pillows. Still, it's something different and I like different.

While I wasn't feeling the whole incense-burning, fountain nightclub theme, I loved DJ Slink. Just when I was ready to leave he put on an electronica-backed mix of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" followed by Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money" then Gorillaz's "Dare" followed by the Police's "Message In a Bottle."

No one in Charlotte spins like that. No one.

I would love to have Slink spin in Charlotte, but we'd need to transport the World Grotto partiers to Charlotte. They are what made World Grotto so eclectic. I saw spiked hair, peasant skirts, baggy cargo shorts and studded belts. A break from the khaki and button down or strapless and spandex uniform of Charlotte nightlife.

There were breakdancers, twirly-whirly jam-band girls and rising video vixen. Men and women danced together or by themselves, but they danced. The floor stayed busy, but if a particular song came on, someone would ultimately step into a clear area and groove. For example, a strutted onto the floor, spun around on his back a couple of times, two-stepped, spun some and then walked off the floor, like what!

Do you think a place like World Grotto would make it in Charlotte or is the city way too stiff? We have several colleges here but don't have that eclectic energy in our nightlife. College nights in Charlotte are meat-market, drunk fests. And most of the times, it's older men trying to pick up college-aged girls.

Crunk karaoke

After the concert ended, I walked around Market Square trying to decide where I wanted to eat. Earlier, I stopped by a brewery, but I wasn't feeling the crowd. It felt too much like Charlotte and I was in the mood for something different. I walked past Macleod's Restaurant & Pub and saw a packed house and a gaggle of people on stage doing karaoke. I stopped there.

Before I could get to the bar, two guys asked to touch my hair. We talked for a minute and I turned around and another guy wanted to stroke the hawk. I ended up hanging out with a guy named Terry Massey and his friends, and couple of guys from the Knoxville NBC affiliate TV station.

Karaoke annoys me because I loathe bad singing, but Macleod's was nuts. The only time I've seen karaoke this hype was black night at Wet Willies in Memphis, but this was even better. Groups of college-aged partiers got on stage and sang. The crowd danced and sang as if a DJ was spinning their favorite tunes. Most of the songs were country and rock. A cute old man hanging out to. He looked like somebody's grandaddy, but he was chilling on stage singing and flirting with the young girls. Go ahead daddy!

The vibe was so rowdy that I didn't mind the bad singing, and trust me some of it was real bad.

I've been to Yellow Rose at Touchstone in south Charlotte on a week night and Dixie's Tavern on a Monday, but I've never seen karaoke as hype as Macleod's. Where's the best karaoke bar in Charlotte? And what night should I go?

Getting' down in the Square

We walked toward the music and saw a throng of people stretching for at least two blocks. We were looking for a restaurant and stumbled on the Sun Down Concert Series, a free outdoor concert series on Thursdays.

I had to stop.

It's kind of like our Alive After Five, but way bigger. They've got big-time sponsors such as Regal Entertainment, the City of Knoxville, Pilot and of course Budweiser. Music ranges from lesser known acts such as Thursdays Rhett Miller and the Believers to such as their April kick off band Little Feat. See their lineup at

The series starts in April and runs through June. It picks up again in September and it's called Autumn on the Square. The lineup for that includes Donna and the Buffalo, the Guards and Blues Traveler.

Both events are in the Square's shopping and restaurant district in downtown Knoxville. Several restaurants had their doors open and let people sit on their patios. A few shops were open as well. At least a dozen vendors sold funnel cakes, beer and hotdogs. People trying to organize a skatepark were out as well soliciting donations.

What impressed me more than the size and quality of the acts were the people hanging out. Our outdoor concerts, okay most events in Charlotte, tend to draw the same yuppie young professionals, but Knoxville was more eclectic. Walking toward the stage I saw a punk crew and a guy with a Mohawk, I passed the skatepark people, a group of young men and women playing hackysack and young parents with kids. The wine and cheese folks sat in the restaurant patios watching the performance. I met a lady name Karol Hamilton who was dancing her head off and says she has a brother who lives in Charlotte and she travels to Charlotte to shop.

I didn't know anything about Rhett Miller and wasn't overly impressed with his music, but I Ioved crowd's energy was contagious so I hung out there before I discovered a karaoke bar...

Hoot it up

I would pick the hottest day of the year to ride down to Knoxville for the annual Honda Hoot motorcycle rally. By the time my buddy Anne and I arrived at our hotel, we were drenched and exhausted. This rally used to be in Asheville, but because of its increasing size and Anne says politics in Asheville, organizers moved it to Knoxville a few years ago. It's scheduled to be here until 2009.

Since we were tired when we arrived Thursday afternoon, we skipped the motorcycle events. We waited for the heat to abate and hit the streets. This is my first time in Knoxville. Since I'm an Alabama grad, I was anxious to see the home of the Crimson Tide's rival, University of Tennessee.

I love Alabama, but I have to admit going to college in the town the size of Knoxville would have been fun. The Strip gives you the college town feel, but places such as Old City and Market Square make it feel more like a real city. Tuscaloosa is a college town period. When I was at Alabama there was nothing to do but hang out on the strip or go to college parties.

Our first stop was Old City. It's a cool historic area that reminds me of the French Quarter, but not nearly as many interesting people. We had a couple of drinks at the Urban Bar and Corner Cafe. The place was huge with three rooms and a patio on the street. It had exposed brick and would've been a killer place to hang, but it was totally dead. So, we headed to Market Square a couple of miles away.

Have any of you all been to Knoxville? How does it compare to Charlotte? Although, it was dead I dig Old City area. Post your replies below.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We R Family

On Friday, we decided to find the gay nightlife. Quepos was surprisingly gay friendly. Hotel Casablanca had a big rainbow flag painted on the fence and the clerk gave us a guide to local gay establishments.

After dinner at El Avion, a restaurant with a giant plane in the middle of it, we stopped by the Bat Cave. It was a lounge carved out of rock in the La Mansion Inn. The place was cramped, but there was a narrow bar and a slightly more spacious lounge area in the back. Unfortunately, the Bat Cave was dead.

We heard the party was down the road in Manuel Antonio at the beach. We stopped by Coconuts on the beach, but that was a typical college crowd. We did run into our friend from Austin though.

We finished the night at Bar Tutu, the bar above our hotel restaurant. The place was cute. It was a rooftop club with a pool, spacious dance floor and the largest bar we’d seen all week. The music was techno, and as usual it was mostly guys.

Saturday morning we stumbled onto our favorite find. Latifah was fed up with the complimentary rice, beans and eggs for breakfast so we went out to eat. We ended up at Picasso Cafe.

The menu hooked us - eggs benedict, crepes, Belgian waffles and omelets. We also met the owner, a gay guy from Canada. He was another one of the folks who visited Costa Rica once, went home, packed his stuff and bounced.

We left his cafe with full bellies and bags of coffee, maple syrup from Quebec and wine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mas magaritas

After driving through winding narrow mountain roads in a foggy downpour, we arrived in Quepos Wednesday afternoon. I was ready to hit the nearest bar, and we wound up at Dos Locos.

I have to admit, I made a rookie partying mistake. I partied so hard on Wednesday night that it took my body three days to recuperate. I don’t want to see another margarita or bowl of guacamole anytime soon.

My night consisted of singing Johnny Cash with a duo in front the bar, jumping into the photo with two girls from Canada (I gave them some money and promised to e-mail them a cute shot I took of them), and buying college students from the University of Texas a pitcher of margaritas.

Me, Sass and Latifah met a Dallas Cowboys fan from Austin, Texas. He was vacationing with his wife and two sons. After the necessary trash-talking we hit it off well. We also met a guy from Rocky Mount, N.C. He visited Quepos once, loved it and moved there when he retired. We met a lot of people like that.

Before the night ended, Latifah ended up dancing with the most arrogant and annoying little guy. And Sass had a conversation in Thai with the little guy’s wingman. She didn’t really like him either.

I loved everybody.

Friends and hot boys

After mojitos at La Guagua, we caught a cab to Friends in El Pueblo, about 15 minutes away. The club was in a tourist district with souvenir shops and restaurants. The place was tiny, maybe half the size of Liquid Lounge. And they had the nerve run a fog machine.

When you walked in, there were bistro tables and a bar. Down a few steps were more tables, a DJ booth and a stage. Since it was ladies night we got $2 admission and a free rum and coke. We arrived about 9:30 p.m. and the place was kind of dead, but about an hour later it started to fill up. You know how people here buy bottles of champagne, well over there people bought bottles of liquor, which is more common in our VIP areas.

The partiers were a mix of tourists, we met a guy from New York and some college students, and locals. By 10:30 p.m. the hot boys came. It was two guys dressed in black who stood onstage and shook their bootys and hips. They were sexy though because they could actually dance and move their hips like salsa dancers compared to male exotic dancers here who just wind their pelvis.

By 11 p.m. we were pooped. We’d been going hard all day and Costa Rica is two hours behind Charlotte, so it felt like 1 a.m.

We headed back to the hotel and prepped for our next adventure -- road trip to Quepos.

Cigars and mojitos

While Latifah and I sipped our margaritas, Sass hungrily eyed the Cuban restaurant across the parking lot, La Guagua. She drooled at the thought of Cuban cigars. After we polished off our second margarita, we headed across the street.

At the bar, we met Dennis. He had a twinkle in his eye and a mojito in his hand. We ordered a round and joined him. He spoke about as much English as we spoke Spanish so we got along well.
If you've ever had mojitos made with mint from those Harris Teeter packages, you're wasting your time. Carlos, the bartender, pulled out a shoebox-size container of fresh mint leaves. I started grinning. When he mixed the mojitos, he ground the leaves in the glass. Oh my goodness. We sucked the first one down like it was water. He had our next round prepped and ready.

We peppered Dennis, who seemed to be a regular, Carlos and the other staffers with questions about where to hang. We cracked opened their humidor and bought cigars. It was a Tuesday night and we had the place to ourselves. A waiter asked me if I liked rap music. He said he liked .50 Cent and Tupac. I pulled out my iPod and let him listen to "It's Goin' Down" by Yung Joc and "Poppin' My Collar" by Three 6 Mafia. I didn't bring cables to run my iPod through their stereo, but the waiter turned off the Cuban music and put on some .50 and Bob Marley.

I sipped my mojito, smoked my cigar and knew it was going to be a good week.

Guess who we saw

After eating dinner at La Cocina de Lena in San Jose near our hotel, we headed to Plaza Itskatzu in Escazu. It has high-end shoppes and restaurants about 15 minutes away from the capital city of San Jose. Restaurants included Hooters and Outback Steakhouse. I know this sounds crazy, but by Saturday after a week of rice and beans, I was actually salivating over some Hooters chicken wings, but I'll save that story for later.

We stopped at Restuarante Mundo and ran into a dude from Charlotte. No lie. His name is Toby McGarry and you might remember him from his days at Phat Burrito when it first opened. Well, he's now a part-owner of Mundo. Think of Cosmos' vibe in a smaller space.

After leaving Charlotte, McGarry said he bounced around the world at different restaurants and then landed in Costa Rica. He still has a house with his sister in Charlotte. We arrived Tuesday, two days before the grand opening of Mundo. Since we were heading to Quepos the next day, we promised to return to Mundo later that week.

Next we headed to Mas Tikila. It was happy hour, which meant half-priced margaritas. That's what I'm talking about. We had a few drinks there and I met an American who used to play basketball in Costa Rica. He told us the place to party was Friends in El Pueblo, about 15 minutes away. It was ladies' night.

But first mojitos...

I'm addicted

My first real trip out of the country was Costa Rica last week. I went to Cozumel, Mexico, on a cruise, but one day in a tourist town doesn't count.

Costa Rica was the real deal - six days with an SUV, a full tank of gas and two friends who spoke little Spanish. Winding through the mountains, down neighborhood streets, past churches and strips of stores, we got lost more times than I can remember. We stopped every few miles to make sure we were going the right way. Sometimes we were. Often we weren't.

I can't wait to fumble my way through another city in a land far, far away. Interacting with the people gave me an even better appreciation for the challenges immigrants and tourists face here. Luckily, most Costa Ricans were patient with our horrible Spanish and taught us a few words as well. Borracha (drunk), goma (hung over) and pica flor (player pimp). (You'll learn why we needed to know those words in other blog entries.)

We visited San Jose, the capital, and Quepos and Manuel Antonio, about three hours south on the Pacific coast. We could barely drive through the mountains without pulling over and snapping pictures of the valleys below.

My friend Sass wanted to stop at every fruit stand. Latifah was in search of restaurants that served whole fish fried or grilled. I wanted to find the party. We did those things and more.

This trip will be my first of a lifetime of annual trips overseas. My goal is to do outdoor adventures and find the best parties.

Have you traveled internationally? If so, what's your favorite party city and what's the name of the bar?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Headed to the beach

I'm in Costa Rica until June 18 so I won't be blogging this week. I plan to return with lots of stories -- some appropriate for the newspaper and hopefully way more that aren't.


R men with painted nails sexy?

I was at the Spot last week watching rapper Wolly Vinyl perform when I noticed he painted a couple of fingernails black. I'd never seen rapper with painted fingernails and I thought it was kinda cute. Vinyl is the second guy I know outside of the rock/goth world who paints one or two nails. The other is poet Maze Forever.

So, I'm wondering for the ladies, would you date a guy with painted nails and are there rules to men painting their nails? Can they only paint one or two nails and is it okay if the polish is chipped? Can they paint their nails any color or is black the only appropriate hue?

Friday, June 09, 2006

I always get wet

I don’t know what’s up, but every time I go to a Vanilla Ice show I get soaked. When he performed at Amos’ Southend a few years ago, a chick spilled beer down my shirt. Last night at ML, a new nightclub in Concord, Vanilla sprayed me.

I’m taking pictures near the stage when the rapper-turned-rocker empties water from his bottle onto the crowd. It wasn’t a one-time thing. He had a case of water.

Here’s my night: I approach the stage, snap some shots of Ice then try to duck before he throws water on the audience. I’m not sure what was worse, wiping off my camera and watch (neither were water-resistant) every few minutes or watching guys sprint to get the bottles Ice tossed on the floor. I mean come on, it’s Vanilla Ice. What are you going to do, show the water bottle to your friends and say Vanilla Ice touched it? Please.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I got elbowed in the jaw. I wasn’t paying attention and once again I ended up in the middle of a mosh pit. Although, this wasn’t the typical hardcore punk mosh like you’d see at the Milestone. I like those guys, they’re into the music and moshing is a way to express their love for the artist. The moshers at ML acted like they had something to prove. They were walking around poking their chests out as if to say, “Who wants some?” That was corny and besides, who moshes to Vanilla Ice?

Ice was animated, but if you went expecting a rap show you would have been disappointed. He did a hardcore rock set and threw in “Ice Ice Baby” and a couple of other rap songs to please his old school fans. He gave fans just enough rap to get a couple of people breakdancing so that was cool.

I interviewed him afterwards, and he was surprisingly nice. I asked him what was up with throwing water. He said he cools the crowd off. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there were only a couple of hundred people there so overheating wasn’t a problem. To hear my full interview with him log on to the Paid to Party For Your Ear on Wednesday.

A new spot

A new spot
The Vanilla Ice show was my first time at ML, which is part of a Mexican restaurant about five miles past Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord. It’s a hike getting out there, but for the right act, it’s worth the drive.

The place is huge with a large dance floor, a raised stage and a booming sound system. It’s perfect for rock, metal and reggae acts. There’s seating around the main dance floor and a projector screen. The capacity is 1,500. They only had one bar open, which is all they needed for the crowd of about 200 people on Thursday. If they ever have a show that draws a capacity crowd, they’re going to need another bar and some beer tubs. They will also need more parking.

The manager Jose moved here from Las Vegas about three months ago. He has a lot of big ideas about who he wants to bring to the club and what he wants to do with the space. He’s energetic and is working with Red Tottle, formerly of the Beat radio station. With his energy and her connections, they should be able to make some things happen. Jose wants to bring Pink, Three Six Mafia and My Chemical Romance. If he can pull it off I’ll be there. We’ll see.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What's happening in the clubs

Club owners have been moving and shaking for the last couple of weeks.
Thing have finally calmed down at the former home of the Steeple at Central and Pecan. It’s newest owners and management group re-opened it as The Spot, formerly the Goblin, this past weekend.
Former Room owner Mike Morelli is booking acts and he relaunched the Monday night, hip-hop open mic from the Room. They will also have Metal Matinee on Sundays. I have to give the new crew credit for adding the personality that’s been missing since Steeple closed. I hope they did a sage burn to kill the negative energy.
Notik 1 did graffiti on several walls. It’s is a mix of hip-hop style stuff as well as video games characters. Ms. Pacman chases Pacman along the walls of the video game room. They have Space Invaders. Yay!
Upstairs is still under renovation. It’s going to be a lounge with a board game room that will include an Xbox.
Not angry, but still has ales
The original owners of Angry Ale’s in Charlotte are out of here. They sold the one on Montford Drive to Charlotte bar scene newcomers Tom and Mike Henson. Picasso’s owner Don Burgoon bought Angry Ale’s uptown and will re-open it as Picasso’s in about a month.
After the disastrous canceling of the Roots show at the last minute, Amos’ Southend is back and bigger. The club re-opens with Sister Hazel tonight. Raheem DeVaughn is June 29 and PM Dawn on June 30.
I’m glad to have Amos’ back. Now, that Amos’ is bigger. What kind of acts would you like to see there? They were mostly a cover band bar before, but more space means infinite potential.

Monday, June 05, 2006

They got me good

I’m trying to convince my girl to order some chicken wings and a movie, but she insists on going out to dinner and meeting a couple of friends for drinks. It’s a Thursday night and I’m heading to Raleigh on Friday. I flew in from Maryland on Wednesday. I partied so hard while at home that I caught a cold. Staying in Thursday would have made my mama proud.
But, we head to Cans.
Walking downstairs to the lounge, I see not simply two friends, but at least a dozen of my closest peeps.
They got me good. A surprise birthday party was the last thing I expected. My girl and my friends hooked it up, from Constantine getting us the spot in Cans to Sass getting the food at her aunt’s restaurant Thai Marlai.
We hung out there eating, drinking and swapping stories for about four hours. Dee Dee told the story about the time I hitchhiked in Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day. We had several T.M.I moments.
My friends gave gifts that reminded them of me. I got underwear made of candy from Ramona, a jockstrap and water bottle from Lamont, a massage from Crystal, a protest elephant keychain from C-Money, a gift card for the ABC store from Jermaine (I didn’t know they had those) and I’m getting a bottle of Patron from Dee Dee. (My friends know me so well)
My girl gave me a custom-made ring by Day. It’s shaped like a raccoon. (That’s a story for another day.)
After living here for a dozen years, I still call Maryland home, but after Thursday, Charlotte is feeling a lot more like Maryland. It reminded me that I’ve surrounded myself with good people, and I’m thankful.
I have to give shout-outs, thanks to – my girl, the Brunch Crew, my Observer family, my UBU folks, my drinking buddies and the folks at Cans – for making my 35th birthday unforgettable.