Sunday, September 30, 2007

R&B singers fighting to be heard

At Del Frisco’s, sultry R&B singer Chrisette Michele wowed radio programmers, DJs and radio personalities on Friday.
Across town, less than an hour later, neo-soul singer Raheem DeVaughn wowed dozens of die-hard fans.
Both artists delivered smoky love songs and tunes about heartbreak and more. Michele is on the rise, getting attention with songs such as “Be Okay.” She performed for a packed crowd at Grand Central a few weeks ago and wowed them as well with several tracks off her solo debut, “I Am.” With a raspy voice and a seductive air that doesn’t rely on her shaking her hips, Michele is poised to separate herself from the female R&B pack.
DeVaughn is promoting his sophomore release “Love Behind the Melody.” His first album, “The Love Experience,” yielded the popular cut “Guess Who Loves You More.” On stage, DeVaughn is dynamic. He sweats, and isn’t shy about going into the audience and dancing on chairs or between tables. His voice reminds you of Marvin Gaye, and he tries to channel Gaye’s sensuality and sensibility.
He’s trying to establish himself in a genre that’s lost its luster in recent years, with John Legend being one of the few men to maintain national prominence. It’s a tough chore when artists such as Akon and T-Pain dominate the charts and radio with drivel about getting women drunk, or odes to strippers.

Q-Tip and Common rock Amos'

In an Aug. 20 blog entry, after I announced that Q-Tip would open for Common at Amos’ Southend, a reader commented that it should be the other way around.
During Thursday’s performance, Q-Tip made a strong case that he could be the headliner. The crowd, which stretched from the front of the stage past the sound booth to the rear bathroom, re-lived the glory years of rap as Q-Tip delivered both new and old tunes. (Hear my interview with Q-Tip on the Paid to Party Fo’ Yo’ Ear podcast on Wednesday afternoon.)
He opened with a funky tune reminiscent of a Parliament-style groove. Then he tested his chops singing on another number. By the midpoint of his 45-minute set, he and the crowd performed “Check the Rhyme,” “Bonita Applebum” and “Electric Relaxation.” He also performed his solo hits, “Vivrant Thing” and “Breathe and Stop.”
The best part of his set was “Scenario.” He invited two audience members on stage to rap lines from the song with him. Q-Tip started a verse, and each audience member had to finish it. The woman from the audience who joined him on stage got crazy love from the crowd. She rapped her parts correctly, confidently and then stopped. The guy who followed her mistook the concert for his own personal showcase. Along with rapping lines from “Scenario,” the guy freestyled and was quickly booed off stage. (Dawg, people paid to see Q-Tip and Common, not you.)
Common delivered a similar show to the one he did at Grand Central in May. He hyped the crowd, jumped around, and wooed a woman on stage. He performed more cuts off his new album, “Finding Forever,” such as the title track and “Break My Heart.” He gave fans a mix of old and new. The best part was “The Light.” It’s a song about love, and to hear nearly 1,000 people sing, “There is a light that shines…” was crazy-cool.
I was disappointed with Common’s treatment of “Misunderstood.” The track, on his new album, has a Nina Simone sample. It’s about people, such as a drug dealer and stripper, who make bad decisions trying to achieve their dream. The band slowed the song down so much that I barely recognized it. At the end, he gave shout-outs to all the people he says are misunderstood, such as Simone, 2Pac, Malcolm X and Michael Vick. Yes, Vick.
Yes, Vick made a bad decision, but throwing him in the same list as Malcolm X and even 2Pac is a stretch. They at least tried to uplift people with their words. Vick hasn’t -- yet. Maybe Common is just hoping Vick is misunderstood.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gluttony at Cans

Speaking of Larken, I saw him and five others compete Saturday in a nacho-eating contest at Cans on West Fifth Street. For months, Larken has raved about his ability to devour an entire plate of nachos by himself. He convinced the folks at Cans to hold a contest so he could show off his gluttony.

But Eun Park, who doesn’t even like nachos, spanked Larken with a time of four minutes. Larken finished his plate a minute later. I give the biggest shout-out to the diminutive Maria Isenhour, the only woman in the contest. Way to hang with the big boys.

NASCAR 101 with Paw Paw

I don’t know much about NASCAR, so I was glad when Paw Paw Egleston, Larken Egleston’s dad and an avid racing fan, joined Larken and I for a tour of Michael Waltrip’s Raceworld in Cornelius last week.

I liked looking at giant tool boxes and springs and racecars and pictures, but Paw Paw Egleston totally dug it. He shared all kinds of tidbits about NASCAR with us.

Each bay at Raceworld contains a workshop. As we walked through the facility, Paw Paw Egleston explained the difference between the current car and the car of the future, which is supposed to be safer. He also gave us a play-by-play of Waltrip’s horrific crash at Bristol in the early ’90s. We got to sit in a driver’s seat and try on a helmet, but my favorite part was touring the plush RV. More info at

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bringing some soul to Charlotte

As condos sprout uptown and plush new restaurants and spots open, Charlotte’s artsy, creative folks are talking about the soul of this city.

It’s a conversation that’s been going on for years over drinks at the bar or dinner at restaurants. Every now and then, that conversation gets public attention. Creative Loafing once wrote a cover story about the topic. I’ve written about it. A committee of young professionals did a study to see if we were cool, which is pretty darn close to asking if the city has a soul.

A night on the town here is often fun, but too often forgettable.

When is the last time you went to a performance, nightclub, or bar and had such a good experience that you talked about it for weeks? And I’m not talking about remembering the night because you were so hung over the next day that you’ll never drink again. I mean a genuinely good time with good people and good friends, an experience you couldn’t re-create even if you tried (and when you did try, it wasn’t the same).

For me ... let's see, off the top of my head: Celia Cruz at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center… Marques Wyatt at now-closed Tonic…Oktoberfest in NoDa…The Culinary Arts Experience two years ago…Chuck Brown at the uptown Hilton for CIAA two years ago.

A few Charlotte nightlife trendsetters have turned those complaints about soulless Charlotte into action.
(Read my Sept. 5 blog, "Info on club formerly known as Menage.") The Forum’s Andy Kastanas and local DJ James Fedele are working on a lounge/restaurant called Soul in Plaza-Midwood. (Read my Sept. 24 blog, "Soul is coming to Plaza-Midwood.")

The titles of each project give you an idea of what they’re about. Creating spaces that feed the spirit as well as the body. Both projects are supposed to be places for people who want to their nightlife to consist of more than getting sloppy drunk on cheap beer and Jager bombs, or dancing to the same songs they hear every hour on the radio.

The concepts will add variety to Charlotte’s nightlife. With the exception of live-music venues, our nightlife revolves so much around bad music and cheap drinks, or pricey martinis and pretentiousness.

So tell me, when was the last time you had an unforgettable experience partying in Charlotte? And do you think Charlotte has soul? Why or why not? Post your replies below.

Soul is coming to Plaza-Midwood

On Saturday night, I drove down 22nd street, wondering where the heck I was going. I was trying to find a party, but had never been in this area. Then I saw cars parked along the street and two police officers standing in the near the intersection of Brevard and directing people where to park and where to party.

Inside Center of the Earth Studio, basically a warehouse, people of all hues, ages, professions and sexuality grooved to the delicious beats of DJ Neil Aline, of New York. Art pieces lay scattered about, there were a few sofas near the entrance, and disco balls hung from ceiling beams. Bartenders mixed drinks among circular saws and other tools at a makeshift bar. There was one bathroom. To get to the smoking section you walked through some plastic sheeting to the outside of the building.

It was grimy and oh so lovely.

The party was called Foundation, and it was a launch party for Soul, a new concept by The Forum’s Andy Kastanas and local DJ James Fedele. Soul will be in Plaza-Midwood at the corner of Pecan and Central above Lotus. It’s where the Perch improv comedy club lived years ago. They plan to open in the next few months.

To call Soul a lounge wouldn’t do it justice. To call it a restaurant wouldn’t be fair either. It will be both. Most partiers recognize Kastanas for helping build this city’s house music and nightlife scenes in the ’90s, but he also has a culinary degree and loves to cook. He and Fedele plan to put as much emphasis on the food as the music and the vibe of Soul.

The menu will be tapas with cuisine from all of over the world. The music will be soulful house. Oh, and the cocktails recipes will be equally emphasized. There won’t be any full size entrees nor will there be a dance floor.

If you want to see the layout, go to Common Market or Central Records and see if they have any flyers from Saturday’s party. The design of the building is on the back of the flyer. Along with adding a kitchen to the building, Kastanas and Fedele will add a balcony along the Pecan Avenue side of the building. There will be seating around the DJ booth as well as lounge-style seats throughout.

The goal is for friends to go, grab a seat, nibble all night and hear good music. If you hung at Tonic and Tutto Mondo back in the early years or go to Prevue on Wednesday nights for Pop Life, then Soul will be your kind of spot.

At Saturday’s Foundation party, I ran into people I haven’t seen clubbing in ages and people I only see at certain types of parties. The true house heads were on the dance floor. Aline made me want to find his music and burn it. He spun the typical house tracks such as “Lonely People” as well as funked up cuts by Stevie Wonder.

Kastanas and Fedele want to bring the soul back to Charlotte. Kastanas bluntly says he is opening a club for he and his friends. Usually, that isn’t the smartest business plan, but I hope it works this time.

Oktoberfest sold out

Charlotte Oktoberfest is sold out.

I wondered if the move to Metrolina Expo would dampen enthusiasm for the popular event, but obviously it didn't. The last ticket was purchased at 10:46 p.m. Sunday, according to organizers.

If you didn't buy a ticket and want to go to Saturday's event, be sure to read Friday's E&T. We will be giving away three tickets.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Good times at Petra's

A cute waitress named Autumn sang “Unchained Melody,” and later, an adorable waiter named Jason sang “Imagine.” Between their solos, pianist Nathan Hefner played tunes while brave audience members took turns on the mike at Petra’s in Plaza-Midwood.

The cabaret and piano bar finally opened this weekend. There was a line out the door on despite heavy rains last Friday night. Packing the small club were friends of owner Petra Fugger and creative directors Robb and sister Connie Huddleston and Chris Hollar.

Petra’s is tastefully decorated, with dark hues, mirrors and chandeliers. The staff and patrons were friendly. It’s the kind of place that could easily become your regular hangout.

Petra’s drew (and will likely continue to draw) a predominately gay crowd, as well as heterosexual women who like hanging with gay men.

It’s an alternative to Liaison's and the dance club scene of Velocity and Eagle.

If you’re open-minded, then Petra’s is for you.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Charlotte Observer/Carolina Nightlife are No. 1

"We are the brewmasters, my friends ..." (Sing to the tune of “We are the Champions.”)
I predicted the Charlotte Observer’s Eye/Carolina Nightlife team would spank the competition in the Blues, Brews & BBQ media beer contest. And, of course, we did. (Okay, we won by one vote, but a win is a win, baby!)
Big thanks to George Allen and the folks at Carolina Beer & Beverage for making our concept -- an Oktoberfest called Five o’Clock Now -- the best beer ever.

The losers were:
Second place: Matt Harris of 107.9 The Link and Todd Trimakas of Uptown Magazine; along with Jeri Thompson and Monty Ramseur of the Charlotte Post.
Third place: The beerman himself, Chris Herring of Creative Loafing, and Mark Perez of Charlotte Viewpoint Magazine.
Honorable mention (a.k.a. dead-last): Jeff Katz of 1110 WBT and Mark Pellin of Rhino Times.

Blues, Brews & BBQ hits its stride

Several hundred people stood in the parking lot across from Rock Bottom Brewery dancing to Delbert McClinton boogie woogie music on Saturday night. Rain kept many people away from the Blues, Brews & BBQ festival on Friday, but on Saturday the folks

showed up in full force.
At least 100,000 attended the two-day event, highlighted by a barbecue cook-off and performances by McClinton, Acoustic Syndicate and others. Despite the rain, Charlotte Center City Partners spokeswoman Moira Quinn said all of the acts performed on Friday.

The festival worked well in the new location on Tryon Street from Sixth to Ninth street. Along with professional and backyard grillers, the festival featured a couple of carnival rides and games, and plenty of carnival food, such as sausages and funnel cake.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

You can be the Grand Marshall

The Bank of America 500 is launching a
street party and a contest for the October

On Oct. 9, uptown will see the inau-
gural Bank Of America 500 Fan Fest. As part
of the festivities, fans can audition to be the hon-
orary grand marshal. The fans with the best
“start your engines” command gets to issue
the magic words for the race and ride in the
pace car.

Entry forms are available at area branches or
at the Food Lion Auto Fair at Lowe’s Motor
Speedway on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Are the Police too old?

I may have questioned why Van Halen sold out in Charlotte, but I do know why the Police should. They were one of the best rock bands in their heyday and their music had all kinds of crossover appeal.

Still, I'm torn about the upcoming show.

As I reported on yesterday, the reunited Police perform at Bobcats Arena on Nov. 15. (Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday.) Charlotte is one of four cities recently added to the popular tour, which has already sold 2.2 million tickets.

Here's why I'm torn: Even though they've done some solo work and toured since they went their separate ways more than 20 years ago, the guys seem just a wee bit old to be hitting the road now. I'm not convinced they're going to put on an electrifying, energetic show --especially since they're on such a grueling schedule. But I loved the Police growing up, and since I never got to see them live, I'm planning to attend the concert. And early reviews have been favorable.

The band is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its first double-disc CD collection, "The Police." It includes the group's first single, "Fall Out," released in 1977.

Am I the only one wondering if they're too old to tour? And what song do you most want to hear at the concert: "Roxanne"? "Every Breath You Take"? Or maybe it's "Message in a Bottle"?

Post your replies below.

Petra's finally opening in Plaza-Midwood

Plaza-Midwood’s newest spot is finally ready for business.
Petra’s will have a soft opening on Thursday before bringing out the big guns on Friday.

As I reported in March, Petra’s Piano Bar and Cabaret will open next to the Penguin. Robb and sister Connie Huddleston (along with club namesake Petra Fugger and Chris Hollar) modeled the place after popular piano bars in New York’s West Village.

The club was supposed to open in April, but the owners underestimated how difficult it would be to obtain all of the permits required to open a club in this city.

Robb Huddleston said that for Friday’s grand opening, he is bringing in friends from cruise ships and tours who will sing everything from John Lennon to Patti LaBelle.

The format is like the Duplex club in New York’s West Village: The piano player starts at 9 p.m. He sings and takes requests. Audience members can sing with him. Waitresses, bartenders and doormen will also perform.

Huddleston said his priority in hiring staff was to make sure they could sing. Even the doormen can carry a tune.

“There are some very big guys out there that have very beautiful voices,” he said. “I have a couple of friends who sing, who happen to be 6-4 and 250 pounds.”

Doors open at 5 p.m. for the after-work crowd. Music starts at 9 p.m. It costs $10 for a one-year membership. Without a membership, it costs $3 to sign in with a member.

Big ups to Red Door

Longtime Paid to Party readers may remember my first column in April 2004 was about a night out with Red Door owner Eric McCoy. Back then, McCoy threw parties in addition to running his store.
These days, he’s racking up the frequent flier miles to Las Vegas to expand his business.

On a recent trip, Red Door was named the best lingerie store at the first-ever Storerotica trade show at Mandalay Bay. McCoy was also nominated for store owner of the year. You can see why Red Door took home the top honors on

Red Door is the fashion coordinator for most of the city’s dancers, but 50 percent of its customers aren’t strippers, said manager Todd Joffe, who still promotes occasional parties in town.

To cater to the non-stripping customers, Red Door is launching later this month. McCoy hopes the online shoe store will rival (Joffe promises me Heels will carry funky shoes for women like me who don't wear heels and girly stuff. Wahoo!)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Belly dancing uptown

At Pacha at the Sunset Club on Thursday, there were belly dancers, hookahs and a guy singing in a Middle Eastern language.

The weekly international party has been building a strong following. Last week’s party drew a diverse crowd.
The highlight was bellydancing. Three women did their thing while men tossed dollar bills onto the floor in front of them. A couple of overly enthusiastic men tried to dance with the belly dancers.

Middle Eastern-themed parties come and go here. Lava had bellydancers and hookahs on Wednesdays before the lounge changed ownership. Now there’s Pacha at Sunset, and the Forum has Cultural Fusions (also on Thursdays). It features belly dancers, live drummers, fire dancing, hookahs and extreme yoga.

The Forum also hosts occasional Greek nights, and every last Friday of the month is Greek night at Greek Isles restaurant in Southend, where a DJ spins modern Greek dance music.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Comedian Byrdman dies

Reggie “Byrd” Byrdman, one of the city’s best local comedians, passed away Sunday. He was only 38, and reportedly suffered a heart attack. He is survived by a son, a daughter, two sisters and a brother.

All week, he’s been getting love on Power 98. Tonight and tomorrow, two clubs will host memorials to raise money for his family. The first is tonight at Club Eclipse, home of Q.C. Comedy. The second is Thursday at Tempo. Singers Adina Howard, rapper Mr. Woods and local DJs Tab D'Bia$$i, Boney B., and ’O6 will perform. Both events begin at 9 p.m.

Byrdman was always on the grind, and consistently played in comedy clubs. He never reached the status of a Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, but few do. He began his career in 1995. I first saw him perform at Eight Tracks nightclub, now Tempo. He beat several other local comedians to win the Def Comedy Jam competition in 1999. I also saw him perform at a hole-in-the-wall off South Boulevard. Those were in his early years.

Since then, he appeared on BET’s “Comic View” and toured on the Def Comedy Jam Tour. I last saw him a couple of years ago at the Q.C. Comedy showcase at its former home, the Big Chill. He was supporting young comedians and wanting to launch a comedy tour to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

If you’ve never heard of him, come out tonight and hear why he was so loved by the urban nightlife community. If you have heard of him, then come out and pay your respects with people who know how you feel.

Info on club formerly known as Menage

The tacky slide is gone, and Menage’s fall from premier-nightclub status is complete.

Tonic lounge co-founder James Funderburk and several partners (including Tonic’s Andre Araiz and Funderburk’s real estate partner Alvaro Kraizel) ) who purchased Menage and Belle’s BBQ from Stefan Latorre are rapidly renovating the three-level space. It will hold three different concepts.

They’re calling the overall vibe HOM (pronounced “home”) because Funderburk and his partners want it to be a community hub. The bottom floor will be a down-tempo lounge open seven days a week at 4 p.m. The street level, formerly Belle’s BBQ, will be a European style restaurant/bakery featuring local, organic meats and vegetables with additional selections for vegetarians and even raw foodies with menu items created by artist-actor John Love.

Funderburk’s partner Andre Araiz refers to the top level as the Penthouse. They plan to create a club that will house a state-of-the-art sound.

“Our aim is to make this place feel like your own personal place in uptown Charlotte, that you can identify with in terms of design, ambience and sound,” Araiz said.