Friday night was chilly, but that didn’t stop people from coming downtown in Charlotte. In fact there were crowds of people everywhere, perhaps because of the Bobcats game, and especially around the large entertainment district known as the EpiCentre, which is definitely worth a visit.
When walking back toward the parking garage where I had parked my car in downtown Charlotte, I suddenly heard the unmistakable sounds of a brass band playing somewhere nearby. The band turned out to be The Brass Connection, a well-known Charlotte street band that on this particular Friday night had set up at the corner of 5th and Tryon streets in front of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, drawing a decent crowd of people coming from the Charlotte Bobcats game, despite the chilly weather. Unlike New Orleans brass bands, the Brass Connection takes a DC-oriented go-go approach to brass band music, with a set drummer and a timbale player rather than the separate snare and bass drums so often seen in New Orleans, and their repertoire consists of unique takes on R & B hits like Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” After they played about four songs or so, they ended their performance, took down their instruments and walked away.
While walking around downtown Charlotte, I happened to notice Bar Cocoa, a swank dessert bar adjacent to the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Lured inside by the beautiful cakes in the window, I had a hard time choosing between cupcakes, gelato, truffles, macaroons or slices of cake. I ultimately settled for a chocolate cupcake and a cup of coffee, which I took down into the lobby bar, where a smooth jazz/neo-soul band called 5th and York was playing. Deciding to hang out awhile, I ordered another cup of coffee from the lobby bar, and was amazed (and thrilled) to see it brought in a french press. Altogether, my evening at Bar Cocoa was very pleasant, and from what I could tell, there is a food menu as well.
201 East Trade Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
Trendy gourmet burger places are the latest thing at least in the bigger cities, and not surprisingly, they’re popping up all over the place. And despite a few bad apples, for the most part they’re all rather good, so standing out from the pack is difficult. Unless you’re Charlotte’s Cowbell Burgers and Bar, that is.
Located just off the busy corner of 5th and Tryon downtown, Cowbell has less of the feel of a burger place and more of the vibe of an ultra-lounge. The color scheme is black and white, and a music theme is found throughout the space. On one wall are album covers and flatscreens showing music videos, while on the other wall are art displays and lyric quotes from various popular songs. There is a DJ turntable set up in the corner.
Of course atmosphere is meaningless without the food, but fortunately, Cowbell did well in that department as well. They offer about 6 or so gourmet burger options, and the menu has a few other items as well. I won’t say my burger was the best I’ve ever had, but it was good, the french fries accompanying it were good, and I left satisfied. Apparently, after dinner hours, Cowbell becomes a nightclub, complete with DJ’s and sometimes live musicians. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Cowbell Burger and Bar
201 N Tryon St Suite 1010
Charlotte, NC 28202
The annual Midatlantic Music Conference began with a panel about the state of the music industry in Charlotte, and proceeded to the first showcases of the evening, with rock bands at The Chop Shop and hip-hop at The Roux, all in the North Davidson arts district.
Times have been tough for record stores, but here and there, across America are some stores that are survivors. Randy Coleman, the owner of BJ Music in Greenville, South Carolina says that his store is one of the oldest stores in the state. On a Friday afternoon, people were coming in on their way home from work to pick up blues and gospel CD’s, but the big find for me was in the store’s massive collection of vinyl 45’s and LP’s. Since I was travelling to a conference in Charlotte and was due to speak at 6 PM, I browsed only sporadically, but I could have easily spent all day. Stores like this should be treasured.
1430 Augusta Street
Greenville, SC 29605
My homeboy Fort Knox had told me about a hip-hop show taking place in East Atlanta Village at The Basement, and Money Makin Nique’s manager KD had mentioned a birthday party for the visual artist Paper Frank being held at The Graveyard, and as it turned out, as if by design, one event was downstairs from the other, so I went to both. The DJ-based party for Paper Frank filled up very quickly in The Graveyard Tavern, so much so that it was hard to even walk around, although I did catch up with KD, who introduced me to Money Makin Nique, who is making a fair amount of noise around Atlanta for his single “Funny Guy”, which got played while I was there. Downstairs in The Basement, my homeboy Fort Knox was hosting a hip-hop concert, featuring a number of local Atlanta area MC’s.
My homeboy Otis Logan had texted me about a musicians’ shed (jam session) taking place at a church on Highway 72 in Collierville on Halloween night. I was a little skeptical, figuring that with it being Halloween, and with a shed way out in the suburbs, that it might not be well attended. But I decided to go anyway, and was amazed to discover when I got there that there were well over a hundred people there, many of them among the best gospel musicians in Memphis. Among the drummers were Marless Flowers, Sean Payne and James Sexton, and the amazing pianist Derrick Jackson was there, as well as producer Marque Walker, organist Keenan Shotwell, and a lot of other talented musicians. The event began at 9:30 PM, and was still going strong at 2 AM when I left, and best of all, the spirit of the whole event was positive and strictly love among the musicians.