Seven Questions with Jen Band of Playing for Others

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Jen Band of Playing for Others. Photo courtesy of thesavageway.com

People with disabilities, especially children, often times miss out on some of the joy and wonder than most of us take for granted as we grow up. Events like birthday parties, proms and vacations many times minimize the involvement of the disabled, limiting the exuberance that others routinely enjoy.

Fortunately, organizations like Playing for Others make it a point that kids with disabilities don’t miss out on feeling like they’re the superstar. One such event is happening this Sunday at McKnight Hall on the UNCC campus. For the ninth consecutive year, Playing for Others presents its Red Carpet program which makes the buddies (PFO’s affectionate term for kids with disabilities) the star of the show, both literally and figuratively.

At the center of the Red Carpet program is a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which features performances from both the teens and buddies. Before the show, however, the buddies are treated to a VIP experience, as they will arrive at the show in style. A limo ride to the venue is followed by a walk down the red carpet, where spectators, PFO teens and the buddies themselves are dressed like movie stars at the Oscars. As the cameras flash, the buddies and teens strike poses and bask in the adulation of the event, which is the culmination of homecoming weekend.

Playing for others was formed in 2006 to teach teenagers that you can take what you’re passionate about and use it to benefit the greater good. Today, 75 teens (eighth grade through high school) from 37 different schools participate in the Playing for Others program. Two teens team up with each buddy for friend dates, art experiences and relationship building. One of the program’s main focuses is diversity, with teens and buddies of all races, nationalities, sexualities and economic backgrounds included. Through this mentorship, teens in the program learn personal development, leadership training and public service.

To get a better idea of what to expect at the Red Carpet Event, I asked seven questions to Jen Band (formerly of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte), Executive Director of Playing for Others.

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What are some of the other activities in homecoming weekend leading up to the red carpet event? Friday night we will host HeARTbeat, an evening celebrating 12 local non-profits by bringing their story to life through the music, dance, spoken word, and digital art. Then on Saturday night we’ll gather to celebrate 10 years and watch a premiere of our first ever original musical, Ready. Set. Go.

What was the inspiration for the red carpet event? The Red Carpet event is a PFO staple. It’s a time for our “buddies”, children with disabilities, to be celebrated and treated like the rockstars they are! We believe that every human being deserves love and belonging.

How many teens and how many buddies participate in each homecoming? We have 75 teens in the program and 36 buddies that all come together for a weekend of hugs, high fives and dance parties :)

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How are the performances (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in this case) selected? You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was the very first PFO show. It seemed fitting to do it for our ten year anniversary.

What has the response been like from previous parents or caregivers? Parents are blown away by their experience with PFO. Many talk about how important these friendships are for their kids. The care, attention and love given to the buddies is simply beautiful to watch.

How often do you hear from former buddies and what do they say? Many of our buddies stay in the program year after year, they just can’t get enough of it! Those that move on come back for performances and stay in touch with their former PFO teen buddy. It’s a life-long relationship.

Personally, what is your favorite part of the red carpet event? That moment when I get to open the door to the limo and see all the excited faces inside. It’s honestly one of my favorite moments of the entire PFO season :)  

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Playing for Other’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is this Sunday, March 5 at McKnight Hall on the Campus of UNC Charlotte (9025 University Rd.) at 4:30 p.m. with red carpet festivities starting at 3 p.m. Show up in your freshest attire, and pay what you can at the door.

Sous Terrain – Seven Questions with Rémy Thurston

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Rémy Thurston

Since 1971, North Carolina has been the nation’s leading producer of sweet potatoes, but in general, they’ve always been second class spuds to their more starchy and mealy brothers. Tonight (Friday, January 6), however, the sweet potato rightly takes its place in the spotlight at Free Range Brewing in Villa Heights.

Photographer Rémy Thurston makes his solo photo exhibition debut tonight from 6-8 p.m. with his sweet potato immersion, Sous Terrain. Thurston teamed up with sous chefs from several prominent Charlotte restaurants like 300 East, The Fig Tree, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and many more to present a photo series of sweet potato inspired dishes created specifically for the show. Intrigued by the possibilites beyond casseroles and fries, I asked Rémy a few questions about his show.

GohJo: How did you choose the sweet potato to work with?

Rémy: The sweet potato is actually integral to North Carolina agriculture. The state produces the most sweet potatoes in the country. I chose it because there’s a famous photograph of an Irish potato that sold for $1 million. It was a simple photograph, and I was inspired to recreate it in my own way.

GohJo: How did you first experience sweet potatoes?

Rémy: I think my first experience with the sweet potato was as a puree as a kid. I honestly thought it was carrots, but after questioning my dad, the chef, about it I was assured it was a sweet potato, not funny-tasting carrots. I’ve loved them since.

GohJo: You’ve got a premiere lineup of sous chefs working with you including Alex Verica from Heritage Food & Drink, Myles Scaglione from Heirloom, Andres Pico of Customshop and Larry Suggs, mixologist from The Punch Room. How did you decide upon who to work with?

Rémy: Sous chefs often run the kitchen behind the line and let the more experienced head chefs take the praise. It’s not always the case, but I’ve seen my fair share of it when I was part of the industry. I wanted to highlight their hard work in the same way the sweet potato doesn’t get all the praise I think it should as part of the state’s agriculture.

GohJo: Why sous chefs and not the folk at the top of the food chain? [GohJo note: Pun very much intended]

Rémy: The sweet potato doesn’t get any recognition until it hits the sunlight and the palate. Sous chefs are similar. You need to see and taste their work to realize what they’re capable of. This show serves to do both.

GohJo: What are some of your favorite sweet potato recipes?

Rémy: My favorite way to have sweet potatoes is pretty simple actually. I cut them up into cubes and roast them with lots of salt, cayenne, olive oil and freshly ground cumin. I like the sweet soft inside contrasting with the crusty caramelized spice crust on the outside.

GohJo: How long will your art be on the walls at Free Range Brewing?

Rémy: The art will be on the wall until January 29th!

Hit up Free Range Brewing (2320 N. Davidson St.) tonight from 6-8 p.m. where you can not only see Rémy’s work, but also get some sweet potato tamales from The Masa Casa, sweet potato fries from Terra Flora, sample some sweet potato cotton candy (!!) from Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and sip on some sweet potato gruit from the fine folks at Free Range Brewing. Afterwards, don’t forget to head down to C3 Lab in South End for Lara Americo’s opening reception for Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life from 7-10 p.m. Sweet!

Chrysalis – Seven Questions with Lara Americo

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Lara Americo steps into the realm of visual art.

Charlotte musician and activist Lara Americo is stepping into the realm of visual art, starting this Friday (January 6) with an exhibition at C3 Lab in South End called Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life.  According to the Facebook event page:

Skin and bones are a cocoon for the soul to develop and grow on planet Earth. Chrysalis sheds that shell and peers into what’s hidden beneath.

Chrysalis is an exploration of what it means to inhabit a human body. It is common to assume that we are our bodies. Our bodies are a shell and our true selves are much more than human flesh. Chrysalis examines this flesh and what if means to navigate the world in these bodies using photography and 3-D molding. Each photo and 3-d mold will examine one subject and tell that person’s story.

Chrysalis (a butterfly which is becoming an adult but still enclosed in a hard case) is Americo’s first venture into the world of visual and art, after having released her debut album She / They in November 2016 (read the Creative Loafing review here). Chrysalis is a mixed media installation featuring photography and physical models, some using live people as their foundation.

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjoAmerico took some time recently to answer a few questions I had for her about the show, which you can see at C3 Lab (2525 Distribution St.) until January 23.

GohJo: Tell me a little bit about what visitors can expect to see at your installation at C3 Lab.

Americo: Visitors can expect to see real life. They will see people, physically. But they will see them in other forms than their human body.

GohJo: It appears that the inspiration for the show may have come from your experiences as a transgender person. Talk about how your gender identity evolution has influenced this show.

Americo: Being transgender forced me to closely examine what it means to be connected to a human body on earth. It made me see that we are not our bodies. The body is just a tool that we use. Even though the body decays we never die.

GohJo: How did you choose the subjects depicted for this show?

Americo: I know it may sound cliché but the subjects choose me just as much is I chose them. Anyone could’ve been a subject for this project. Everyone has a story in a way that they express themselves with their bodies. That’s all that I was looking for.

GohJo: You’ve gained some notoriety for your work as a musician, releasing the album She/They in 2016. What’s different for you in creating an art show versus a musical project?

Americo: I look at both mediums as different forms of artistic expression. Both are ways to describe something that is abstract and both are limiting in their own way.

GohJo: What’s something about the relationship between our bodies and our actual “selves” that people don’t often consider?

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjo-1Americo: Most people, including me, forget that they are not their body and think the opposite is true. The truth whether we like it or not is that our body is dying every moment. This can be scary unless you realize that you will never die.

GohJo: What do you hope people will come away with after viewing Chrysalis?

Americo: I hope people can see that the human body is precious and beautiful because of its fragility. The fact that the body is dying is what makes the body so beautiful. Still, the true beauty is on the inside but can’t be seen.

GohJo: What else do you want people to know about this exhibition?

Americo: That life is beautiful. It’s always beautiful.

Check out the opening reception of Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life this Friday, January 6 at C3 Lab in South End from 7-10 p.m. All answers edited only for spelling and grammar.

Quick Thoughts on Creative Loafing’s Best Of 2016

I had a few quick thoughts in regards to Creative Loafing’s “Best Of” issue released last week. Here they are, in no particular order or purpose:

Reader’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Course – Kilborne Park This pick may or may not be the reason why I wrote this blog. In terms of pure quality, Kilborne is far from the best disc golf course in Charlotte. Creative Loafing even wrote about how Charlotte is the mecca of disc golf back in May. I always tell people the reason that is true is because we have a higher density of championship-level 18-hole disc golf courses within an hour’s drive of Uptown than any other city in the US (and arguably the world). There may be cities with better courses, but there’s not as many. There may be cities with more courses, but they’re not as good. Courses like Renaissance Gold, R.L. Smith, Nevin and Hornet’s Nest (closed now, but will reopen in 2017) are known across the country as being destination courses.

Despite all that, I can see why the readers would choose Kilborne. It’s centrally-located, beginner friendly and has been around since 1991 making it the second-oldest CDGC-sponsored course in town. If you’re going to learn the game, Kilborne is a great place to start, but more experienced players know there are far greater treasures in the Queen City.

Reader’s Pick: Best Place to Get Back to Nature – Crowder’s Mountain I’m pretty sure everyone in Charlotte has been to the top of Crowder’s Mountain like, a zillion times. Every time I’ve gone in the past five years (even on a weekday), the place is incredibly crowded (see what I did there?). For a place to get away from it all, Crowder’s is the last place you want to go if you’ve already been there.

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If you’re still set on Crowder’s Mountain, try to find the scenic and secluded back side

Fortunately, you do have a couple other options within a 45-minute drive of Uptown. My pick is Morrow Mountain just outside of Albemarle. There are more trails (with similarly breathtaking views), a lake, campgrounds and it’s rarely as densely trafficked. Also worth a shot: King’s Mountain in Gaston County.

Reader’s Pick: Best Blog – Freckled Italian Yo, CL readers, since Megan now lives in California, how bout you do ya boy a favor next year?

Reader’s Pick: Best Podcast – Margarita Confessionals My plan is to get more people to play disc golf so that next year y’all can vote for Final Round Radio. Make no mistake, however. Lauren and Ali do an excellent job with this podcast.

Critic’s Pick: Best Movie Theater – AMC Concord Mills This shouldn’t even be allowed since it’s located in the retail hell that is Concord Mills Mall. Try the Manor Twin off Providence for a cozy atmosphere and lots of independent films (which the readers confirmed with their pick).

Reader’s Pick: Best New Night Spot – Kandy Bar Gotta wonder if voting took place before this happened. Plus, Epicenter.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for B-Boys and B-Girls to Congregate – Breakin’ Convention Breakin’ Convention is nice, but it’s just once a year. If you checked out this event held at Knight Theater and the surrounding area, try hitting up Knocturnal every Monday night at Snug Harbor. You’ll see many of the same break dancing teams without all the polish and ads for Sprite.

Critic’s Pick: Best Place for Karaoke – Jeff’s Bucket Shop This place has the long-standing reputation as Charlotte’s only true karaoke bar, so it gets grandfathered into this award each year, but the truth is there’s far better options. Jeff’s seems like it would be cool because it’s on Montford and you have to go down a flight of stairs which gives it that speakeasy vibe. But once you get down there is where the fun ends. The bar selection is tepid at best and the room itself is incredibly small which means the god-awful singers are just that much more unbearable (I know, it’s karaoke, but this place seems to attract the very worst wannabe singers). The worst part? You gotta pay to play. If you’re not brown-nosing the DJ a little, expect to wait at least an hour to sing. Try NoDa 101, which has karaoke seven days a week or Hattie’s Thursday nights.

Reader’s Pick: Best Restaurant in NoDa – Cabo Fish Taco OK, forget disc golf. *This* is why I wrote this blog. Cabo’s… eh, not too bad, certainly not the worst, but JEEBUS, PEOPLE. Ever since Guy Fieri and his stupid blonde tips (there I go again with the blonde tips) ventured there a few years ago, the line to Cabo is out the door, spilling into Davidson and around the corner. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with having lots of business, I can’t hate on that. I just want to tell all those folk (none of whom actually live in NoDa) that you could dip out of that line and go to literally any other restaurant on the block, sit right down and have a meal that is at least as good, and most likely better than Cabo.

Dying for fish? Try Boudreaux’s, best cajun this side of Cajun Queen. Want that southwestern feel? Sabor is less expensive and way quicker. Thought they might have oysters at Cabo? Nope. Try walking across the street to Growler’s. Just wanna say ‘fuck it’ and get drunk off cheap bar food? Jack Beagle’s and Solstice won’t let you down.

In short: skip the line. It’s not worth it.

Critic’s Pick: Best Pastry Shop – Renaissance Pâtisserie So I’ve never actually been to the place CL picked as the winner here, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic spot. Really, I’m just glad that this pick didn’t go to Amélie’s. Amélie’s has been criminally overrated for some time now. I’ll really never understand why it consistently is mentioned not only as one of the best pastry shops in town, but an actual tourist destination! What in the actual fuck?!? I can only assume it’s the kitchy decorations and the 24-hour service, because it sure as hell isn’t the food (very little of which is hand-made), the prices ($2.50 per macaroon?) and the hipster-approved aloof service.

Oh you want to swing by for a coffee real quick before you go to work? Fuck you, you have to wait in line behind 20 mouth-breathers who ask what each individual flavor of every single fucking thing is in the case before flippantly deciding “Nah, I’m good”. “Would you like something from the case?” “Fucking no, I just want a damn cup of coffee!” Is it really that hard to make a second line where people like me who just want a coffee can quickly order it without having to suffer through other people’s indecision issues? It’s 2016, maybe that could be solved via… an app?

The original Amélie’s in NoDa is 24 hours. Awesome, you might think, until you try to go there after midnight on a weekend night and the line is literally stretched into the pavilion full of kids who are too young to drink, each of them repeating the commitment-phobic task of picking something from the case of crap.

Think the shiny new Amélie’s Uptown is any better? Fuck and no, it’s just bigger and closes at 6 p.m. Despite having a huge bar with two baristas and multiple point of sale stations, you still have to go by their precious pastry case, get accosted about a recently-frozen croissant you don’t want only to order from someone who could seriously care less that you’re there, and the faster you leave is the faster they can go back to writing their organic mayonnaise recipe.

Oh, let’s not also forget that ownership there has a shady past in regards to the mistreatment of their workers. How laissez faire of them.

Critic’s Pick: Best Brunch – Letty’s Trick question. Brunch in Charlotte is pretty awful in general. There’s a few highlights (Dish, Füd at Salud, etc.), but even those are pretty pedestrian compared to other cities. Plus, where is the brunch service during the weekdays? Have we no love for those who make their own hours?

Reader’s Pick: Best Steak House – Beef & Bottle 100% agree with CL readers on this one. In fact, this is where I was for my most recent birthday. Give me that hole in the wall feel over Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s any damn day.

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Me and the homies

Reader’s Pick: Best Sushi – Rusan’s Seriously. Any place that serves an “all you can eat” sushi special is suspect. All you can eat works at Golden Corral. Not at a sushi place. Unfortunately, since my go-to spot, Eight Sushi closed down, there’s really not a place I can confidently say is #1. Akahana is aight. Nikko is overpriced. K.O. is pretty solid for quick service. I’ll give this a grade of incomplete.

Reader’s Pick: Best Mexican – Three Amigo’s This is part of what’s wrong with Charlotte. Just a mile or so down the road from Three Amigo’s original location on Central is Morazan, which is about as authentic and delicious (not to mention affordable) as you can get. But since it’s in the “rough” part of town and you may actually need to know some Spanish to order, it will never make a list like this where a segment of this city’s population will avoid going out of their comfort zone at all costs.

Come to think of it, all the authentic versions of all your favorite ethnic restaurants are all on the east side. King of Spicy, La Shish Kabob, Landmark, Pho Hong, Dim Sum and Queen Sheeba are just a few of them.

Reader’s Pick: Best Brewery – Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Seriously? With all the breweries in town that are pushing the limits of craft beer to their absolute edge and y’all picked the place whose entire lineup consists of three beers that taste like an expensive version of Miller Lite?

Critic’s Pick: Best Disc Golf Shop – Another Round Disc Golf Full disclosure: this is where I record Final Round Radio along with Kevin Keith and one of the co-owners of ARDG, Kevin Burgess. All bias aside, this is definitely the place you want to go if you’re just starting out in disc golf, or you’re a seasoned pro. With five local craft beers on tap, it’s the perfect 19th hole after a round. Also, this is a bit of a trick category since ARDG is the only disc golf exclusive shop in town.

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Discs and beer on tap at Another Round Disc Golf

Reader’s Pick: Best Bicycle Shop – Uptown Cycles Since I know that people don’t show up to a damn thing in this town if there’s not beer involved, it should be pointed out that Spoke Easy in Elizabeth has a bar with craft beer on tap, much like the bicycle version of Another Round Disc Golf.

Reader’s Pick: Best Barber Shop – No Grease Y’all coudn’t have been more right on this one.

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Me and Omar, my barber of seven-plus years

Locally owned by twin brothers Damian and Jermaine Johnson, No Grease carries on the tradition of the black-owned barber shop, except with a stylish flair. The barbers (or tonsorial artists if you wanna be precise) never show up to work without dressing the part, frequently wearing the bow-ties that the Johnson brothers also sell.

I started getting my haircut at No Grease in 2009 when it was located at what is now Workman’s Friend on Central. Since then they’ve expanded to have three different locations, the flagship one being on the ground floor retail space of the Spectrum Center. I was tired of the bowl cut drones that were cutting hair at Supercuts and Sports Clips, so I gave these guys a shot. Needless to say, I haven’t turned back. The cuts are always on point (for me, a smooth fade is a necessity), and you always get great conversation and a welcoming atmosphere.