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 / Theyin 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.
Americo 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?
Americo: 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.
I promise we’ll get to my Top 15 Albums of 2016 in a minute! But since I am my own editor, I think this is the perfect place to talk about my top live music events of the year.
Obviously, I love recorded music and the magic that comes with listening to your favorite album or hearing a new artist for the first time. However, music is most impactful when experienced live. There’s nothing in the world like hearing your favorite artists play your favorite songs and experiencing how their live performance differs from what you’ve heard on record, especially when you can share that moment with a friend or two or 100,000. Let’s do this!
10. The Stooges Brass Band, Double Door Inn This ended up being my final show at the Double Door, but this was one of the most fun shows I got to see all year. It gave me a warm and rich feeling seeing true New Orleans Jazz in one of the most history rich venues in town. Too bad it didn’t last.
9. Lake Street Drive – The FillmoreLake Street Drive is just a damn good band. Fun and pop friendly, their style is effortless and infectious. This show was also bouncy and effervescent as the quartet brought lots of energy to the Fillmore stage, and the crowd responded with plenty of warmth. While I’m not a huge fan of their latest album, Side Pony (just a bit heavy on the pop angle for me), their music translates well to live shows. It’s also crazy to think that just a few years ago they were booked at places like The Evening Muse.
8. Phantogram – The Fillmore Phantogram came to town for the first time in a while in October. Touring in support of their new album Three, the duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter came out strong, despite a few technical glitches with their projection system. I interviewed Sarah for CLTure prior to this show, which you can read here.
7. Deep Six Division Album Release Party – The StationAs Charlotte continues to axe small live music venues, homegrown artists continue to have to find new places to play. The Station is small as a nickel, but sometimes that’s where the best music happens. On this night, the energy was tangible as RBTS WIN, Elevator Jay, Jr. Astronomers and Deep Six Division (Rapper Shane and Mike Astrea) absolutely threw down on a stage that wasn’t so much a stage as it was the corner of the bar. Despite the size limitations, I had more fun at this show than I had in a long time.
6. Scarface – The Fillmore This was part of the Arts, Beats + Lyrics mini festival sponsored by Jack Daniels Honey I believe. Sponsorship isn’t ideal, but in reality, that’s what makes awesome events like this one possible. This event combined some really cool art stations, a kind of traveling tour of artists’ work. Scarface, one of the true OGs in hip hop, far from disappointed as he stepped on stage with authority and supreme control. He was also looking fit and trim, a welcome sight for someone who’s battled health issues and depression.
5. KING – Neighborhood TheatreThis neo-soul trio from Minnesota (by way of Los Angeles) released their debut LP, We Are KING, in January of 2016 after much anticipation. Counting the one and only Prince as a mentor, these three ladies’ sound is much more mature than their experience would lead you to believe.
They played on the “intimate” stage of the Neighborhood Theatre next to the bar in the front foyer, which actually worked well for the acoustics of the show. It was a small, but dedicated crowd which added lots of energy to the show. Vocalists Amber Strother and Anita Bias’ effortless harmonies weaved in and out of each other over Paris Strother’s (Amber’s sister) hypnotic electro-pop instrumentals. This was an excellent show, and hopefully the next time KING plays Charlotte, their name recognition will warrant a bigger stage.
4. Mobb Deep – Amos’ Southend Probably my last show ever at Amos’, but it was an absolute banger. The Infamous Mobb is just as grimey as ever and they showed it at the soon-to-be defunct music venue. Like most all hip hop shows, they made the crowd wait for what seemed like forever, leaving the hapless hype men out there to a chorus of boos and chants of “We want Mobb Deep!”
So apparently it’s not that easy to get a photo that accurately depicts the show you’re seeing with just a cell phone camera. It’s almost as if you should just put the phone away and enjoy the show. Or nah.
Then, out of nowhere, Prodigy and Havoc appeared and immediately went into a ground shaking set that included all of their classics. The crowd went absolutely ballistic for songs like “Survival of the Fittest”, “Hell on Earth”, “Quiet Storm” and of course “Shook Ones, Pt. II”. The most impressive part for me was how P and Hav traded lines and stanzas seamlessly. The Queensbridge duo have been through a lot and have seen it all, and throughout the show you got the sense that shows like this had become almost second nature. If this was my last show at Amos’, then it was a hell of a way to send it out.
3. Frédéric Yonnet – Jazz at the BechtlerQuick aside, the Jazz at the Bechtler shows have been truly influential for me in the past year. Held the first Friday of every month, the performances feature the Ziad Jazz Quartet, led by Ziad Rabie, playing a different theme, style or artist each month. These guys play together all the time all over the place in various iterations so they are razor sharp wherever they play.
This particular show, however… whoa. Frédéric Yonnet is a harmonica player who’s played with Prince and Stevie Wonder (he toured with Wonder for the Songs in the Key of Life tour), as well as playing the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture, officially making him the most badass harmonica player in the world.
Yonnet’s energy was absolutely infectious and impossible to ignore. He’s the only guest musician to be so remarkable that he absolutely overshadowed the rest of the quartet. Yonnet’s talent with the harmonica was mind bending, making sounds and melodies that I truly couldn’t believe I was hearing. Neither could the crowd, as they gave a standing ovation after every single song. I asked one of our frequent attendees of the Jazz at the Bechtler series, Loyd Dillon (who’s seen 65-ish of the 70-ish shows held in total over six years) to rate it, and he said “Top three” without hesitation.
Frédéric Yonnet’s performance was pure, concentrated energy.
If you ever see the name Frédéric Yonnet on a bill anywhere you are, drop what you’re doing and get a ticket to that show because I promise you won’t regret it.
2. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – Knight Theater With jazz being such an influential force in my personal auditory world in 2016, this was a real treat. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, headed by Wynton Marsalis, are clearly some straight jazz OGs. On the final night of the Charlotte Jazz Festival, Marsalis led the orchestra in recreating the vibrant big band sounds of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin.
I went to this concert by myself, a bit socially burnt out but also wanting to experience the mastery of the musicians in complete focus (I’m kinda weird like that). My efforts were rewarded as I could simply sit and take in the way the musicians played off of one another, communicating with no words, only their instruments.
Big band is a style of jazz that has plenty of action, as there were probably 13 or so musicians on stage at once. Despite the big bouquet of sounds, Marsalis was the ever-present maestro, controlling the group at his will, but letting them improvise when needed. He also served as a narrator for the audience, telling stories about the music and how it came to be.
It goes without saying that I’m already anticipating what this year’s Charlotte Jazz Festival will bring to Uptown.
1. Music Midtown – Piedmont Park, Atlanta Granted, this isn’t a single concert, and it was the only true musical festival I attended this year, but oooh lawdy it was a good one. While getting to see acts like Big Boi, Logic, Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz, Twenty One Pilots, Alabama Shakes, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, The Killers and more was nice, the best part of the weekend came outside festival grounds.
One of the things that struck me, as someone who doesn’t go to music festivals all that often, was the sheer number of people that were there. I’ve been to a Bonnaroo or two, but those are held in farms in the middle of nowhere. Music Midtown featured 100,000 strong in the heart of Atlanta. The park, while still sprawling, is a relatively confined space in comparison, making the number of people there seem endless. This was most palpable when one set would end and another would begin as enormous waves of people would shift from one side of the park to the other, moving in a sort of chaotic unison, like a school of fish in the sea. There were times where this would happen, and I wasn’t going anywhere, where if I had got knocked over, I probably would have been trampled.
Despite the massive crowds, I still had an almost ideal (and ultimately unforgettable) experience in Atlanta. The mood of the weekend was one of unison and unabashed ecstasy. It’s exactly the reason why music is so powerful. Tens of thousands of strangers came together to experience something that binded them together no matter the distance travelled, color of their skin or content of their bank accounts. It was absolutely beautiful and was probably my favorite moment of the year, musical or otherwise.
To be fair, I took this photo of Killer Mike, Big Boi and the Dungeon Family with my cell phone.
Two things before I wrap this post.
One, I’ve got to thank my homie Cameron Lee at CLTure for helping me get into and being a part of several of these shows. Cam does tremendous work and his contributions to the local music scene are far underrated in my opinion. CLTure is exactly the type of grassroots organization this city needs, driven by someone so passionate that they won’t be denied by anything. If Charlotte is ever going to be a truly world-class city like we hope it will be one day, we need more Cameron Lee’s and more CLTure (no pun intended).
Second, I’ve got to get to more live music in 2017. This is non negotiable. Especially when it comes to local acts, I’m embarrassingly deficient when it comes to the quantity of shows I’ve seen, at least for my standards.
When you spend money on a ticket to these shows (or the requisite transportation, lodging, food etc.), you don’t leave with something tangible that you can hold on to or an investment that generates future returns.
No, what you get out of these experiences is much more valuable. What you get is something that speaks directly to your soul, something that unifies you with the performers and those around you, like Jedi and the force. The electricity and atmosphere aren’t things that can be recreated in any recording or social media post. What you get from live music is an experience that shapes you as a person, filling your world with color and character that stays with you, leaves an impression in you and makes you a different person than you would have been otherwise.
These memories and moments are priceless, and in the long run, we as people are only what our memories and moments make us. I’m sure I could have taken the money I spent on that Music Midtown ticket and invested it or bought a swanky new overcoat. But I know that when I’m nearing my final breath in this life, I’ll have had a more rich and wonderful experience in this world because of the trip I chose to make and the lasting memories I made with my friends. That will never change. Damn an investment and damn a piece of clothing because you damn sure can’t take that with you to the other side.
In 2016, I finally sucked it up and bought a record player, a Technics SL-0350 specifically, and named her Apollonia. I’ve also built up a very respectable record collection from somewhat meager beginnings, and my attachment to the medium grows every day. So here are my top seveneight nine vinyls that I bought or bartered for in 2016, and after that we may or may not get to actual 2016 music.
8. War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?Found on Amazon. An incredibly tight and concise but freely funky latin jazz album that is probably mostly famous for having the single “Lowrider” on it. “Lowrider” is a perfectly awesome song, but please don’t think War is a one hit wonder. Give this album a listen front to back (a trim 44:04).
5. Kamasi Washington – The EpicFound at Lunchbox Records. This album (which lives up to its name at three discs) represents a kind of new generation of jazz. Washington, along with Terrace Martin, Thundercat and Robert Glasper are masters and innovators in their art, and have also embodied the natural relationship between hip hop and jazz. You won’t find anything like Washington’s collaborations with Kendrick Lamar on this journey, but it’s a rich and intricate listen. Seriously, just look at that album cover, the fact he named it The Epic, the fact that it’s his debut album, and tell me Kamasi doesn’t mean business.
4. Frank Ocean – Blond Found at LunchBox Records. Frank Ocean’s long awaited second album saw him make an undeniably unique album that explores his own demons and consciousness in a way that is both figuratively and literally a fuck you to pop music. I liked this album when I was listening to it on Spotify, but absolutely fell in love with it when I got the vinyl. The special clear vinyl edition is also pretty impressive.
3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your ServicePre-ordered from the ATCQ website. I’ll dive into this album a bit more in depth later in this series, but I’m pretty sure this is the first album I’ve ever pre-ordered. As soon as it became available, I knew I had to own it, now I’ve got it and I’m in loooooove with it and no, you can’t listen unless you can tell me who Georgie Porgie is.
2. Phish – HoistFound on Amazon. You may or may not enjoy Phish, but I’m guessing that if you don’t, you haven’t dug into some of their seminal albums of the mid nineties. Never a band known for their studio efforts, Hoist is the exception. An album that features more traditional songwriting than most Phish projects, Hoist represents an ideal intersection of free-form
Phish – Hoist
improvisation and pop friendly structure. Guest appearances from Allison Krauss and Bela Fleck give the album a bit of a bluegrass feel as well. Super nerdy note: Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation contributes a little trombone.
Despite being released in March of 1994, this album was not pressed on vinyl until Record Store Day 2016 (April 16), making a 12″ copy of this album a pretty rare find in the collection. Fortunately, Amazon is a tremendous resource for hard to find records like this.
1. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of LifeFound in the dollar bin at Lunchbox Records. Finding this album in the dollar bin was a true hidden gem moment. The album cover certainly had some water damage, but the vinyls inside were close to perfect. Getting this groundbreaking album (which goes for $40+ on Amazon, eBay etc.) for two dollars because of a rough-ish cover was the easiest decision I made all year. I mean, what other album has a whole tour anchored around playing it in its entirety?
Like a lot of other wannabe music critics, I sat down to write a Top Albums of 2016 list that would let me weigh in on what I thought the best new albums of a wild year in music were. As I got to reflecting on the past twelve months in music, I found that the new releases only represented a portion of my musical experience. How could I talk about my favorite new artists without mentioning the ones I had discovered (or rediscovered) in 2016?
A major influence on my listening habits developed this year when I finally built up a respectable record collection, after years of exclusively downloading and streaming music. This development alone represented a bulk of my musical appetite, having found a new appreciation for classics that were made for the medium of vinyl in the first place. I couldn’t possibly talk about new music without at least mentioning some of my 12” favorites.
2016 was also the year that I got serious about digging into jazz, an art form that had largely escaped me for most of my life, despite my affinity for hip hop and basketball covertly grooming me for an appreciation of the improvisational nature of the genre. It also helped that I got to see some of the best live jazz in Charlotte in person each month through Jazz at the Bechtler.
That’s where I choose to start this comprehensive, multi-part post detailing my year in music. I’ll start with jazz, go on to my favorite vinyls that I acquired in 2016, detail some of my least favorite albums of the year, shout out some of my favorites that didn’t make the Top 15 cut, show some love to the best local projects of the year, and finish with my Top 15 Albums of the year.
2016 was a year that probably won’t fade into obscurity any time soon, especially for music fans. It only makes sense that I document what the year in music meant to me, as it was probably one of the most significant years in my life in terms of musical development.
Buckle up, readers. We’re about to depart on one hell of a sonic journey.
Top Jazz Albums
In 2016, I listened to far more jazz than any other genre in total and 99% percent of those albums were certainly not made in 2016. Up until this past year, I hadn’t given the genre enough run despite being casually primed into jazz via years of hip-hop. I’ve also been lucky enough to be present for a year’s worth of #BechtlerJazz shows which let me experience the genre in its purest form. So to make a list talking about my favorite music of 2016, I’d be remiss to not at least include my top, let’s say seven jazz albums I’ve discovered in 2016. Also, for my friends that know jazz, hit me up and let me know what else I should be checking out.
7. Getz/Gilberto: This is definitely one of the most fun listens you can have. Who doesn’t feel swanky when at a dinner party with “Girl from Ipanema” playing in the background?
5. Wes Montgomery – Impressions: It’s really too bad that “guitar music” is seen as old and frumpy these days because Montgomery plays licks on this record that are still scorching the earth to this day.
4. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: I’ve listened to this record prior to 2016, but I picked up a vinyl copy this year, dug into it more, and yet – still feel like I have a long way to go with discovering this album.
1. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters: OK, so I’ve listened to this album way before 2016, but this year I got the vinyl and was able to listen to it properly, so perhaps that adds an asterisk to the top spot but hey – it’s my list. I have to shout out this record as being one of the funkiest and most mind bending albums out there, and Herbie Hancock as being such a master of the genre that he really becomes his own sub-style of jazz that absolutely no one has sounded like before or since.
I woke up this morning firmly in the icy-cold grip of an ominous fog of helplessness, the same disturbing sensation so many others across the country felt as well. Upset with myself, I wondered aloud how I could fail to fully realize how imminently possible a Presidency backed by hate and oppression was. There was no longer anything I could do in my power to prevent a future America backed by intolerance, and I was quick to blame myself for not doing more in the first place.
However, I quickly reminded myself that there is little one person can do that could present a devastating catastrophe on the national scale like the one we bore witness to Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Besides, there is no time for assigning blame or justifying fault.
Photo by Brian “BT” Twitty Photography
It is my belief that fear of the unknown is the strongest motivating emotion in human existence. I usually use the same example to illustrate this: If someone tells you to do ten push ups, you do ten push ups and then you’re done. No worries. Now imagine someone tells you to start doing push ups until they say stop. Gets a bit more dicey then, doesn’t it? With each consecutive push up, the uncertainty of your directive doesn’t allow for you to relax, making the aches and sores in your shoulder that much more difficult to ignore.
Fear of the unknown is exactly what had me worried the most today. Fear of what will happen to my friends and family that aren’t straight white males. Fear of what regressive policies will do to the Earth’s already fragile and wounded environment. Fear of what a pro-ignorance Presidency will do to an economy that is just beginning to see the light of day again. Fear of what Russian influence and Vladimir Putin could have on a bombastic yet morally weak and easily manipulated leadership.
This cloudy uncertainty is the feeling that is hitting me the hardest at this moment. Will we start rounding up all those who don’t fit a certain profile and send them to modern day concentration camps? It wasn’t all that long ago we did exactly that to Japanese Americans, back in the day when the new leadership constantly reminds us that America was supposedly great. Will free speech be banished and replaced by a state-sponsored system of propaganda? Will a Gestapo-like force knock on my door one night to make sure I’m not protecting people of color? Will it be determined that I have just enough color (and an odd enough last name) in me to be the person the Gestapo is looking for? Just like I’m not sure when I have to stop doing push ups, I’m not sure when I might need to go into a Hunger Games-like mode of survival.
Fear and uncertainty, however, cannot win.
Despite having a person that epitomizes all that I stand against in the greatest single position of power in this country, I still have the power to put positive energy into this world, and no one can take that from me. I still have the power in me to stand up for what I believe is right. I still have the power to set a positive example in my community, at a time when it is needed the most. I still have the power to stand firmly against the persecution of my friends and family. I still have the power to become more educated and, in turn, help educate others. I still have the power, while there is still a single breath in my lungs, to speak truth to power, and hold accountable those who seek to oppress, diminish or marginalize anyone in my community. I still have the power to volunteer for causes and the money to donate to charities. I still have the power to create art and music and share it with the world. I still have the power to make positive contributions to my neighbors and my society, for building a stronger foundation of knowledge and respect is how I, personally, can make a difference in the face of seemingly impenetrable hate. I still have the power to do all of these things, and no one, certainly not an elected official, can ever take that away from me.
I’m trying my best to remain confident and optimistic that our state of affairs seems much more bleak than what will actually transpire. Regardless, now is the time to stand tallest and most proud of who we are, and to lift up those around us. We are at our strongest when we are together, and we will overcome whatever uncertainty we may face.
This is a new reality. As painful as it may be, it’s one in which we will be forced to become the best possible versions of ourselves, and maybe that’s not as bad as it seems.
It’s been a little more than one year since I started my job at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. In that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to photograph the gorgeous Mario Botta-designed building on the southern side of Charlotte’s Uptown. I’d like to share a few of my favorite photos of the museum with you. This is the first of several photo essays on the Bechtler.
The Bechtler Building
The precise geometry of the building’s architecture can lead to some interesting optical illusions.
You can see the sparkled reflection of the Firebird against the bottom of the fourth floor in the early morning.
The cantilevered fourth floor column, like the rest of the museum, looks its best at night.
The right arch of the Firebird against the terra cotta exterior of the museum at night is gorgeous.
The cantilevered fourth floor column looks its best just before the sun rises.
The genius of the Bechtler’s design is the way the southern sun plays off of the different angles. It’s a new image at each hour of the day, every day.
The fourth floor column with Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #995
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 MountainI’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.
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 ItalianYo, 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 BarGotta wonder if voting took place before this happened. Plus, Epicenter.
Critic’s Pick: Best Place for B-Boys and B-Girls to Congregate – Breakin’ ConventionBreakin’ 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 ShopThis 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 TacoOK, 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 PâtisserieSo 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.
Critic’s Pick: Best Brunch – Letty’sTrick 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 & Bottle100% 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.
Me and the homies
Reader’s Pick: Best Sushi – Rusan’sSeriously. 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’sThis 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.
Reader’s Pick: Best Brewery – Olde Mecklenburg BrewerySeriously? 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.
Discs and beer on tap at Another Round Disc Golf
Reader’s Pick: Best Bicycle Shop – Uptown CyclesSince 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.
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.