My last panels of this year’s Midatlantic Music Conference were at 5 PM back at The Chop Shop in Charlotte’s NoDa district, and then the final night of showcases began immediately afterwards, with a showcase featuring artists from the student-run Split Rail Records label, which is a part of Appalachian State University in Boone. I particularly noticed a singer-songwriter from Charlotte on the label named Alexis Worthington, who was performing on the back indoor stage. Not long afterward, Raleigh-based indie artist Frank Hurd was performing his rootsy, tuneful style with his band on the front stage, and caught my attention.
During the brief period between the end of the afternoon panel and the start of the evening panel, I rode over to the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte and walked around. Plaza-Midwood is home to several of Charlotte’s oldest restaurants, including The Diamond and The Penguin, and is also home to the Fresh Exclusive Sneaker Boutique and the Social Status hip-hop shop.
The early Midatlantic Music Conference panels on Saturday that I was on were scheduled at a place called With These Hands Mix Academy, a unique and innovative DJ school which I located with some difficulty. It turned out to be in a larger complex of buildings called Area 15, a unique micro-business incubator that houses a bicycle recyclery for inner-city kids, office space for some environmental organizations, a free store (no kidding) where people can take what they need and pay what they can, and several youth organizations, many of which seem geared to giving inner city kids experience with entrepreneurship. The place literally buzzes with kids, and their joyful laughter and running feet could be heard upstairs the entire time of our two afternoon music panels. Hip-hop legend Parrish of the group EPMD was one of the panelists, and after the second panel, many of the neighborhood kids ran downstairs and out in front of the building to have their picture taken with him.
The first night of showcases for the Midatlantic Music Conference took place on three stages, with rock and folk acts on the two indoor stages at the Chop Shop, and the urban and hip-hop acts a block away at the Roux Bar behind Boudreaux’s at 36th and North Davidson. Both were well-attended, although Roux is a small venue, and it was hard to walk around in due to the crowd.
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.
When I left the conference, I rode to the Metropolitan center in Uptown Charlotte to eat at the Hickory Tavern, and I was surprised to run into the noted hip-hop producer Ninth Wonder, whom I had not seen since the old Southeast Music and Entertainment Summit conferences that we used to have in Myrtle Beach a few years ago. The whole music community seems to come to Charlotte during CIAA.