In the stoner classic Half Baked, Dave Chappelle describes bodegas as little corner stores with incredibly old products and pretty good weed. Allow the guys behind AMCS Bodega to explode that concept for you.
Over the course of a year, the collective — whose moniker stands for arts, music, clothing and sneakers — has steadily defined and refined Q.C. street culture with packed-to-the-rafters regional music showcases. Indie lines like FreshBaked and other local designs also enjoy the spotlight at these quarterly parties, called bodegas. There's nothing dusty about this product, and they don't mind if you call it dope.
Coming off the success of its fourth bodega, which sold out Amos' Southend on March 31, AMCS is readying its first official Block Party, to be held Saturday, April 27 in conjunction with Center City Charlotte's South End Soul festival. The Block Party will shut down Camden Road from South Tryon Street to Park Avenue from 2 to 10 p.m., freeing up space for food trucks, vendors, ping pong and a live music stage. They hope to include Deniro Farrar, Lotta, Royal-Tee, FANG, Makeda, Sky U and Modern Primitives. Performances kick off around 6 p.m.
"Art, music, clothing and sneakers is everything that encompasses our culture, but [Charlotte] never had a venue that could showcase everything at once," says Sam Massey, 24. Dark and slim, Massey exudes a warm but efficient energy; it's no surprise he's the brains behind AMCS Bodega.
"We have so many creative people here who deserve to be spotlighted and are hard workers, who feel they have to go outside of the city to make it. But we're building it here. We're not waiting for someone to come into the city and turn it out, we're going to make it happen for ourselves," Massey says.
Other members include Samir Hamid, Michael Smith Jr. and Alexx K. Gray. Each plays a different role.
Hamid, 21, is the people mover and hometown representative. "I'm off Providence Road, on the south side, but my street is the last one for Charlotte, so I went to East Meck instead [of Providence High School]. The South Side made me, but East Side raised me," Hamid says. An entrepreneur who's owned his own business since he was a teen, Hamid's Rolodex is deep and he draws on thousands of local connections to help fill the bodega nights.
"I'm the joker, in a good way," he says. "Sam and Mike do a lot of behind-the-scenes organization, like setting up meetings and doing a lot of stuff that nobody else is fond of doing but they like to do, and they're really good at it."
In early 2012, the guys all were working their individual ventures: Hamid was running his T-shirt printing shop, Massey and Smith produced the streetwear line NameUs Clothing and Gray was promoting music events. They were talking about what the Charlotte scene needed when they came up with the idea of a bodega — a little corner shop where you can get everything you need — of street culture.
Unlike other promoters, they didn't hew to their own personal acts, but opened the showcase for submissions to get a wide cross section of talent. Bloggers voted to select the artists before the crew gave a final listen and greenlighted the performers. "As an organizer, sometimes I don't even know the whole lineup in full," Gray says. "But people come out. They're not coming to see a major artist, but their own friends — and to see what else Charlotte has to offer."
Response has been strong: The second bodega's attendance doubled and it tripled at the third, forcing the group to turn away more than 100 people from NoDa's Chop Shop in September. Now, they receive more than 100 artist applications every time they open bodega registration, without any major sponsors or backing.
What makes the bodegas special is the diversity of voices: hip-hop, dance, alternative R&B and rock. Audiences are pretty well mixed, too. "I'm the only one out of the group who's not African American, but Mike and Sam bring out a lot of white people," says Hamid. "Lexx is very diverse, and I bring out a lot of people you wouldn't expect out of the street that have never been to something like that. Native Charlotte people." There's not much dancing at a bodega event — not enough elbow room. But you're likely to find people having a good time and supporting local music.
Hamid has a theory for why the bodegas feel so fresh. Party promoters "overlook our demographic completely, so a lot of what they do is 10 years behind," he says. "Charlotte is a big question mark. We're like an open room. The crazy thing is, if you have a Charlotte sound or look, you don't get love in Charlotte, because it's so different. It's so new, people don't know how to react to it."
The group's ultimate vision is to do for Charlotte what South by Southwest did for Austin: put it on the map as its own growing, independent culture. Charlotte's not your typical Southern town, Smith says. "The identity is kind of a melting pot. There are people from New York, up north, out west, so everyone is adding their own spin. The bodegas are a way for all these people to mingle together."
Though the bodegas have been straightforward music showcases, Block Party attendees can expect a bit more of a free-flowing good time. "The Block Party is just a chance for us to open up, loosen up, have fun. Our fans are used to the bodega vibe, so it's just a chance for them to let loose," Smith says.
Ted Boyd, director of South End Soul, says the festival is "a way to represent and engage the South End so people get a little taste of what the neighborhood is about."
For years, the festival's arts focus drew an older crowd, so they're working with AMCS to showcase the neighborhood's vibe to a broader audience, and incorporating b-boy dance competitions and other youth-flavored attractions to add fresh appeal. But there will still be an art component, given its proximity to the Charlotte Art League, on Camden.
"I never had a situation where I was excited to work as hard as I do, as we do on the Bodega. It's very grueling, it drains the life out of you," Massey says. "But the next day you say, 'Yeah, we made this happen.' Seeing people hashtag the Bodega and hundreds of pictures on Instagram, the joy people take in a local show, the support that's there, that really keeps me going."
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