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Friday, June 23, 2017

Rain Can't Stop the Vogue

The first Pride Pool Party of the summer

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 10:25 AM

Tear-away swim trunks, nonstop voguing and a little bit of rain.

Those were the highlights of my Sunday a couple weeks ago. Why, you may ask? I went to this year's first Takeover Friday's LGBTQ and Ally Pool Party hosted by Craft City Social Club.

For those of you in the Q.C. who don't know, let me school y'all real quick. June is reserved for Pride Month in honor of the Stonewall Riots that took place in Manhattan in 1969.

As a major social demonstration against police mistreatment of members of the gay community, Stonewall has become recognized as the catalyst of the LGBT movement for civil rights.

In Biggie's words, "If you don't know, now you know."

Shortly after the month of June kicked off, the event popped up on my Facebook feed. I immediately marked myself as "interested."

The only thing that would keep me from going was the fact that it was on a Sunday. Would I really want to risk being hungover on a Monday?

But y'all knew that was not going to stop your girl, right?

I took the trolley from Elizabeth to Uptown in the hopes of sweating out some of the alcohol from the night before. Once there, I went straight to Latta Arcade to get a pizza from Zablong. Little did I know they were closed on Sundays.

I settled (yes, settled) for Mellow Mushroom before heading over to Craft City Social Club to meet one of my friends for the event.

Located inside the Sheraton at the corner of S. McDowell and E. Stonewall streets in Second Ward, Craft City Social Club is an indoor/outdoor poolside bar and lounge. Opened in 2016 along with City Lights Rooftop next door, Craft City Social Club is the only social club with a pool that Charlotteans don't have to worry about "crashing."

Not to mention, they have plenty of games to keep an adult child occupied, including billiards, darts, fuse ball, life-sized Jenga and shuffleboard.

I grabbed a parking ticket and stuffed my face with one more slice of pizza. As I walked past the pool area I could feel the energy from the party spill over the greenery-covered enclosure.

Once inside, I searched for my friend who'd been waiting for me for over an hour (I know, I know, I was upholding the stereotype).

Fortunately, he'd made a few friends and was sitting comfortably with his feet in the pool. Despite my tardiness, he hopped up with a smile on his face and agreed to walk to with me to grab a glass of champagne at the bar.

I surveyed the landscape and confirmed what I've always known, LGBT parties are some of the most care-free, happy-go-lucky celebrations of self a human can ever be blessed to experience. Yes, there can be drama and it can be difficult to fit in to smaller cliques — as with any group — but nothing beats Speedos and voguing for hours on end.

As a matter of fact, one partygoer came by himself and vogued non-stop to every song. Even when he was drenched in sweat, or rain, nothing stopped him from dancing.

Drinks were expensive so my comrade and I didn't concern ourselves much with running back and forth to the bar. Instead, we decided to take a dip in the pool where everyone else had made themselves comfortable on a pool float.

It goes without saying, but once I found a float shaped like a piece of pizza to take the perfect #Instaphoto on (find me at omgaerin), my day was complete.

It's a good thing, too, because shortly after, it started to rain. What a bummer, I thought. My friend and I grabbed our things and went inside for some shelter and tried our hand at ring toss.

We were contemplating making our exit, thinking the party was over when all of a sudden "It's Raining Men" came on. You guessed it! Everyone was belting out the tune while dancing in the rain. Now that's what I call a finale fit for a queen — for us anyway.

If you missed the first pool party put on by Takeover Friday, the South's longest running LGBTQ and ally mobile happy hour, you're in luck! Three more are scheduled for July 10, August 13 and September 10. Mark your calendars and get ready to show your support and PRIDE!

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Leandrea Hill Depicts the Beautiful Secrets of Big, Black Women

The love below

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 7:00 AM

After Leandrea Hill told me about her most recent art project, I couldn't get that Drake lyric out of my head — you know, the one that goes, "I like my girls BBW."

Hill's latest project focuses specifically on just that: BBWs, or big black women. Hill's preference has always been to paint plus-sized black women, but for her most recent series, the Juicy Collection, she took it a step further.

"This is my first time focusing specifically on the vagina," she told me.

Hill explained that the project was born "because I had someone contact me about having a painting of their vagina done – commissioned – for their bedroom."

The collection ended up consisting of 13 up-close-and-very-personal paintings.

"They're all plus-sized black women who I had submit. I want to celebrate our vaginas," Hill said. "I wanted to focus specifically on black plus-sized women – our most intimate area."

On June 3, she celebrated the new collection's release as well as her that of her chapbook, "Beautiful After Dark." Hill is a poet primarily, and the book showcases her written work, including selections of her erotic poetry ("pornetry" as she calls it). She considers the Juicy Collection and all of her visual art "unspoken poems."

Like some aspects of the female anatomy, the location of the release party was elusive and mysterious. I almost walked into someone else's semi-formal event before finding Hill's studio tucked in the middle of a business center on North Tryon. The studio is made up of two tiny rooms, the white walls barely visible behind the patchwork of bright paintings that stretch from floor to ceiling.

The artist (far right) speaks with the author. (Photo by Tyrone Combs)
  • The artist (far right) speaks with the author. (Photo by Tyrone Combs)

In the first room, Hill's latest unspoken poems were unmistakable. In shades of brown and purple, the paintings were visually similar, but represented a diversity of vaginas.

As Hill described the collection: "Some of them are pierced, some of them are a little fuller than others, some of them are dark, some of them are light."

(Interestingly, though, all of them were shaved.)

The little studio was crowded. Attendees, including friends of Hill and the subjects of the paintings, rearranged themselves, stepping this way and that to stay out of the way. Some slipped past each other to make trips to pick up deviled eggs and chicken salad. People mulled over the paintings, pointing out favorites. One of the pieces reminded someone of a shaggy dog. Another said it looked like Edvard Munch's "The Scream." All agreed that the collection was important.

"It's definitely a way to bring light to our bodies, to paint positive about our vaginas and the things that they do, as far as bringing forth life, bringing forth intimacy, love and lust," said Hill. "All of those things are tied in. Even though it's nude and it's most definitely a private area, it's not vulgar. It's just art — the art of our bodies."

I went to get more chicken salad. Commenting on how good it was, someone called it "chicken crack" and everyone laughed. The buzz in the room was overwhelmingly joyful. Between signing books and taking photos, Hill told whomever was standing nearby about the challenges she faced in taking a photo of her own vagina.

"I have two selfie sticks," she said. "Not once did I think of using them!"

I felt like I had stumbled on a group of friends, and never like I didn't belong. The joy and intimacy of the venue reflected the joy and intimacy of the subject matter; no hushed tones, no docent monitoring from the corner of the room.

Hill mentioned that in the past she has unsuccessfully applied for grants to support her visual art projects — although she didn't apply for any for this particular collection. I thought about what role the venue and any attached institutional support have in altering the art's message and meaning.

I imagined an exhibit of BBW vaginas at the Mint Museum. Would an institutional sanction be worth celebrating? Would such a venue strip the art of its intended purpose: that it's by, for and about black women? More curation and less celebration?

Naturally, Hill seeks a wider audience for her work, but as the roomful of friends cracked jokes and passed around plastic cups full of wine, I couldn't help feeling like the intimacy of the little space and the exuberant atmosphere were an inextricable part of experiencing Hill's work.

Hill herself considered the event a success. The next day, she took to Facebook to thank everyone who supported her latest endeavor.

"The art of blk bbw vaginas is real," she wrote. "It's magnificent."

Apparently, Drake was right all along.

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Partying With the Parents

PG-13 for what?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 7:00 AM

"Aerin, we're trying something new!"

My mom had a huge grin on her face while she played shuffleboard at The Gin Mill in South End. I couldn't believe my P.I.C.'s parents convinced her to play. But there she and my pops were, having the time of their lives (I left out the fact that the game is more popular in retirement homes than among my generation and let them have fun with their new game).

My parents came to town for my dad's birthday a couple weeks ago and you know what that means. Not only was I able to party with people who can take care of me when I'm drinking but I

was also able to enjoy a staycation at the Ritz for a couple days — sorry, not sorry!

Let me start by saying that finding things to do when my parents are in town is a huge challenge. They aren't into drinking, packed bars, belligerent drunk folk, hookah or loud music. And based on my previous articles, you can imagine that limits our options quite a bit. In the past, we've found family-friendly activities in the Q.C., such as dressing up for a Halloween house party and jazz at Blue Restaurant & Bar. This time, however, the itinerary was completely up to me.

When they arrived on Thursday, the plan was for me to have all of my things ready to go so they could scoop me from work and we could go straight to the hotel. Obviously, drinking on Wednesday night got in the way of that. So I went home, gathered my things and had them pick me up from there. By the time they arrived, I was nervous we'd check in to the hotel and the birthday boy would go to sleep. So I made him put our first destination in the GPS — Sycamore Brewing.

Like I said, my parents aren't exactly the go-with-the-flow type. For the entire ride over to South End, my parents' banter was continuous. "Where are we going? I don't want to go to a bar. Is it that hookah spot? If so, I'm good. Are we in the hood?" I rolled my eyes and sighed with every complaint as we pulled into the parking lot at Sycamore.

"Is Guy here?" my pops asked as we walked in. I didn't even know what he was talking about at first. That's when I saw the Papi Queso kitchen menu in front of him. His eyes lit up as he said, "Shut up! That's what I meant by 'is Guy here?!'"

My parents are huge fans of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Pops had talked about the "Papi Queso" episode for months, so I knew snagging The Pig Mac — complete with pulled pork, bourbon onions and mac 'n' cheese — was at the top of our to-do list. We sat down at one of the picnic tables outside — thankfully it wasn't Food Truck Friday — on one of the most perfect, cool Queen City evenings. After eating his Pig Mac and enjoying one of his favorite past-times of people-watching, my pops would've loved to hit the town, but my mom and I knew it was only a matter of time before he passed out for the night.

The following day, I went to work. They met me for lunch and I introduced them to one of my favorite people in the city and coincidentally, my favorite hot dog — Vic the Chili Man.

We ate dogs in Romare Bearden Park and made plans for them to crash my office's happy hour at 204 North a few hours later. I should've avoided the glasses of champagne I had before dinner, because that's when the P.I.C. hit me up asking what our plans were for the night.

We decided to head to Gin Mill and beat the tipsy crowd. Once I saw how entertained our parents were playing shuffleboard, I decided it would be a good idea to get an RBV ... I was wrong. On a weekend when I should've been showing how "grown up" I was, my mindset shifted quickly from PG to the border between PG-13 and quickly into rated R territory. SBy the time 10 p.m. rolled around, I was ready to rally and my parents were dragging me, kicking and screaming in my mind, back to the hotel. There, I proceeded to argue with them about why I should be "allowed" to take an Uber back out and why I didn't want to watch a movie they were watching until I passed out – fully clothed. Sighs.

Thank goodness for breakfast in the hotel, errands and a little brunch at Napa on Providence to tie off the weekend nicely. Otherwise, I might've single-handedly ruined a great visit. Oh Aerin, when will you learn?

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Uptown's Best-Kept Secret Returns

Queen City speakeasy

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 11:28 AM

On The week of April 1st, I received an email from someone who worked for a marketing company based in New York. It read:

"I'm happy to share that The Dock returns this weekend! Starting Saturday night April 1 at 9 p.m., Uptown speakeasy, The Dock will once again throw open its doors. After renovations, The Dock is more easily accessible though guests will still have to look for the light in the loading dock of the Charlotte Marriott City Center on N. Church St.

"The Dock will be open every Saturday night serving five Prohibition era cocktails, wine, beer and snacks... along with a few surprises. On other nights, the space will be Charlotte's most unique private event space.

"If you'd like to check out The Dock this Saturday night (4/1), just arrive early and use the secret password – 'April Fool's' (no joke!) – to skip the line."

This sounded too good to be true. If you've followed along, you know checking out The Dock has been at the top of my to-do list since I caught wind of the new, secret spot back in fall 2016. I'm sure you're wondering, "If it was at the top of your list, Aerin, why are you just now going? It's June 2017, after all!" Sighs. A combination of too much to drink on certain nights, inclement weather on others but mostly, they were shut down by the fire department for a short while i.e. "renovations."

Now back to this email. The more I talked about the contents of this email from a stranger, the more I started to freak myself out about whether or not it was legit. Why New York? No marketing for The Dock on his social? Was this really an April Fool's joke? What if he was a creeper? Maybe I watch way too many horror movies, but you're not going to catch me walking around a part of Uptown I'm less familiar with looking for a secret entrance based on an invite from an out-of-state stranger.

I decided I wouldn't go until I didn't have to go by myself. Next thing you know, it's June and my girlfriends and I are planning a girls' night to check it out finally. Better late than never though, right?

We hopped out of our Uber and approached the stairs of the loading dock. Once inside, we rounded the corner and another door with a handwritten sign on a piece of scrap paper read: Welcome to The Dock. White brick, corrugated metal on the ceiling, string lights, barrels for tables and a small buffet toward the front contribute to the intimate, cocktail party-style vibe in the small space.

The crowd was slightly more pompous than typical partygoers at SIP — the place we ended up going after. But then again, why wouldn't an elusive, underground bar with a limited drink menu attract a "more mature" crowd? Ever so tipsy and a wee bit uncomfortable, we were dead set on grabbing at least one drink before heading somewhere we could truly turn up.

We approached the buffet, where the bartender was literally turning up the heat on a Manhattan he was preparing. The drink menu was outlined in chalk on small board: Evening Libations – Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sidecar, French 75 and Rum Punch. After waiting for a bit while he handcrafted each cocktail, we decided we'd just grab a glass of champagne. (Or maybe it was the fact that we'd already "tied a few on" and couldn't handle a strong cocktail?) We chatted with the bar manager while he mixed drinks about the recent changes they'd made, the drink menu and the bar's limited marketing strategy – you can't find info on them anywhere outside of articles.

He explained that the concept for The Dock was inspired by Prohibition (not the other Uptown bar, the time period). When you think back to the 1930s and the illegality of consumption, you don't think about social media or Google Plus pages. Instead, you think of keeping things on the hush, hush. Spreading the good news about your secret cocktail room via word of mouth.

Overall? The Dock is a cool-ass space for hosting a private event or coordinating the pregame before the pregame. Or maybe you want to take your "Real Sidechick of Charlotte" — if you haven't heard, GOOGLE IT NOW – to a quiet spot where no one will see you. Or maybe even find a Sugar Daddy — don't Google that one at work, things could get hairy. Whatever your reason for going, experiencing it for yourself almost feels like a rite of passage in the Queen City.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How Many More Days Off Do We Have?

A doozy of a weekend

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 10:30 AM

"What day is it?" That's a question you're bound to hear from me on a three-day weekend.

A combination of too much PBR and an extended weekend that only happens a handful of times each year for the hardworking young professional?

Whatever the case may be, there's no doubt that everyone's days begin to run together.

This weekend was no different. It started out around 4:45 p.m. on Friday. I went to Heist Brewery for a couple beers on the patio. I'm not a huge fan of their food, but this time I tried the crab dip and I can't say I was disappointed.

After Heist, I thought it would be a wise idea to stop by Hot Taco to meet up with some friends. It was supposed to be an early night so I could be productive the following morning before soaking up some sun at the pool.

The next thing I know, it's close to 11 p.m. and I'm headed to a co-worker's for a nightcap.

An hour or so later, I received an invite to go camping the following night. I'd missed out on the camping trip in Virginia the year prior, so there was no way I was turning down the invitation. The only problem? We were leaving around 9:30 a.m. the following morning and I remember seeing 4 a.m. before passing out on my co-worker's couch.

That's why I was dry heaving into a pint glass heading home at 7 a.m. in the morning. This ride to Virginia was going to be a doozy.

I packed an overnight bag for my first camping trip and hopped in my ride to VA. To my surprise, the trip wasn't as brutal as I thought it would be, and getting there took only a couple hours.

Unbeknownst to me, my friends have been taking this trip yearly for the better part of a decade, and after piling onto a cot earlier than I thought I would and listening to the sound of rain splash (inside and outside) of the tent, I guess I can see why. The scenic views, beautiful farmland, quaint farmhouse (with electricity) and nostalgia for unshared memories of those who'd attended in previous years.

Oh, and did I mention there were seven kegs?

The next morning around 8 a.m. I woke up to the sound of rustling as folks started to pack and clean up.

The last thing I remembered from the night before was trying to decide whether or not I could rally for another drink while staring into the dark of the tent. That's when someone started yakking outside and realized I didn't want to be that person.

As we piled back in the car to head back to the Q.C., I was thankful for three things: the chance to improve my beer pong game, the fact that I wasn't hungover and that this black chick survived her first camping trip.

After returning to Charlotte, I set out to find something to do. Like I said, a long weekend is too good a thing to waste.

A co-worker had given me tickets to Kehlani at The Fillmore later on that night, but that was hours away. I texted my friend who was going with me to the concert and she was already pregaming at NoDa Company Store. I was surprised to find an above-ground pool filled with buns and guns when I walked in.

As it happened, they were having a luau and pool party in honor of Memorial Day. How fun?!

If you've never been to this quaint little venue situated behind Smelly Cat Coffeehouse & Roastery, stop what you're doing and go now! A bottle shop featuring local brews, sangria, unique art and a spacious patio, NoDa Company Store is sure to be one of your favorite places to hangout.

I'm hoping they'll plan another pool party before the summer is over.

After a couple drinks there, I could already feel Kehlani slipping through our fingers. I looked at my co-worker and asked if we should go.

The next thing I know, it's almost 1 a.m., I'm arguing in a parking lot and I realize we never even set our sights on AvidXchange Music Factory. Oh well, the tickets were free.

The conclusion of a busy weekend ended on a rooftop complete with pool, sun and friends. Not too shabby for an unplanned four day weekend, right?

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'Daddy' Is Bleeding Into Popular Usage and Provoking Consideration of Our Own Desires

Who's really your daddy?

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 10:26 AM

The word "daddy" makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

When you use it for your actual father, there's that weird sex thing. And when you use it during sex, there's that weird dad thing.

It turns out that there's a long history of finding "daddy" sexy and an equally long history of finding the endearment disturbing and creepy.

In fact, there's a song from as far back as 1920 called, "I Want To Go To The Land Where The Sweet Daddies Grow." (Yeah.)

allisonbraden.jpg

So, what is "daddy" all about, really? Does it have anything to do with "daddy issues?" Sigmund Freud would say yes (obviously). He developed the theory of the "feminine Oedipus attitude," which described the phenomenon of women competing with their mothers for the sexual possession of their fathers.

It's this specter of incest and Freudian psychology that makes some uncomfortable.

As one friend pointed out, "If I'm choking you and biting you and fucking you, then I'm most certainly not your daddy."

Fair. But I'm skeptical that someone's desire to call their partner daddy has much to do with their biological father at all.

I called up Dr. Kent Brintnall, a sexuality and eroticism professor at UNC Charlotte, for a philosophical perspective.

"I think it's fairly safe to say that part of both the discomfort but also the pleasure is because it raises this kind of transgressive notion of the parent-child relationship."

But it's not, like, really about incest, right?

Brintnall says no.

"In the same way, people interested in puppy play, if presented with the actual possibility of bestiality, would be like, 'No!' Like, no, that isn't what this is about."

For more insight, I turned to that other fount of wisdom and expertise: Facebook.com.

When I posted a status asking whether "daddy" was sexy or not sexy, many responses were unequivocal:

"Ew."

"Super creepy."

"Creep factor 10."

Other responses went into a level of detail I didn't expect:

"Not exactly sure why but it makes me totally lose focus."

"I think it's hot, but it has to be used sparingly and preferably close to climax."

One comment seemed to sum up a healthy approach to sexuality in general:

"I think it's fine if the other person thinks it's fine!"

In my conversations about this over the last couple of weeks, I found that everyone seems to have an opinion.

Many have considered their own desire to use daddy or not, or they've encountered a preference for it from a partner.

But what is that desire really about?

I'm not the first columnist to wonder. Back in 1922, when "daddy" was all the rage, Los Angeles Times columnist Alma Whitaker speculated, "Doesn't it look like a tender longing for authority, a pathetic craving to be enthroned once more in domesticity? A back-to-nature and the superlatives of paternity?"

But I don't think so. Like much else about BDSM, calling someone or being called daddy is about playing with power and authority; letting control slip in and out of your grasp; feeling the rush of being subsumed or subsuming someone else in a setting where it feels safe to let go of yourself.

Playing with power in bed can be about seizing control when the rest of the world feels unmanageable.

Or, on the flip side, it can be about feeling temporarily unmoored from the weight of daily life.

To me, "daddy" and other erotic experiments with power give voice to a fundamental yearning: to connect across the bounds of our own consciousness and to experiment with relinquishing ourselves to each other.

In a cultural moment marked by bitter division, I won't begrudge anyone's attempts to achieve a transcendent connection. Even if those attempts can be just a little bit weird.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

TRAP Karaoke Is a Thing, and I'm Here For It

Trappin' in the Q.C.

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 7:00 AM

This past Sunday at 3 p.m., for the second time in the past two months I might add, I was standing in a cellphone repair shop hoping to fix my phone screen. *Sighs.*

I don't know about you, but I'm no habitual cellphone breaker, so you can imagine my disgust at having to pay upwards of $150 to get my screen replaced twice in such a short period of time. Nevertheless, the cracked screen was a reminder of yet another epic weekend in the Queen City.

How many times can you run into the same person and not remember having had a conversation with them? In this specific incidence, the first time came on Food Truck Friday. I'd received a tap on my back and turned to hear the words, "Two days in a row?" Stunned, I responded without quickly recalling sharing small talk with the man in front of me from the night before. As he walked away, however, the embarrassing introduction I'd given at 5Church's five-year anniversary shindig started to flood back to me. All I could think for the next day was how many times this had happened to me before. The answer was, way too many.

So, why was my phone broken, you ask? Well, after a few escapades around the Q.C. on Thursday and Friday, Saturday was actually so lit, my brain nor my phone could keep up. Ink N Ivy, 5Church, AA5, SIP (yes, two weekends in a row), The Corner Pub, Murphy's Kitchen, Sycamore Brewing, Workman's Friend and Whiskey Warehouse. Even after making so many moves already, I knew I was going to have to keep the party going because my old roommate was coming into town for TRAP Karaoke at The Underground on Saturday (more on that later).

But first, in true Joanne the Scammer fashion, why not scam my way into a boat trip on Lake Wiley for a little pregame? I grabbed a bottle of champagne and hopped on the highway. By the time 4 p.m. rolled around, the sun was bright, I was unsuspectingly working on a sunburn (yes, those of us with melanin can still burn) and my old roommate was almost in town. That's when the boat decided it was going to stop working. Panic mode, right? Nope, how about shotgunning a beer instead? After all, who doesn't make the most out of situations like that, right?

Four hours and a tow later, it was 8 p.m., TRAP Karaoke was starting and my friend and I were just walking into my house to get ready. Give the tickets away? Negative. I was going to hear some trap music before calling it a night.

You're probably wondering what trap music is and what TRAP Karaoke looks like? Well, for the average music listener like me it's more of a feeling I get or a place to go and buy drugs than a music genre with a tangible definition. Artists like Boosie Badazz, Crime Mob and Young Jeezy come to mind and all I want to do is form a mosh pit. But a simple Google search will reveal that trap music has much more depth.

Born out of 90s southern hip hop, trap music incorporates pitched and resampled hip hop vocals, gangsta synth leads, layered synthesizers, heavy kick drums like those from a Roland TR-808 drum machine, pipe flutes and triple hi hats. These days, however, trap has gotten tied up in EDM culture — that's why I wasn't surprised when the event page advertising TRAP Karaoke popped up on my timeline, now it's accepted into the fold of mainstream music.

Before my friend decided to surprise me with tickets for my birthday, I went to the website to get a feel for what the event would look like. The first quote I noticed? "TRAP Karaoke is like going to church ... but instead of 'Amazing Grace,' you're singing 'Back That Azz Up.'" Then, I read, "Anything can happen at the night show. Like your favorite rapper surprising you on stage." And after watching videos of a crowd jumping and singing in unison, even without music, and Pastor Troy walking on stage at one of the shows, I was sold!

Donned in military boots, a metal bralette, high-waist jeans and a jean jacket, I entered The Underground for the sold-out show. I'd never been to the mid-sized music venue before, and was just as shocked to see how many people were filling the space as I was the "fire lane" carpets that surrounded the center standing room area. My friend and I made our way to the very front right next to the stage and proceeded to let loose while performers belted out some of our fave songs on stage. Granted, by the time we arrived "fashionably late," there were fewer artists performing trap music as the music shifted to "I'm Going Down" by Mary J. Blige and other artists like Keyshia Cole. Nevertheless, we sang and it was lit.

TRAP Karaoke is a nationally touring event, so unfortunately Charlotteans won't be able to experience the cultural goodness anytime soon. But be on the lookout, and sign up to perform the next time around. It definitely made breaking my phone at 4 a.m. well worth it.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Weekend of Charlotte Firsts

I did not see that coming

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 12:19 PM

I've been spending a lot of time alone lately, and despite the fact that I'm an only child, I can't say I've been enjoying it. That's why, as of late, I've been finding myself in quite a few random situations. On that note, this past weekend was certainly one for the books.

On Thursday, I was invited to Hot Taco in South End for a co-worker's birthday. I'm not a huge fan of Mexican food, but what the birthday girl wants, the birthday girl gets. Did I mention they have select $1 draft beers on Thursdays? Yeah, I wasn't complaining. I grabbed a couple pints, munched on some chips and started inquiring about what would come next after getting stir crazy. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one. One of my old co-workers was ready to go as well. We decided to walk over to Slate Charlotte, but it was dead.

Even though we'd already had a beer at Alive After Five (AA5) prior to the South End trek, it was clear our next best choice for 8 o'clock on a Thursday was to return to the famous after-work happy hour spot at Rooftop 210 in the EpiCentre. Just when I thought I was much more sober than everyone else, I realized I'd gotten caught up in a conversation with a Ghanaian-American vet about her desire to serve this country. That's how you know I've crossed the buzzed threshold, I start talking about politics, race relations, social issues and the like with random strangers.

In true "Saved by the Bell" fashion, I looked down at my phone to a text from the birthday girl and crew that simply said, "Going to SIP." After looking back at our texts, I was clearly far past the tipping point as it appears I photo-documented my entire Charlotte pedicab ride from the EpiCentre to SIP. Sighs, why do we do these things to ourselves?

Once inside SIP, I realized I'd never been in there before – TWO levels of great dancing music, including reggae?! "How could that possibly be?" I asked myself as I stared at Prohibition next door knowing I'd been there one too many times. I introduced myself to the bouncer, then turned to threat mode when I realized I needed him to watch my 30-pound backpack, complete with all of my essentials.

"I know who you are..." He laughed, unbothered, by my threats and proceeded to watch my bag for me despite my distrusting attitude. (Thank you, sir. You're the real G.O.A.T. of Thursday night.)

You'd think after staying out until 3 a.m. that I'd slow down on Friday, right? Nope, it was time for another first. This time, however, it was my first time going to Queen Park Social while sober. An old co-worker — a.k.a. my P.I.C. — had put together a semi-surprise get together for her boyfriend and I ran errands with her after work for moral support.

If you haven't been, Queen Park Social is one of the newest additions to South End right across the street from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. The venue features two patios, shuffleboard, ping pong, bowling, a huge bar and right around 18,000 square feet of "boutique" adult playground. I'm not sure how the process for party reservations will work in the future, as it appears they are still working out the kinks, but she was able to call ahead and snag two lanes for two hours for around $30/lane. The icing on the cake? There are servers that camp out by the lanes, ready and willing to replace your drinks on the reg. Now that's what I call service. I can't say I'm all that impressed by the food, but let's be honest, at an adult playground, you're probably not there for the food.

Saturday and Sunday, of course, were reserved for the woman whose womb I popped out of, but on my way back to Charlotte after Mother's Day brunch I received an invite to another first: free tickets to Future and Migos at PNC Pavilion. As my old roommate and I made our way down Highway 29, we watched as scantily clad concertgoers walked for what felt like miles alongside our ride. In a twist of good fortune, a cop told us to park in the "lot on the right up ahead." Little did we know, this was the lot RIGHT in front of the venue. Around 9:05 p.m. we were settling down in seats that were about 25 rows away from the stage and at 9:15 p.m. Future was already performing. Come on, I can't make this stuff up.

The highlight of the show? Either the contact high we received just from being under the tent, or the backup dancers that were getting lit Soulja Boy-style the entire show. Or maybe it was EJ Esco's fine self? I digress, you'll never believe me but the show was over promptly at 10:29 p.m. and we were back on the highway by 10:45 p.m. Where they do that at?!

Just another first for me.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Day-Long Excursion Ends at a Hidden Gem on Plaza

When in Crystal

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 11:47 AM

This past week has been a complete blur. I've been in such a funk that I decided to cope by going out every day after work last week. No, I wasn't super hungover or spewing anywhere, but still, I was doing the most.

When Friday rolled around, a co-worker had already made plans for the night and the following day. Naturally, I followed along as I made my way from BlackFinn to Corner Pub to Rí Rá. When the Red Bull took over, I decided I should even continue to twerk my way all the way to Blue Olive Lounge.

The next morning I decided to be productive, clean up around the house and run some errands. It wasn't long, however, before I was being summoned to Sycamore Brewing for a couple beers. When the rain forced everyone inside, we were more than ready to make the next move. It gets ridiculously packed there when everyone's forced inside.

After Sycamore, we stopped in at The Corner Pub to regroup and figure out where we wanted to go for the next couple hours. Some friends of ours were going to see Bastille, so we thought heading over to VBGB would be the best move, that way our friends could pregame with us. But you know how day drinking goes. We may have been there for 15 minutes before I started hearing rumblings about everyone wanting to go home and either crash on the couch or take a nap.

Anyone who knows me knows that I will not take a nap after day drinking in the hopes of waking back up to rally again. Nope, not going to happen. I got dropped off and decided to head back out on my own. When I started getting bored, I thought, maybe it's just time to call it a night altogether. It was close to 9 p.m. after all.

Just when I'd let go of the idea of partying, one of my closest friends from back home hit me up. We eventually met some other friends at Thomas Street Tavern in Plaza Midwood. Very quickly, however, we realized just how late to the party we were. Drinks were being spilled, screams were being directed at random jerks and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of dodge. That's when I overheard someone who I thought knew one of my colleagues talking about Crystal On the Plaza.

I'd heard rumors that Crystal was a local favorite for reggae and thought this was the perfect time to check it out. As we prepared to leave, I turned to the last friend standing, FT we'll call her, and politely said, "Listen babe, I don't think you're going to want to go here." After all, she had been drinking damn near all day and the clock was just striking 2 a.m. She saw right through me, and before I could voice my true concerns, she interjected. "Listen girl, I went to a predominantly black high school and I was the only white cheerleader, I got this." Can't get anything past her.

When we arrived, there were cops standing around outside of the entrance. Some were going in and the bouncers weren't moving the line. I turned to one of the cops and asked if the spot was getting shut down, to which she said, "I don't think so, there's just always illegal activity going on in here."

That's when the bouncer turned to our group and informed us that the cover charge would be $20 a piece! Say what?! Fortunately, my childhood friend's acquaintance had the cash and offered to pay for our five-person group. Once inside, I couldn't believe my eyes, the space was jam-packed. What's crazier? It was filled with hundreds of people and they couldn't even serve alcohol anymore!

We stumbled upon the patio to the right of the entrance and found a space to call our own. I took one look around at the crowd and thought, "So this is what unfiltered, untamed culture looks like," and immediately started dancing the night away. I even met the owner — Miss Mary they called her. She found her way into her dance circle — a petite, gray-haired lady with a short haircut. And she wasn't skipping a beat, she laughed and moved her hips just as quickly as we were. Yas honey! When patrons started to get protective over her, I knew that she had to be the woman in charge. I got her number and left her to enjoy her night.

Little did I know, she wouldn't be going home. An hour or so later, when the clock struck 4:00 a.m., there came Miss Mary still moving her hips. We laughed a tired laugh, and decided it was time to go. My only regret? I never went to the food window where patrons were getting to-go plates. I don't know what all they had on the menu, but I know I spotted some mac and cheese somewhere. On the way home, I turned to my petite, blonde-haired, blue-eyed friend, "I can't believe you stayed out that whole time." She laughed and responded, "You know what they say, when in Rome ... well now it's when in Crystal!"

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Charlotte Area Power Exchange Helps Kinky Charlotteans Shed Inhibitions (and Clothes)

A nonprofit that wants us all to live our sexiest lives

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 11:43 AM

A few important questions inevitably arise in the course of a relationship: What are your career aspirations? Do you want kids? Where do you stand on the pineapple-on-pizza debate? What do you like in bed? That last one makes me nervous. It's often asked late at night, in the dark, tangled up in blankets and vulnerability. What will he think about what I want? I worry about being judged when I wear anything edgier than clothes from the Gap. Letting someone into my darkest fantasies is an experience fraught with fear. I mean, what if he thinks I'm weird?

If he does — and it turns him off — that would be sad. But a bigger tragedy would be letting the fear of judgment keep me from living my sexiest life. Luckily, there's an organization in Charlotte dedicated to helping kinky Charlotteans shed their inhibitions (and clothes) and live those sexiest lives, safely and free of judgment.

Allison Braden
  • Allison Braden

The Charlotte Area Power Exchange (CAPEX) is a nonprofit BDSM education organization. BDSM is an acronym that covers a lot of ground. A quick Google search shows that nobody really agrees on what BDSM stands for specifically, but it's always some mix of the words bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism. BDSM enthusiasts can be everyone from those who enjoy the occasional spanking and hair pulling to those who get off on being gagged, restrained and flogged — to those who desire to be a full-time sex slave. CAPEX caters to everyone on that spectrum of kinky proclivities.

The organization is pansexual, meaning all sexualities are welcome. Founded in 2000, it's the longest running pansexual BDSM organization in Charlotte that puts education first. So, what does this "education" look like?

Every month, the group hosts a private event featuring an educational talk or demonstration followed by a social for its members, which CAPEX refers to as contributors. Speakers demonstrate skills like flogging or role play, or they address other issues germane to the kink lifestyle: relationships, safe words, first aid, or legal considerations, for example.

The social that follows is not of the tea and crumpets variety. Instead, it's an opportunity to try new things, practice kink technique, ask questions, and learn from other CAPEX contributors. I'm tempted to call what they do "some Fifty Shades shit," but that would be an unwelcome comparison.

It's hard to talk about BDSM these days without mentioning Fifty Shades of Grey. The book and ensuing movie introduced one kind of kink lifestyle to a wide audience, but its portrayal of BDSM annoyed many in the kink community. The sex depicted didn't always reflect the consent and communication standards that organizations like CAPEX adhere to.

CAPEX contributor and former board member Winterwolf — who requested to be identified by his scene name — emphasizes that CAPEX upholds the "safe, sane, and consensual" creed. But he adds that another acronym might better reflect the group's credo: R.A.C.K., which stands for risk-aware, consensual and kinky. Why is that acronym better? Because, he freely admits, "Some of the stuff we do is insane."

So maybe you're curious about kink. Going to a CAPEX event for the first time is an intimidating step, but the process is designed to be comfortable. According to the website, capex.info, "Everyone in CAPEX welcomes new contributors with an open mind and heart. We hope to see you in our extended family. But it's all about how you treat other people," he continues.

CAPEX events are designed to be positive, safe environments where your kinkiest desires can blossom from fantasy to fully realized. "We're not going to judge you based on what you like or what you're into. It's safe to explore that very intimate, personal sexuality that you may have," Winterwolf says.

More than anything, he wants everyone to feel comfortable with their own desire.

"It's ok to be kinky," he says. "It's ok to be you."

But, I press, what if your partner isn't into it? What if he thinks I'm weird?

Winterwolf has advice for that too: "Check, please."

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