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All-Stars always shine 

Benefit planned to help ailing singer

If you've been to the Double Door Inn on a Monday night, chances are you've seen The Monday Night All-Stars. The band has been performing at the club for the last 13 years straight.

And every Monday, band members offer up their take on a variety of cover songs. (The set list runs the gamut from Bob Marley to Earth, Wind & Fire.) A diverse, and often large, crowd will dance and sing along, sometimes dropping their jaws at the talent that's present on stage. They don't call them "All-Stars" for nothing.

Among their credits -- bassist Rick Blackwell has toured with Kathy Mattea and Janis Ian; percussionist Jim Brock has lent his talent to Jimmy Buffett, Joe Walsh, Joe Cocker and Mattea; guitarist Joe Lindsay has worked with Calvin Richardson and K-Ci and JoJo; horn player John Alexander has released numerous solo albums; drummer Chris Allen performs with a variety of bands as well; and singer Charles Hairston has opened for Otis Redding, Ike and Tina Turner, and Sam and Dave.

The group started after Double Door sound man Les Moore organized an open mic night at the venue. The All-Stars originally performed on Sundays and Mondays before it developed into the Monday night show you can see today. How talented are they? In the 13 years they've been performing together, they've had a total of two rehearsals. These days, if they want to play a new song, an MP3 is sent to each band member and they play it the next Monday.

Hairston says one thing that has helped the band survive for so long has been the ability to keep egos in check and respect each other.

"We figured we'd just do it until [fans] quit showing up ... but they're still showing up," Brock says before a recent show. "That's the way it is with a band that plays the same place every week. It does surprise me that they keep coming back Monday after Monday because there aren't a whole lot of surprises."

One such regular is Roy Williams, a 66-year-old who has been going to the Double Door since day one. Sipping on a whiskey mixed with half-and-half, he's there just about every Monday night, sitting near the front of the bar. "The funny thing about him -- if he ain't there, it ain't happening," Brock says. "He only goes where it's happening. It's a seal of approval. You know it's good if he's here."

Hairston remembers the time Gregory Hines joined the band on stage. Another guest at one of their shows was Tom Jones, who sat in the seats and watched the entire night's performance while in town for a gig of his own.

Aside from the talent that draws people in, there's also not much to do on a Monday night around Charlotte. And not many bands, or venues, would get away with an 11 p.m. start so early in the week. "We let women in free until midnight," says bartender Mike Martin. "We get a lot of ladies coming, and that attracts guys. It's a diverse crowd -- tattooed girls, older people -- it's such a damn mix!"

The consistent crowds that come out to watch the All-Stars have created a potential boom-or-bust situation for the venue. Double Door marketing director Micah Davidson says Monday is consistently the club's biggest night. The thought of the band not performing is one that "has come up in discussion, but it's something we'll look at when it absolutely needs to be crossed."

The thought of that situation recently reared its ugly head when Hairston, 61, was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer in March of this year. He's been healthy for most of his life, but had shortness of breath and other symptoms that led him to doctors and the diagnosis. "Medically, the doctors are doing everything they can," Hairston says before a recent show. "I've certainly gotten better with the medication that they've given me. It's pretty much spread throughout my body, so there's no curing it. We're just gonna be as happy as we can for as long as we can."

Hairston was in the hospital for nearly a month for the diagnosis, during which time the band had local singer Carey Sims sit in. But when Hairston was released by doctors on a Sunday, he made sure it was OK for him to perform the next night.

The medical bills that have added up on Hairston have triggered the need for a benefit show, scheduled for Sept. 21 at the Double Door. Organized by Davidson, Brock and Part-Time Blues Band's Rusty Barkley, the show is sure to be an emotional one for the singer.

"It's certainly something that my life needs, and I'm very, very grateful," Hairston says. "I'm a very emotional person and it's going to be hard for me from that point of view. It makes me a little nervous thinking about that."

At this point, one look at Hairston on the average Monday night and it's difficult to think of him as anything but healthy. He's always on the go -- dancing on stage or making his way into the crowd to sing a capella.

"He's a frontman, but he's not your average frontman," Davidson says. "He's always introducing the band and making sure the crowd knows exactly who is up there with him. It's showmanship. The reality is that they play a lot of the same songs each week, but it's our own version of a Las Vegas act. It doesn't need to change, because it doesn't get any better."

The elephant in the room at this point is -- what will the band do if Hairston doesn't have the energy to perform or can't be there for one reason or another?

"It's a situation where -- when they come up to us and say it's about time to stop, we'll seriously start evaluating it," Davidson says. "I think we keep our eyes out for things here and there, but it's going to be a huge loss when and if we lose those guys."

For now, the band is just enjoying every moment. Brock says it was never about anything outside of Monday nights. The guys all just show up to have fun and play good music. The thought of Hairston not performing with the band hasn't come up until recently. "No one's ever talked about it, and we won't know until something happens," Brock says. "We might just say that's enough. We might keep it going on his behalf. It will probably always continue on in some fashion."

Hairston, who has been singing professionally since he was 17, says he plans on enjoying every night of performing -- he averages four to five nights a week with gigs around town -- until he gets too tired to continue. His life now consists of "eating, singing and sleeping." In his spare time, he has done vocal coaching and songwriting -- two things he plans on doing more of if he no longer has the energy to perform.

"People are my first love and singing is my second," he says. "It's fun to love people and have them appreciate what you do. It's the one thing that I've always taken very seriously in my life. I appreciate the love of other people -- it's the strength to get me through what I'm going through right now."

As for Hairston's thoughts on the future, he wants the band to keep going. "They're talented enough that they can do that," he says. "There are other bands that wouldn't be able to work if I wasn't able to. I'm going to do everything I can to stay as healthy as I can and let that be the last thing that happens -- that I just can't do it."

A benefit show for Hairston, featuring The Monday Night All-Stars, Mo' Money, Carey Sims and Part-Time Blues Band goes down at 8 p.m. on Sept. 21 at The Double Door Inn. Tickets are $20. For more info, visit www.doubledoorinn.com.

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