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Clueless Breeders at Renfest 

And the Penguin's rockin' chili

"Purple Pill" poppers beware: chili cook-offs aren't for the faint of stomach. I stopped by the first annual Plaza-Midwood-Chantilly-Elizabeth Chili Cook-Off Saturday afternoon just as it was getting underway. Tents and tables were set up in the lot nestled between Sammy's Deli and The Family Dollar in Plaza Midwood, each offering their own special varieties from traditional (no beans) to vegetarian, and mild to tongue-numbingly spicy. I made a beeline for the Penguin's tent. I was confident that their vegetarian chili would kick ass, considering I've never met a Penguin menu item I didn't like. With just the right amount of bite to it, this was my first and favorite sample, although several "amateur" chili chefs gave them a run for their money. The Dante's Divine Chili team created their own "Are you my Daddy?" hot sauce that should find its niche among Charlotte's Yankees fans. One contestant confided that beer was their secret ingredient -- not actually in the chili, just consuming lots of it during the cooking process. Learning the hard way that it's not a good idea to bring your dog to an event with food taunting him at every turn, I had to leave before the winners were announced after a yank on the leash sent my bowl a-flyin'. But with the crowd starting to form and one of the bands setting up on stage, I'd count on there being a 2nd annual Chili Cook-Off next fall.

Later that night, I checked out Perpetual Groove at Visulite Theatre. The Savannah foursome drew the usual jam band fan base of yippies (a hybrid of yuppies and hippies, not the 60s cultural revolutionaries of the same name) who tend to fill out the middle section of the club with their self-conscious head-bobbing and swaying. The dance area yielded an eclectic mix of the really drunk Trustafarians complete with fists shaking in the air, and dread heads who had obviously skipped "shower day" last week; all in all, a typical Visulite scene, although the crowd didn't generate half the energy the band did. An impressive sound system channeled the music evenly throughout the club so the up-fronters weren't blown away by the speakers while the people hangin' at the bar in the back could actually hear the lyrics when there were some. The light show that accompanied the music made me wish I'd come to the show with more than a cheap beer buzz but it was appreciated nonetheless. And of course, no show would be complete without the gratuitous jackass requesting "Freebird" at the top of his lungs in between songs. Funny how he always thinks he's witty and original.

With the gorgeous weather on Sunday and no Panthers home game (which, most importantly, translates to no tailgating), I opted for the second most socially acceptable event to drink at on Sundays -- the Carolina Renaissance Festival. Jousting, turkey legs, medieval crafts, costumes, performers, blah, blah, blah. Expecting to be the only person over 20 without a toddler attached to my side, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of workers (other than alcohol vendors) enlisted to keep the kidults entertained. Raunchy attractions like "Vegetable Justice" had sexual innuendos and insults flying over children's heads, with parents not knowing whether to laugh or hurl a tomato. At $5 for 6 tomatoes, I decided I could throw vegetables at home for free. When I saw the promotions to "get Bobmatized" at the Ded Bob Sho, I thought it was a bit much for the marketers to highlight a skeleton puppet show. After a chance meeting with a flower garland vendor who happened to be Bob's girlfriend (the only person there who's truly been "Bobmatized"), I decided to see what the guy was all about. At first I thought he seemed funny because I was two glasses deep in Chardonnay, but the skeletal dummy and his faceless human sidekick (the real Bob, who used to be the Vegetable guy) held their own. He won my heart when he told a woman in the crowd that he'd be on her "like Old Navy on white trash," although a collective gasp gushed from two-thirds of the visibly offended audience. I sat in smug satisfaction. Later, after several bone/penis puns, I enjoyed watching squirming parents with their clueless kids who had ignored the warnings of the show's vulgarity. Guardians of glue-eaters, pay attention, just in case you didn't learn this from watching Crank Yankers: puppets, like the rest of the fest, are not just for families.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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