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Earle and Rock rock

Last Tuesday, I was in some kinda quandary. Roots rocker Steve Earle was in town, and the show was one I'd looked forward to -- for a number of years, in fact. Earle's last visit here was in 1988, though he did play the Double Door a few times in the early 80s with a rockabilly band ("Don't clap," Earle good-naturedly chided the audience when they cheered the local shout-out. "Ain't none of y'all were there.")It was also a school night, at least for me. It was decided: I would attend half of my three-hour class, and then jet over to the Visulite Theatre for the show. Luckily, my professor is also a Steve Earle fan, and was amenable to the arrangement.

What an education! Few current artists seem more relevant to the times than Earle, even if you don't agree with his politics. The man certainly has his opinions -- he leans to the left more than a NASCAR driver. However, when he thanked the audience after someone cheered a pronouncement about the war on terror, he thanked them not for agreeing with him but for letting him say what he believed.

Here's what I believe: Earle is at his absolute best, right now. I believe that he's one of the few people alive able to coax folks both old and young to ask each other the question "What's so funny "bout peace, love and understanding?"

I also believe that Earle sold the joint out, that people shouldn't wear "work shirts" to be cool if they don't actually work a manual labor job, and that my teacher will forgive me. How do I know? He was there, too, sweatin' and professin' just like the rest of us.

The Charlotte Museum of History held its annual Native American Festival on Saturday. Now, Native American history isn't something one thinks about every day -- at least in Charlotte. However, this city exists partly because it used to be a major trading route for tribes like the Catawba, and has a long -- if relatively unknown -- Native American history. Make it a point to check out next year's festival. In addition to a number of talks about Native American customs and history (and, in turn, Charlotte's), the fest featured all sorts of activities to delight the senses -- food, dancing, craft-making, you name it.

After taking all of it in, it makes it easier to approach the museum itself with a better idea of this area's back story, and the good (and not-so-good) that's gone into where we are today. For instance, you'll see that honor and leadership can go together. You can learn respect for the land, and for tradition.

The downside? You'll then be totally unfit for local government.

Chris Rock played to a sold-out Ovens Auditorium Saturday evening as part of his "Black Ambition Tour." He's certainly got the ambition part down pat. With this stand-up tour, Rock has established himself as perhaps the preeminent social comedian working today. In his hour-plus show, he attacked Republicans, Democrats, homegrown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh ("al-Qaeda? I'm afraid of al-Cracka!"), men, women, the unborn, drug laws, racism, and even capitalism ("You can't bring up religion in the schools anymore, or in the government. Where is it? Look in your wallet -- "In God We Trust!' The only reason banks are closed on Sunday is so people will go to church!")

Like the great Richard Pryor, Rock is funny precisely because he's willing to let himself be wounded (which, conversely, is also the reason folks who like Andrew Dice Clay are so dreadful). If the audience is willing to "let go" too, it can make for a transcendent evening where everyone leaves the show transformed, if in some small way. I can't imagine I'll hear a better comedian -- or see a better show, hear a better record, or read a better book -- this year.

Reader Walt Duncan was the first to reply to last week's question on why the trees near Ericsson Stadium emit annoying-ass bird noises (to scare away flocks of scalawag pigeons, evidently, who have the audacity to land in actual trees) and will receive a copy of the number-one album in the land at press time, Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

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