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The Pre-Kickoff 

Thousands ready for some football

Saturday Morning, the Carolina Panthers held their annual Panthers Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium, drawing thousands of fans looking to sate their football fix. (Along with, of course, the local asphalt barons, who, tired of seeing their otherwise worthless vacant lots grow dandelions and poison sumac, seem to be very ready for some football.)

As the announcer told those assembled numerous times, The Cats would not be signing autographs on this day, due to "security issues" and the size of the crowd. However, if we wanted, we were told we could drive to Spartanburg and watch the team practice there, at which time the boys would be happy to pen their John Hancocks. (I'm not sure whether the "security issues" were to protect the players or the fans, considering all the recent player gun arrests. If you're a damn NFL football player, one of the most vicious, hard-hitting athletes in the world, do you really need a handgun?)

But back to the festivities. There was face-painting for the kiddies, of course -- no security issues there -- plus plenty of distractions, not the least of which being the team's cheerleaders, the Top Cats. It was football these people came to see, however. As for me, I kept my eyes not on Chris Gamble and the hot new rookie class, nor on Jake Delhomme or Stephen Davis or Julius Peppers, but John Kasay, goat of Super Bowl XXXVIII (that's "38" for the Roman Numeral-imparied).

Right before the end of the scrimmage, Kasay lined up and nailed a 40-yard field goal right down the middle, sending the crowd into hysterics. Kasay, a devout Christian, famously thanks God after every game. Had he missed this kick in front of this worked-up crowd, he may have needed His help getting back to Spartanburg.

Creative Loafing held its annual "Best of Charlotte" party last Wednesday evening at the Extravaganza Depot on North Tryon Street. Most of the local music winners were there (free drinks!), as well as local chefs, businesspeople, and even politicians like our very own Mayor, Pat "The Frat" McCrory. It was an election-themed Best Of this year, after all.Before the party, I was asked to appear on two local radio outlets -- the Matt and Ramona Show on 107.9 WLNK and The John Hancock Show on WBT. For Matt and Ramona (winners of best "Drive Time" radio show), I was to drive over to the studio, cut up for a few minutes with the hosts, and be on my way. Easy enough. Later that evening, I was to call John Hancock from the Best Of party, cut up for a few minutes, and be on my way. Evidently, something got lost in translation. I was on the show for an entire 25-minute segment, which meant many kinda-vague questions evidently rendered to elicit the broadest possible response (and thus, kill time). "What's your favorite award this year?" I was asked. Answering that I didn't win an award this time out, I echoed the readers' choice of Mark Mathis as "Local Zero," figuring that if you can't make the tackle by yourself, piling on is always the way to go.

Friday Evening, a friend of mine mentioned that a few of his college buddies, The Other People, were playing a big "reunion show" at the Visulite Theatre. The band was also sharing the stage with a series of special guests, most of whom I guessed were probably ex-band members. (Why they didn't bill this gig as The Other People and Some Other People is beyond me.) The group's poster said they'd be performing the music of Jerry Garcia, and, being a Grateful Dead fan (yeah, I said it), I cheerily agreed to go.So imagine my surprise when, in the middle of the set, the band launched into "I Know You Rider" and the curtains parted to reveal none other than (drumroll). . . former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten! OK, granted, the guy does live in Charlotte, so it's not like Bob Weir just happened to be passing through town and decided to suit up. However, being one of those people who never found the time to make it to any one of the 132 Dead shows that came through Charlotte over the last 35 years, I was psyched.

My revelry lasted only through the extended "Rider," but Constanten was a revelation throughout, adding all sorts of instrumental flair and boogie to the band's already right-on covers (for what it's worth, Cito Giulini's Garcia-style guitar is the most "Dead-on" take on Jerry that I've ever heard).

After the band finished, TC and the Other People decided to take a break between sets and go and mingle with the crowd. I tried to get a word with Constanten, but decided to forget it after seeing the phalanx of people surrounding him. For TC, at least, it seems there is such a thing as life after The Dead.

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