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Two Bands And Free Food 

Friday night, Lynn Farris and I headed to Matthews judge the finals of a "Battle of the Bands" contest at a nice new place called Five Steps II. Used as bait to get us there was the offer of free grub and a drink or two -- smart, as I would judge a greased-pig contest in Saluda for a free meal and a few "pops." The two finalists - an all-female ensemble called the Jill Austin Band, and a sort of Nu-Metal act called Sideways Eight -- were competing for the grand prize of $1,000. The Austin band was energetic and folkie, sort of like a gentler Melissa Etheridge. The group had a group of hardcore, baseball-capped lady fans with them, who apparently knew all the words. Singer Austin asked if anyone had ever seen four ladies rock so hard, to which I mumbled "Sleater-Kinney." All in all, pleasing but not quite my style, what with the hard folk "chugga-chugga" guitars. Not bad, certainly. Kind of like eggs. They taste pretty good, but they're hardly unique. Sideways Eight (a reference to the symbol for infinity) couldn't have been more removed from the act before them. Getting ready for the performance, the singer placed two guitars in front of the stage, and all the guys in the band had those fancy wireless guitar hook-ups. The bassist, a guy who wouldn't look (or play) out of place in Pantera, had his goatee done in a series of little braids. The singer looked a bit like former Queensryche frontman Geoff Tate (his shirt was mostly off by the third song), and one of the guitarists wore shades and a flame-pattern glossy black shirt. Even if they looked like they were preparing to play Ericsson Stadium instead of a bar in Matthews, you had to give them a nod for stage presence. Again, while not quite my cup of tea (yes, I'm picky about my tea), the band was undoubtedly talented, and the easy winner in my eyes.

-- Tim C. Davis

Giddyup Junior! Country music fans as well as racing fans got a special treat at the "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem" tour last Friday at Verizon Amphitheatre when headliner Kenny Chesney persuaded NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join him onstage. The two cuties acted as if they were old buddies, cutting a mean rug for a few minutes to the delight of most, but especially the ladies in the crowd of about 15,000. Shortly thereafter, as Junior politely began to make his way offstage, Chesney decided to continue the fun and leaped on Little E's back and pretended to be riding a bucking bronco or something of the sorts. The country crooner didn't get to play rodeo rider for long, however - probably because Junior's the sort of fella who's used to being in the driver's seat all the time.

-- Lynn Farris

Panda Bear, Martin, and Gong Saturday brought the Asian Festival to Marshall Park, always one of my favorite places in Charlotte, thanks to the statue of Martin Luther King that looks more like my man Robert Guillaume, AKA Benson. The first thing I came upon was a table selling those neat little Japanese toys with titles like "Super Fun Truck" and "Panda Bear Sparkler." Other tables offered information on Buddhism, kabobs, stir-frys, and other Asian treats, tolerance information, and more, but no more toys. The table that appeared to get the most attention was one offering literature on the Qi Gong movement Falun Dafa, more popularly known in the States as Falun Gong. Several folks were engaging in the controversial meditation and exercise lifestyle practice on the grassy hill behind the booth, while a lot of people stopped to gander at the Gongsters splayed out among the geese. Thankfully, no Chinese police were there to bludgeon them for doing their aesthetic aerobics. Right behind the Gongsters was a little girl at the edge of the man-made pond, wondering why the waterfowl weren't eating the fried chicken she was offering them. Unless you're stranded on the top of the Alps after a plane crash, being hungry doesn't mean you resort to cannibalism, something her parents (standing nearby) might want to mention to her.

-- Tim C. Davis

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