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Whole Lotta Festin' Goin' On 

It's fall, time to walk around in a crowd

In my travels as the unofficial Charlotte-area festival czar -- boldly sailing the seas of (nacho) cheese so you'll know what you missed -- I've come to some conclusions.First, people would like a little history with their festival, even if it's only paying lip service. And they're not asking much. These are people who have to live and work in Charlotte, after all, a city whose idea of preserving history is placing signs beside parking decks informing folks of the history that occurred there. . .before they tore it down to make a parking deck.

Secondly, it helps if your festival appeals to everybody. As politicians so ably understand, if your demographic is large, so are your potential gains. The more cool stuff, the more cold cash.

The Festival in the Park, now an incredible 39 years old, gets it. I mean, you have to like the fact that the venerable old bird still uses the cool Swingin' 60s logo they always have (the only things missing on that sign are a few miniskirts and cocktail glasses). And it helps that it's held in a park, with trees and grass and water (people like an excuse to go see trees and plants and water when they sit in cubicles and SUVs all day).

You want people? The festival which began smack-dab in the middle of the Civil Rights movement has now become one of the most racially mixed events in our city -- including the many Latinos who've recently begun to discover Freedom Park's subtle charms.

Fortunately, Festival in the Park understands you can change with the times and still keep your identity and personality. No wonder it's not held downtown.

The Great Grapes! Wine and Music Festival was held last weekend in the big band shell doohickey out there in the man-made lake behind the now-defunct Sears department store out behind SouthPark Mall. Don't let all that throw you -- it was actually fun. For $20 admission, you received a complimentary wineglass and 10 or so tickets redeemable for a one-ounce splash of each of the participating NC wineries' red or white wines (Biltmore was noticeably absent, and not really missed).

Some wine fans appeared to know just what they were doing, or at least acted like they did. Other folks did their best Protestant-in-a-Catholic-church-trying-to-do-the-sign-of-the-Cross impression, holding the wineglass about half a foot from their nose, commenting on how nice that "aroma" was.

Beside most booths sat a little water cooler, and beside that a big plastic bucket. The idea was to sample the wine, splash a little water in the glass to clean it, and then dump the water in the bucket. A man in front of me stood and considered the bucket for the longest time. He'd look around, waiting for someone to come to the bucket. After a few minutes of this, I decided to help. Nodding to his wineglass -- which had more red rings than Saturn by this point -- I swirled some water in mine and poured it out in the bucket by his feet. He jumped back and gave me one of those "why-I-oughta" looks -- and then proceeded to very theatrically wash his glass out too, making sure to make eye contact with people standing in line.

The music was fairly typical festival music, party-themed and very inclusive. Most of the acts were of the cover-band variety, playing a variety of tunes in their own, slightly endearing way.

Heck, I'm starting to feel a kinship with these cover band guys. We're both old men playing a kid's game, partying more than they/we should and hurting more than ever the next morning. We do it all not for the money, but a chance at the big time (and maybe because we just like it). We both have fans/groupies that follow us to every appearance (OK, maybe not that last one).

By God, it ain't easy bringing The Rock on a nightly basis, as my boys Cherry Bomb and The Swinging Richards can attest. Yet, it still has to be done. It's hard work, but someone's got to do it. Rockin' is my business, and business is good. Cue the guitar!

"I'm a cowboy...on a steel horse I wriiiite. . ."

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