CHARLOTTE, N.C. Beginning when the NC Music Factory opens it doors for a 15,000-guest media party, Charlotte’s arts-and-entertainment world will share some of the Democratic National Convention’s limelight, and it hopes the glow will last long after the out-of-towners leave.
The Saturday night media shindig kicks off a week that will bring conventioneers by the busloads into uptown venues ranging from the Music Factory to the Mint Museum Uptown to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. They’ll listen to concerts by performers from Tony Bennett to the Foo Fighters. They’ll schmooze amid art by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, jewelry collected by Madeleine Albright, or artifacts embracing centuries’ worth of American history.
The organizers of all that want to send the visitors a message.
“It’s a huge opportunity to dance on the national stage – for people to discover that Charlotte is a lot more than a sleepy banking town,” says Noah Lazes, co-owner of the Music Factory.
The media party will mark the first time that the entire Music Factory – home to more than a dozen entertainment venues, bars and restaurants – is being booked by a single organization, Lazes said. The one-night turnout will rank alongside the biggest the Music Factory has ever seen. The difference this time: These guests, if they’re impressed, can spread the word to their viewers and readers far and wide.
“I don’t think anyone has even calculated the enormous impact that all of this press is going to have on Charlotte,” says Lazes’ business partner and father, Rick Lazes.
As soon as the state delegations converge on the convention’s welcoming parties Sunday night, they’ll start seeing Charlotte’s arts and entertainment venues – including the Mint, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. As the week unfolds, social events will keep drawing the conventioneers back to the cultural facilities. The venues will sometimes be booked up for entire days.
Socializing and politicking may be the parties’ official business, but the conventioneers will have the opportunity to take a break by looking around the arts exhibitions. At the Gantt Center, “America AM” showcases African-Americans’ role in U.S. history through scores of artifacts connected to Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Prince and others. A Mint exhibition spotlights Thornton Dial, who uses art to comment on contemporary society. Also at the Mint, “Read My Pins” features the jewelry that Madeleine Albright used as patriotic billboards when she was U.S. secretary of state.
The DNC crowds “are going to be quite surprised and enthralled by the diversity of the entertainment that’s offered in Charlotte, and the arts and culture,” Rick Lazes said. “We’re expecting not only an immediate impact, but a long-term impact.”
The immediate impact: Entertainment venues such as the Music Factory are getting a burst of business during what’s usually a slow time of year, Rick Lazes said. Monday night, veteran pop singer Tony Bennett will headline a private concert. The B-52s will perform at another private event, sponsored by the city of Los Angeles. Wednesday, the Foo Fighters will perform at the sold-out Rock the Vote concert.
Those and other events will give an instant payoff to the operators and employees of the Music Factory businesses, which are independently owned, Rick Lazes said. The Music Factory venues employ a total 1,200 full- and part-time workers.
As for the longer-term benefit, Noah Lazes quoted longtime banker and Charlotte booster Hugh McColl.
“He said that arts and entertainment aren’t a luxury – they’re a necessity if you want to have a truly international city,” he said. “Charlotte is becoming an international city. This is an opportunity for us to showcase it.”