CHARLOTTE, N.C. Teenagers flew through the air at the Mint Museum Uptown, delegates got first tastes of boiled peanuts and moonshine, and two museums had a battle of the bands on South Tryon Street as Democratic National Convention delegates were welcomed to Charlotte on Sunday.
Instead of one big party for delegates, the Charlotte in 2012 host committee arranged 12 parties. The committee refused to allow media to attend, but Observer reporters managed to visit a few.
At the Mint, one of the most anticipated parties with delegations from Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, choreographer Mark Evans of Raleigh was rehearsing Sunday with the West Charlotte High School Marching Band and gymnastic teens from Cheer Extreme Allstars. (Ever see the cheerleading routines on “Glee”?)
Even though the host committee said delegates didn’t want reporters present, some delegations disagreed. At the Bechtler, an enthusiastic group from Indiana tried to smuggle a reporter inside. (It didn’t work, but we appreciated it, Indiana.)
A look at the individual parties:
(Delegates: Kentucky, Oklahoma, Indiana, U.S. Virgin Islands and abroad delegates)
A “retro meets modern” influence set the tone here: Blue lighting glowed softly inside the four-floored venue, and each floor featured different food and music, with the 16-piece Andrew Thielen Big Band jazzing it up outside. White couches with red and blue throw pillows lined several walls of the museum. The first floor featured bars on either side for entering guests. A 16-foot carbon steel screen wall stood in the middle of the second floor, with tiny shelves for tins of ahi tuna and shrimp cocktail. The third floor mainly featured artwork. As part of the theme (planned by Soiree Charlotte), a corner on the fourth floor served Vietnamese vegetable noodle soup next to shelves of ramen noodles.
The guests trickled in slowly, with delays from buses holding up many of the delegates. Some had to walk a couple of blocks, while others were stuck at their hotels. When the Indiana delegation arrived, Henry Fernandez of Indianapolis said he was surprised by the number of thriving Hispanic businesses here; "I didn’t expect to see so many." His van had taken a wrong turn from the airport but he was thrilled to see a working class neighborhood.
Those in attendance gushed about the venue. Colleen Williamson, a delegate from Indiana, said the shrimp cocktail was her favorite. Dana Orwig, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party said she loved the artwork, and Charlotte so far.
“We’ve had some drought problems in Oklahoma,” she said. “It’s great to see something this green.”
-- Victoria Guida
Mint Museum Uptown
(Delegations: Illinois, Delaware, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Ohio)
A battle of the bands developed on Tryon Street: The West Charlotte marching band was arrayed down the steps of the Mint while, a stone’s throw away at the Bechtler, a big band prepared to strike up.
Planner Jen Wouters was relaxed. "Planning a wedding is much more complicated," she laughed -- and at that minute a worker called out: "Hey Jen, what’s the plan?" and pointed at a storm cloud.
"Scoot these tables back fast," she said. A few minutes later, the rain started.
Earlier in the afternoon, inside the Mint, caterers from La-Tea-Da’s rushed around hanging cones of snacks from trees, while up on the fifth floor, reporters checked out a photo booth, where delegates could have their pictures taken wearing their choice of goofy red, white and blue gear -- or get a DNC air-brushed tattoo to last all week.
Secret Service sweeps had been conducted repeatedly, as a rumor continued that an important visitor would be coming to this party. Who? Janet Woodson of La-Tea-Da’s made a zipper motion across her mouth.
-- Kathleen Purvis
(Delegates: Texas, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Louisiana, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico)
This had a lock on the title of Coolest Delegate Welcome Event: The night reached a temperature of 320 degrees below zero at the table where a smiling young gent prepared ice cream with liquid nitrogen, freezing it so fast that the result had fewer ice crystals and more creaminess than usual. Popping peaches into it only increased the thrill.
Otherwise, the event heated up fast. The Latin Trio Borinquen Sublime played rhumba music, while a woman dressed like Carmen Miranda's daughter swayed across the downstairs lobby with her partner. (Puerto Ricans often call their island Borinque, and they were there in force Sunday night. The most intense discussion of the evening probably took place outside, as two of their delegates debated statehood.) Inside, the Charlotte youth group Inspire the Fire stepped up a storm to "Dancin' in the Streets."
Delegates' dress ranged from three-piece suits to rainbow shorts. Hats were the order of the day, from a gray-feathered church hat that seemed ready to take wing to a straw hat suitable for plowing a field to a blue yarmulke that read "Obama '08" on a chap too young to vote.
Students from Community School of Davidson commemorated each of the states with original artwork: a sculpted Mount Rushmore with Jefferson beaming prominently for South Dakota, a six-panel painting for Minnesota made up of 10,000 dots (to symbolize the 10,000 lakes); a Statue of Liberty for New York that looked as martial as Darth Vader's sister; a humble armadillo for Texas. Michigan, Louisiana, South Dakota and Washington, D.C., all got their props. But Liz, Discovery Place's live green iguana, stole the show while making the rounds on a staffer's arm.
The food paid homage to North Carolina: grits and shrimp, pimento cheese with a spicy after-kick, local sausage and scallions, Ashe County cheddar with a sweet chile sauce, Carolina sliders with Lexington slaw. Most of it was a tad hot, which made that ice-cream capper even that much sweeter.
-- Lawrence Toppman
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
(Delegations: Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, West Virginia)
Delegates at this party in Belmont were treated to a Carolina garden party, complete with moonshine, oysters, living statues and a biergarten stocked with local beers. Local entertainer Hardin Minor was slated to be on hand to mime for the guests.
Bands Brass Connection and Roy Day Jr. were stationed outside among rustic tables and chairs and comfy sofas. Delegates were greeted in the main tent by vibrant-hued tables and chairs decorated with fresh hydrangeas. Richard Boyce, mayor of Belmont, was expected to greet delegates and former S.C. Rep. John Spratt was slated to give remarks.
Spratt arrived at 4:50, prepared to give remarks later in the evening. "It’s exciting. I’ve been to eight or nine conventions, the first when I was 21 years old," Spratt said. "I never would have guessed" that Charlotte would one day play host.
As if on cue, the rain started falling at 5:05, just as the first bus of delegates, a group from West Virginia, arrived in front of the garden.
"It’s showtime!" cried out party volunteers assembled to greet the guests.
Meshea Poore, a 37-year old delegate and member of the West Virginia house of delegates from Charleston, said many other delegates were slated to arrive Monday. But she was determined to drive to Charlotte in time for the party and celebrate her birthday. "I saw the brochure and I said, ’I’m going to see that garden," she smiled. She came dressed appropriately, in a flowing orange and white maxi dress.
Two delegations - Kansas and Arkansas - still had not arrived 45 minutes into the party, because they were waiting in hotels for their buses to arrive at their hotels.
When the rain stopped, bands started playing in the main Four Seasons Garden and the smaller White Garden. Guests sipped moonshine (apple pie and blueberry) and nibbled locally raised duck, bison, and bratwurst sliders from Grateful Growers. Bartenders poured beer from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and Four Friends.
-- Cristina Bolling
Levine Museum of the New South
(Delegates: Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state)
The museum was separated into three sections -- “The Carolina Coast” complete with blue lighting and shrimp and grits served in martini glasses; “The Farmlands” with sunflowers, lemonade and ham biscuits; and “Bubbie’s Table," which had an array of traditional Jewish food, including potato latkes and lamb meatballs. “We’re just giving them a big Southern party,” planner Beth Redlich Mattos of Creative Events Charlotte said.
All of the museum’s exhibits were open during the night, including “Down Home,” a temporary exhibit about Jewish life in North Carolina.
“I love the setting,” said Colorado Lieutenant Gov. Joseph Garcia. “I’ve been through all the exhibits, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
The focal point of the party was the dance floor where guests danced to classic party hits played by the Charlotte-based Black and Blue Band. The delegates began chanting, cheering and whistling at many points throughout the night.
Several of the delegates had ties to Charlotte, including Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Colorado delegate who grew up here. “I’ve never seen my hometown look this good.”
Guests wore a range of outfits from T-shirts and flip-flops to cocktail dresses, and there certainly wasn’t a shortage of cowboy hats. A few delegates went a traditional ethnic route, including Elizabeth Satiacum, a Washington delegate who wore a cedar hat of the Quileute tribe, a Native American tribe in her home state, and Linda Jenkins, another Washington delegate, who is originally from East India and wore a sari.
-- Florence Bryan
(Delegates: Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Guam, American Samoa, Wyoming)
Different cultures and eras met enthusiastically here as a group of about 10 delegates from American Samoa -- in tropical print shirts and leis made of nuts and fresh flowers in their hair -- stepped into the historic Duke Mansion for a Roaring '20s-themed party.
Sharp-looking male waiters in black hats, spats and vests, along with waitresses dressed as flappers in white-sequined and fringed dresses with feathered headbands held glasses of wine for guests and looked striking against the mansion's black-and-white checkered marble floor.
Similarly costumed staff held out trays of tiny cones filled with bits of fried chicken, in an elegant take on chicken and waffles. Only a few dozen delegates where there at the time we dropped by, so they had their pick of spots to relax and socialize at the party planned by April Ellerbe of New Century Planning in Durham.
A large white tent was set up outside and contained several bars offering the party's signature drink, Catawba River Water, named for original owner James Buchanan Duke's obsession with piping water from the Catawba River for use in the home. "It's really a whiskey sour," said Ellerbe, "but we wanted a way to honor him and his forward way of thinking." The tent was decorated with swaths of purple draping with a crystal chandelier in the middle. It had dramatic oversized white loveseats, couches and ottomans that were tufted and accented with rhinestones. The front porch was turned into a whiskey and cigar bar with plush black leather club chairs -- the perfect spot for the mansion’s resident cat, Buck, to curl up.
-- Olivia Fortson
Historic Rosedale Plantation
(Delegates: Florida, Mississippi, Alabama)
The first two busloads of delegates were just stepping onto the grounds when a cloudburst sent everyone scurrying for cover. Luckily, there was a big tent -- just like the political parties are always talking about.
It turned out that no one's spirits were dampened. The No. 1 celebrant was Kelly Jacobs, a Mississippi delegate whose business card was emblazoned with her self-proclaimed title of "mistress of enthusiasm." Jacobs wore her attitude with pride. Her glittering homemade outfit had the president's beaming face on both front and back, all in sequins -- 3,000 on each side. In honor of his biracial heritage, she explained, the drawing on one side was black-on-white , and on the other side white-on-black.
Jacobs thinks the convention is a time to celebrate-- as she was doing with her outfit. "It helps the delegates," Jacobs said. “We can get together and have a good time. ... It would be boring if everybody looked the same and dressed the same."
For all the high spirits emanating from the bluegrass band Southern Express, the partyers didn't forget about the serious work at hand.
Bob Harrison, an Alabama delegate, said the people back home are concerned about protecting Medicare, Medicaid and women's rights. And Alabama
congresswoman Terri Sewell drove that home in a quick but passionate pep talk from the stage. "The 2008 election was historic," she said. "The 2012 election is imperative."
-- Steven Brown
NASCAR Hall of Fame
(Delegates: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee)
Mayors Anthony Foxx of Charlotte and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles revved up the crowd. The audience responded with applause and hoots.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chair of the DNC, welcomed more than 800 delegates, telling them “we’re going to put North Carolina in the win column for Barack Obama once again.”
Within this triple-themed venue -- highlighting the coast, the Piedmont and mountains -- delegates spoke of finding community and achieving dreams.
Ron Sanyal, 63, a delegate from Raleigh, said, of becoming a delegate: “This was my American dream.” Sanyal, who came from India in 1976 and became a citizen in 1983, said he hoped to promote education as a delegate.
Cheryl Williams, 63, from Duluth, Ga., is a third-time delegate who can’t wait to see fellow Democrats from around the country at the NASCAR delegates’ party Sunday night. Clad in various pins and an Obama shirt with the phrase “Let’s do it again,” she said of living in her conservative state: “Sometimes I feel like an only child.”
Secretary of State and super delegate Elaine Marshall, asked how Charlotte was doing as a host, threw her fist in the air: “Super! The rain has been the only problem.” This convention is “where the rubber meets the road,” she added, “which is an appropriate thing to say at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.” Marshall hopes to see George Clooney, but admitted she probably wouldn’t recognize any other actors. Her most important issues? Women’s issues: health care and reproductive rights and cutbacks to Medicaid and Medicare.
Mike Berlon, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party and a super delegate, said he’s most looking forward to hearing Mayor Foxx speak at the convention. He’s heard him before, in Atlanta. Berlon said he hasn’t seen any issues with protesters. “Democrats believe in free speech. That’s what makes us a great convention.” Said his wife, Susan (also 53 and also a first-time delegate): Everyone, from police to venue employees, has been “so helpful, so outgoing. Charlotte is putting its best foot forward.”
-- Carmen Cusido
Harvey B. Gantt Center
(Delegates: New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut)
State Sen. Joshua Miller called the Gantt Center a beautiful venue. He said he knows it sounds obvious, but he arrived this morning and has already felt Southern hospitality. "It feels very natural, not forced, like they really want us here ... not because they're making a dollar (but) because they're excited to have us."
Miller also said the food was excellent; he did it in reverse and had dessert before dinner. He's been a guest at other conventions and said each city has its own logistical challenges, but so far, "Charlotte's done it right."
Massachusetts delegate Kristie Helms said the music was fantastic: really, really beautiful. She said the desserts were so impressive, "I probably had like five kinds of cobbler."
-- Hilary Trenda
(Delegates: New Jersey, Maryland)
For former judge Shirley Fulton, owner of the historic Wadsworth Estate in the Wesley Heights neighborhood near uptown, tonight's delegate party wasn't a dream come true -- only because she never imagined the meeting and event space she lovingly created in the historic 1911 home would host such a prestigious national gathering.
"I can't wait for them to see the Southern hospitality, charm and effort we've put into this," she said of the delegates from New Jersey and Maryland, moments before they were set to arrive.
Event planner Aisha Thomas of Event Fantasies was calmly directing volunteers as they prepared to assist the estimated 400 guests as a few early birds talked inside the charming home filled with antiques. Outside, Armin Desch of Armin's Catering was putting the final touches on food displays in the backyard including ice sculptures holding mounds of shrimp, crawfish and oysters on the half shell. On the side lawn, the Doug Burns Band was setting up as neighbors turned to stare while they were out walking their dogs.
The estate's former carriage house, turned into a Jazz Lounge for the party, looked quaint on the outside but straight out of South Beach on the inside with its modern and sleek white couches.
In a nod to the original owner, George Pierce Wadsworth, Fulton was excited to have a costumed interpreter portraying him to guests. When asked if an actor was playing Wadsworth, Fulton laughed and said, "No, he's not an actor, he's my landscaper."
-- Olivia Fortson
U.S. National Whitewater Center
(Delegates: California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana)
The zipline was open at this indoor-outdoor venue, with tents set up overlooking the rapids and expanses of green, and California delegate Alan Burton took full advantage: “I wish it were higher!” Burton called the party “an outstanding way to loosen us up before the convention," and had particular affection for the grits, biscuits and gravy served because “We don’t have that stuff in California.”
Delegates were brought in on coach buses, up an American flag-lined street to the front entrance, and greeted by grinning folks in Whitewater Center uniforms -- plus Olympians who train at the facility, including Caroline Queen (women’s kayak) and Casey Eichfeld (men’s single canoe). County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts introduced each state’s contingent.
Rosemary-blue-cheese potato bites, chicken sausage and pepper skewers and crabcake sliders were among the fare, and a DJ was followed by the Hackensaw Boys folk band for entertainment.
Lisa Prochnow, a second-time delegate from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, interested in environmental issues and health care, said, “They seem to value us being here" in North Carolina. "They are really rolling out the red carpet -- or the green carpet”: a nod to the Whitewater Center.
-- Alex Barinka
Carolina Raptor Center
(Delegates: Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa)
Flight shows and bird presentations of some of the 25 species of raptors housed here starred at this event, which also highlighted N.C. liquor, wine and beer from Birdsong Brewery, and mini-burgers and chicken sausage kabobs from Harvest Moon Grille. Delegates heard bluegrass and gospel music, Appalachian storyteller Gary Carden and the Cane Creek Cloggers. Said Mike Tate, head of the Wisconsin delegation: "It's a really unique opportunity to see what North Carolina has to offer."
-- Justin Mayhew