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A dozen parties greet delegates

By Kathleen Purvis and Helen Schwab
kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com

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.  After repeated requests from The Observer for access to cover the parties, the host committee allowed the media to cover the N.C. delegation at the NASCAR Hall of Fame more than an hour after it started, and allowed media walk-throughs at three locations before the parties, although journalists were not allowed to be present after the parties started. Observer reporters did get taken into several parties that weren’t approved by the host committee.

During the walkthrough Sunday afternoon 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.)

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

While the West Charlotte marching band trumpeted from the steps of the Mint, next door a big band was welcoming delegates, part of a “retro meets modern” theme.

When the Indiana delegation arrived, Henry Fernandez of Indianapolis said he was delighted by the number of thriving Hispanic businesses he saw on the way in from the airport.

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Mayors Anthony Foxx of Charlotte and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa revved up the crowd.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chair of the DNC, welcomed more than 800 delegates from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia, telling them, “We're going to put North Carolina in the win column for Barack Obama once again.”

Harvey B. Gantt Center

Before a 5 p.m. rain shower, Charlotte violinist Daniel D played an electric fiddle rendition over a remix of Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech out front, while inside, each floor paid tribute to music genres with roots in Southern juke joints.

New Hampshire delegate Kristi St. Laurent said she tried a number of Southern foods. “Collard greens, grits, crab cakes, quail,” she said. “Boiled peanuts: I was surprised; they were like beans.”

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Delegates were treated to a garden party, with moonshine, oysters, living statues and a beer garden stocked with local beers.

Former Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina said, “It's exciting. I've been to eight or nine conventions, the first when I was 21 years old..”

Duke Mansion

Most striking visual: Ten delegates from American Samoa, in tropical shirts and leis made of nuts and fresh flowers in their hair, arrived for a Roaring '20s party.

A large white tent 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,” event planner April Ellerbe said, “but we wanted a way to honor him and his forward way of thinking.”

Historic Rosedale Plantation

The No. 1 celebrant at any party may be Kelly Jacobs, a Mississippi delegate. Her glittering homemade outfit had the president's face on both the front and back in sequins – 3,000 on each side.

Jacobs thinks the convention is a time to celebrate. “It helps the delegates,” Jacobs said. “... 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.

Discovery Place

This party blew hot and cold in a good way.

Hot: The rhumba music by the trio Borinquen Sublime, the “Dancin' in the Streets” number by the Charlotte youth group Inspire the Fire, and much of the local cuisine – from pimento cheese to Carolina sliders with Lexington slaw.

Cool: Students at Community School of Davidson, who 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.

Wadsworth Estate

Mounds of shrimp, crawfish and oysters on the half shell greeted the New Jersey and Maryland delegates, and the former carriage house was turned into a jazz lounge.

U.S. National Whitewater Center

California delegate Alan Burton had particular affection for the grits, biscuits and gravy because “We don't have that stuff in California.”

Hilary Trenda, Steven Brown, Lawrence Toppman, Olivia Fortson, Christina Bolling, Victoria Guida, Carmen Cusido and Alex Barinka contributed.
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