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FanFest in Charlotte’s uptown: A pregame party

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/28/16/36/1eSz6y.Em.138.jpeg|180
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Thousands of Tar Heels and Bearcats attended the Belk Bowl Fan Fest on Saturday. The UNC and Cincinnati faithful ate, played games and listened to country star Blake Shelton. Many of Shelton’s fans made photos and video as he arrived on stage.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/28/16/36/sBbEE.Em.138.jpeg|434
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Thousands of Tar Heels and Bearcats attended the Belk Bowl Fan Fest on Saturday. The UNC and Cincinnati faithful also listened to country star Blake Shelton.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/28/18/45/1mIfA.Em.138.jpeg|458
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Four-year-old Bella Schaber covers the eyes of fellow Cincinnati fan Drew Dempsey Saturday at Fan Fest. Thousands of Tar Heels and Bearcats attended the Belk Bowl Fan Fest.

Light blue mixed with plenty of red-and-black Saturday as thousands of fans revved up for the Belk Bowl pitting North Carolina against the University of Cincinnati.

A black, inflatable Bearcat towered over the corner of Stonewall and Mint streets as FanFest got underway before the game.

“I had no idea this was going to draw this kind of crowd,” country music star Blake Shelton said soon after taking the stage for a free performance. “I thought it was going to be some little parking-lot thing.”

It was a return trip for many Cincinnati fans. The Bearcats beat Duke, 48-34, at last year’s Belk Bowl. Bowl officials expected 15,000 Bearcat fans Saturday, an improvement over the estimated 10,000 who made the trip a year ago.

“If there’s a way to do it, we’ll be there,” Cincinnati fan Cindy Snelling said of bowl games after watching her son whip through a kid-sized football workout course at FanFest.

Fans waiting for Shelton’s set lined up to race radio-controlled model stock cars, sip beer and visit food trucks. Temperatures in the mid-50s, under cloudy skies, made perfect football weather.

FanFest began Friday night, when the schools’ marching bands faced off at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza. The official Belk Bowl party followed at the EpiCentre.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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