When you walk into Kadi Fit Studios at Oak Street Mill, home of the Bella Love Open -Mic Night, you may be a bit confused at first. The space is wide open with rustic wood floors, mirrored walls, and chin-up bars bolted to the exposed wooden beams. It hardly seems like a space you’d find local artists, comedians, and musicians gathering to perform and display their work. But walk through the doorway to your right and you’re greeted by a large wooden bar, couches, high top tables, and a stage in front of a huge red garage door and a beautifully worn exposed brick wall. It’s an unexpected transition, but one that mirrors beautifully the event itself and the group behind it.
Bella Love Inc was founded by Case Warnemunde in 2009. Having recently moved to Charlotte from his hometown of Cincinnati Ohio, he met many people in the area with interesting stories and/or unique talents and he wanted to provide opportunities to bring them together to network and share ideas. Warnemunde sees Bella Love as a “physical social network”, contrasting it with the highly impersonal digital social networks that Facebook and Twitter have become since their inception.
“Not knowing anyone from this area and wanting to make some new friends, I began meeting people from all walks of life who seemed to all have a quite interesting and compelling story. Many had unique passions and talents that were truly remarkable, yet most confessed to having very little time or energy to concentrate on those passions due to financial restraints. One encounter after another led me to believe there needed to be a bigger concept in which people could follow their passions, connect with other like-minded people, and make financial sense of it all.”
Now, it would be easy for one to assume that a community gathering of musicians, artists, and other creatives would make for a stuffy or pretentious environment for your average person looking for local entertainment. The thought of open-mic nights and gallery crawls often elicits images of disheveled 20-somethings with judgmental, blank-faced stares. Bella Love gatherings are, in fact, quite the opposite. They take on a variety of forms ranging from open-mic nights and art crawls, to food truck rallies and festivals. The one unifying factor through all of them: the focus on the local community, its people, and its businesses. Food at the events is provided by local food trucks or restaurants and even the beer they serve is made mostly by North Carolina breweries.
They are also uniquely family-friendly. Several of the regular performers at the Open-Mic Nights would be unable to attend similar events at other bars and music venues in the city because they are under the age of 18. These young people are not just tolerated at Bella Love; they are welcomed and even nurtured. Their performances reflect this fact, as many of the younger performers are as equally anticipated as their more senior colleagues, and their confidence on stage is clearly a result of the support they’ve received by the group.
As much as Warnemunde loves the way Bella Love continues to grow in the Lake Norman Area, he has far greater plans for the future of the organization. They now have three full time employees, five part-time employees, and several regular volunteers and he’d like to see Bella Love expand to other cities and communities around the country, utilizing, and ultimately providing, the same kind of local support there that they do in Cornelius. “Our ultimate goal is to establish Bella Love in metropolitan cities across the US and eventually, around the world. By giving people a new reason to connect, highlighting the vast amount of talent and resources within one's hometown, and redefining what it means to be "local", we are creating a Physical Social Network that has the capacity to spread to everyone, everywhere.”
While Bella Love may seem like another exclusive community of artists and musicians from the outside looking in, they are ultimately a network of businesses, creatives, and volunteers seeking to bring the local community together. Their events provide an outlet for people to express their talents or simply come together to exchange ideas. If you’re looking for local entertainment that’s unique, entertaining, and family-friendly, you should check these guys out.
www.bellalove.org Facebook: Bella Love Inc Instagram/Twitter: @BellaLoveInc