In Charlotte, the idea of hanging out in a shopping center on a weekend evening is a common occurrence.
Up north, it would be the last place you'd think of going. In fact, up north, they call it loitering.
In Charlotte, a shopping center adds some live music and you have an instant area attraction.
Over the years, it has become more prevalent in the Ballantyne area and I must admit, until recently, I had always stayed away from shopping centers on weekend nights. With the parking, traffic and overall insanity, it was the last place I wanted to be.
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I have noticed that the crowds seem to get bigger each year. Clearly, people enjoy this form of recreating, so I figured it was time to check it out.
Let's start with the more laid-back version. That would be The Fountains at the corner of Ardrey Kell and Tom Short roads. Patrons of O'Shea's Irish Pub and Pallone's Pizza sit outside, dine and listen to what I would consider bluesy rock, played by one artist with his guitar – tunes including “Walking in Memphis” and “Good Riddance” (Time of Your Life).
The scene was intimate (code for “not packed with people”), and folks were more focused on their food, their friends and conversation than the music. Still, there were kids running around, dancing and splashing in the common area fountain. Overall, it's a low-key experience with good music in the background.
For a little more atmosphere, head over to the Promenade on Providence. Here, it's more a scaled-down version of what you would see at SouthPark mall when it has its concert series – only it's soul, rock and blues, not classical. When I was there, the band was Vanilla Cornbread. Folks had their lawn chairs set up, blankets spread out and coolers packed with drinks.
The proximity of Cold Stone Creamery, Starbucks and Carolina Bakery made finding something to eat and drink simple if you didn't bring your own. Maybe all that sugar made the kids jump into the fountain for an impromptu swim. It's unclear whether their parents knew they were in the water, or whether they should have been there in the first place, but they were having a blast.
At Stonecrest, the music is more jazzy. From little kids twirling to older couples dancing, the courtyard was packed with folks of all ages. In fact, the courtyard was pretty much standing-room only that Friday night.
The most party-like vibe, and certainly the most crowded, was at Blakeney. The band (which was great, by the way) was set up in the courtyard by the playground. The surrounding chairs, benches and walls were full of people, some with their pets (on leashes). Cold Stone Creamery had set up a cart, so grabbing a quick snack was convenient. There were some stands where you could purchase something to drink. With most of the surrounding stores open, it makes shopping more enjoyable as well.
I have to hand it to you, Charlotte. I was skeptical of the whole shopping center music scene. But it looks like the kids can burn off some energy while the parents get to socialize and everyone gets to enjoy some good music.
It's a great idea, and I doubt I'll wait another 11 years before returning.