Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I'm going to tell you something you already know: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a rock star in NASCAR.

But despite being the most popular and most endorsed/highly paid driver in the sport, Dale Jr. doesn't seem to publicly embrace his rock star status much. He's usually mild-mannered and soft spoken in pre- and post-race interviews. He doesn't do social media or go out of his way to get attention--you never read about him in tabloids or gossip websites. And even when I've seen him out and about around Charlotte, he's usually low-key and not rolling with a large entourage. Yet, he's always in your face because he doesn't shy away from lucrative product and brand endorsements, and launching his own ventures like potato chips, nightclubs (Whisky River is opening a location soon at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport), and Earnhardt Outdoors with his siblings (which is currently asking for your ideas for new outdoor products, like for hunting, fishing, camping, etc.).

Finally, of all the television commercials Dale Jr. has appeared in, his new one for Mountain Dew showcases his rock star lifestyle.

The "Living Portrait of Dale Earnhardt Jr." commercial started airing on TV at the beginning of the month, and I saw it repeatedly over the weekend. It's the latest promotion in Mountain Dew's "This Is How We Dew" campaign, which this installment features moving "portraits" of three of the soda brand's celebrity endorsers. The other two guys featured are snowboarder Danny Davis and skateboarder Paul Rodriguez. You can see all three commercials at mountaindew.com/portraits.

Dale Jr.'s living portrait shows him sitting in victory lane on a throne made of engine parts, surrounded by members of his pit crew (not sure if those are the actual pit guys) who are spraying Mountain Dew in the air in celebration, along with hot chicks waving checkered flags and country music star Brantley Gilbert jamming away on his guitar (though that's not his music you hear playing). In the background, you'll also notice his No. 88 car, the Whisky River logo, lights and seating from a racetrack, and two people doing stunts on four-wheelers (not sure of the tie-in with that part).

It's an all-around cool, 30-second ad, including the use of the song "Hot Fire" by Crash Kings. But as several commenters on the YouTube video have pointed out, and I certainly agree with, the concept of the commercial looks a lot like the visual techniques used in Kanye West's 2010 video for "Power" (See, another reason why Ye is the greatest of all-time. #KanyeVoice).

Unfortunately, the commercial strays a little from Dale Jr.'s reputation, by virtue of facts. The visual is set in victory lane at a racetrack, as I pointed out. But if you follow NASCAR, then you know that Junior has won only one NASCAR Sprint Cup series race in the last five years, and that victory came more than a year ago in June 2012 (that's one win in about 200 races). By comparison, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson has won four races this season alone. In terms of the standings, Dale Jr.'s had a pretty good season, currently ranked seventh and with five top-five finishes. With only two races remaining in the regular season schedule, he's almost a shoe-in to make the Chase, NASCAR's playoffs.

Win or lose, he's still a rock star.

In other Dale Jr. news, he'll appear on the next episode of Fast N' Loud on Discovery. The show is about a couple of car experts who go around the country searching for rare classic cars to restore. Dale Jr. is a known car buff, so I assume in the episode, which airs on Monday, September 2, at 9 p.m., that we'll see the show's crew coming to Dale Jr.'s Mooresville home and/or race shop to get one of his cars.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Charlotte natives know this city before it became what it is today, the way we transplants know it. Because of my work as a journalist, I tend to learn more about this city's history than the average person who moved here within the last decade, like myself (Charlotte had the nation's fastest growing population from 2000 to 2010, by the way). And I love talking to natives who share stories about how things used to be, like how Uptown Charlotte wasn't always the hip and attractive destination it is now, and where certain low-income housing projects used to be, long since replaced by ritzy urban living. As they wax poetic on yesteryear, most will agree that we're all better off with the Charlotte of today. But for some, they want to bring back a little of what's been lost.

That's the case with West Fest, an annual community festival that thrived in the 1990s and that showcased Charlotte’s Westside. It would take place on the football field of West Charlotte High School and feature local vendors, live musical performances, community resources, games, and more. Now, through a collaborative effort led by several local organizations, West Fest returns this Saturday, August 24, noon to 6 p.m., free and open to the public.

West Fest 2013 is being presented as the latest initiative from Project L.I.F.T., the lauded public/private partnership between community leaders, Charlotte-based corporations and foundations, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to help transform West Charlotte High and the eight elementary and middle schools that feed into it. The other major partners in West Fest are UNCC's Urban Education Collaborative, Radio One Charlotte, WBTV, and West Charlotte alum Amber May.

It's an event for the whole family. There'll be food, games, vendors, and a full afternoon of performances from about 20 musicians, poets, and dance groups. The performance lineup includes rappers Bettie Grind and Mr. 704, soul singer Nicci Canada, slam poet Bluz, the West Charlotte band and cheerleaders, and more before national gospel recording artist Zacardi Cortez closes out the stage. Click here for the complete schedule.

Each of the entertainment acts will be introduced by West Charlotte graduates from the 1970s through 2000s, including many who have gone one to become community leaders, like Charlotte City Councilman and mayoral candidate James “Smuggie” Mitchell and JCSU head basketball coach Steve Joyner. There was a time when West Charlotte was churning out future community leaders like them, as well as former-Charlotte-mayor-turned-recently-appointed-U.S.-Secretary-of-Transportation Anthony Foxx. That's the vital community West Fest is trying to showcase, and that Project L.I.F.T. is working year-round to bring back. It starts with the community, the parents, the youth--everyone.

In other Project L.I.F.T. news, the organization is asking fathers with students at any of its nine schools to personally take their kids to school on August 26. They're participating in the nationwide Million Father March, created by The Black Star Project, to increase adult male participation in schools. Research shows an increase in male involvement increases academic and social outcomes for students.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I spent a lot of time at Charlotte barbershops last month. Not because I was obsessed with being perfectly coiffed; I was researching an article for Creative Loafing. That work appears as the cover story, "Inside Charlotte's barbershop culture," for this week's paper (August 22-28), online now and on newsstands by tomorrow.

As men, we've been going to barbershops regularly since we were toddlers. I have about 30 years of barbershop visits under my belt, so you would think I--and you--know all about it. But with this story, I learned a lot about how much barbershop culture has changed, while in some ways staying the same, in Charlotte. I think the story reflects the many modern options and amenities we have in a growing metropolis, but also shows the importance of tradition. Some of you prefer that old-school, no-frills barbershop, typically run by a middle-age barber and where shop talk is essential. While others like the newer, more modern shops with the fancy d├ęcor, where you can enjoy a beer while you wait, and maybe get a scalp massage or pedicure in addition to your trim. But the story cuts deeper than that: it's also about class, race, and gender.

My premise is: "In 2013, where a man gets his hair cut in Charlotte says as much, if not more, about him as how he gets it cut." Check out the story, along with the accompanying video shot by ABlackTV, and see if you agree.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

K-Ci and JoJo Need (To) 'Knock It Off'

Posted by Jarvis Holliday On 8/18/2013 No comments
If you're fans of K-Ci & JoJo, you'll be delighted to see that the brothers are making new music again. They released a new single, titled "Knock It Off," about three weeks ago, and on Thursday they dropped the music video for the song.

"Knock It Off" is a good re-introduction for K-Ci & JoJo onto the music scene. The song has an uptempo, two-step-worthy beat, and sounds like the kind of tune that will get played often on adult contemporary/R&B stations. The video is in black-and-white, set in a 1920s era (or some period close to it), seemingly to convey that K-Ci & JoJo make timeless music. It's the first single from their forthcoming album, My Brother's Keeper, which is scheduled to be released on September 24. It will be their first new studio album since 2002.

Yes, it's hard to be that it's been more than a decade since the brothers from Monroe, who at times have lived in Charlotte, have released a new album. During their absence from the new-releases shelves, their record labels have put out several greatest hits and compilations of their work, taking advantage of the fact that many people love their ballads, such as "Crazy" and the undeniable wedding anthems "All My Life" and "This Very Moment." And I'm not even going to get into the legacy they created as one-half of the 1990s chart-topping R&B group Jodeci.

While K-Ci & JoJo have continued to tour here and there over the years, the reason you haven't gotten much new music from them during the past decade (in case you didn't know) is because of the well-documented substance abuse issues they've had. I thought things were finally about to turn around for them in 2010 when I interviewed them for a Creative Loafing article published that October, a week before the premiere of their reality TV show, K-Ci & JoJo...Come Clean. In addition to talking about their new show, they told me about where they were in their lives and careers. After the show debuted on TV One, I was one of the fans who watched each week as they showcased their struggles with alcohol and drugs, addressed problems with their families and within their personal lives, and tried to convince music executives that they were getting their act together.

But no new, officially released music came for nearly three years, until now. K-Ci & JoJo seem to still have their great voices; let's just hope they have their health and sobriety. As with many legendary musicians that have taken a lot of time away from what made them adored by millions of fans, they're going to have to work hard to recapture the audiences who grew up with them--fans will always want to hear K-Ci & JoJo's classics, but will they want to hear the new stuff? And they'll need to capture the attention of the younger audience who probably have danced to one of their songs at a wedding, but don't actually know much about them. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

An interesting piece of video footage has been making the rounds on the 'net this week. It's of Michael Jordan's first-ever college basketball game. The game took place between the North Carolina Tar Heels and Kansas Jayhawks on November 28, 1981 at Charlotte Coliseum. A nine-minute highlight video was posted on YouTube in July 2007, but it's resurfaced on people's radars after some major sports websites "dug it up" this week (I saw it on CBS' Eye On Basketball).

There are several interesting things to note about the first-ever college game played by the greatest basketball player of all-time:
  • Many sports fans know this, but it's worth pointing out that Michael Jordan used to go by Mike Jordan.
  • The game was held at Charlotte Coliseum, which today is Bojangles' Coliseum. Many of you might think of the arena where the Charlotte Hornets used to play, that used to be located on Tyvola Road, when you hear of Charlotte Coliseum. But Charlotte has had multiple venues named Charlotte Coliseum throughout its sports history. When a new sports and entertainment facility opened on East Independence Boulevard in 1955, it was named Charlotte Coliseum. But when a new, larger, 24,000-seat arena was being built on Tyvola Road in the mid- to late-1980s with the primary intent of hosting college basketball tournaments, and Charlotte was awarded an NBA franchise that began playing in 1988, the Independence Boulevard arena closed, and the Tyvola Road arena took the name Charlotte Coliseum (what's now known as Bojangles' Coliseum reopened in 1993). Charlotte sports fans soon gave it the nickname "The Hive" and proceeded to sell out 364 consecutive Hornets home games and lead the NBA in attendance for several years. And then, of course, as the story goes, Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans in 2002 because the city wouldn't build him a new publicly funded arena with the amenities and plethora of luxury suites that had become customary in NBA arenas, the league awarded Charlotte another franchise that would be called the Bobcats that started playing in 2004, with a new Uptown arena, eventually named Time Warner Cable Arena, opening in 2005. Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road, not quite 19 years old, was demolished in June 2007.
  • And as the above long-story-short continues with its twists and irony, Jordan would eventually become majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010, after spending a few years as a minority owner and front office executive with the team. Then this past May, after the New Orleans Hornets' new owner changed his team's name to the Pelicans, and after plenty of Charlotteans lobbying, Jordan made the decision to rename the Bobcats the Charlotte Hornets, which will take effect for the 2014-15 NBA season.
  • Got all that? Good. (Whenever I run through elements of Charlotte's history like this, it's primarily for the many newcomers who move to this city each year. Many of whom don't know much about Charlotte's history, even its recent history and how much things have changed in this growing city in the last decade alone.)
  • Now, back to the video of Jordan's first game. During the player introductions, we're reminded that another Tar Heel great and NBA legend, James Worthy, is from nearby Gastonia. This was a true "home" game for him, much closer for his family, friends, and former high school classmates than the Tar Heels' usual home court in Chapel Hill.
  • The first shot Jordan took in this game, which he missed, looks a lot like the famous game-winning shot he made four months later during the 1982 NCAA Championship Game against Georgetown.
  • Early in the game, one of the television analysts makes these remarks about Jordan: "So many things have been said about him. Comparisons to Walter Davis and David Thompson, in this part of the country. That's pretty heavy metal for a youngster of 18 years old. He is talented, and he really is kind of going against the system. Dean Smith normally doesn't start even the most talented of freshmen." Two things about that. I guess we all tend to compare new talent to more established talent, whether it's in sports, music, or whatever. But it's funny to hear that the players Jordan was being compared to at the time were viewed as sort of big shoes to fill, when he would eventually become the greatest basketball player of all-time (and sell the most popular basketball shoes). Secondly, Dean Smith knew early on the special talent he had with Jordan, hence the reason he started him as a freshman. 
  • Jordan made his second shot attempt in this game, on his way to scoring 12 points, on 5 for 10 shooting, as the Tar Heels defeated the Jayhawks 74-67 in front of a sold-out crowd of 11,666 fans at Charlotte Coliseum.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I've always liked Humpy Wheeler. Not only is he a fellow University of South Carolina alumnus (he played football for the Gamecocks in the 1950s) and motorsports legend having served as president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway for decades (retired in 2008), but I most admire him because he's a straight shooter. He tells it like it is.

I've seen Humpy speak a couple of times over the years, and I've enjoyed reading articles where he's been interviewed, most often in relation to things going on within NASCAR. I had the privilege of interviewing him myself, for an article I wrote for Charlotte magazine in 2008 about Max Siegel and Dale Earnhardt Incorporated ("Can Mighty Max Save DEI?"). Humpy knows a lot about--and a lot of people within--NASCAR and the racing industry, and it looks he'll now be regularly sharing his knowledge and opinions with us.

Humpy Wheeler. Credit: YouTube

He launched a YouTube channel (youtube.com/thehumpyshow) last week and has since posted a handful of videos. Each video, so far, finds him opining on NASCAR--the sport, the drivers, the tracks, the fans. One video in particular is starting to get people talking; it's titled: "Humpy's Hot Topic: What's Wrong With NASCAR Racing." 

What's wrong with NASCAR racing? He says it's a common discussion "in bar rooms and pubs" and that he's "thought long and hard about that. I think we messed it up a little, folks. I think that we got too fancy. I think as it soared back in the '90s, a lot of people wanted to change it, didn't like the way it was. They thought it was too country or too unsophisticated or whatever. And those people were dead wrong."

If you're a fan of NASCAR, or sports in general, you'll appreciate the gems Humpy is dropping in this 18-minute video. He draws parallels to other professional sports.

Some of Humpy's sentiments are similar to what I heard firsthand when I interviewed NASCAR team owner Felix Sabates recently. That article will appear in the September/October issue of Where Charlotte, hitting stands in a couple of weeks. Felix is another straight shooter, sports executive legend, and successful businessman. I might look for a way to share portions of my interview with him that didn't make it into the Where article.

NASCAR fans should subscribe to Humpy's YouTube channel, and follow him on Twitter @HumpyWheeler. I'm curious to see whether anyone from the league office will respond to the bold statements he makes in his vlog.

In other NASCAR-Charlotte news, the SPEED channel will officially be replaced by the launch of FOX Sports 1 on Saturday. This move was announced back in January, but now that the transition is just days away, we're learning how FS1 will compete with ESPN, how much NASCAR coverage will be involved, what cable and satellite providers are carrying the new network, and what local jobs might be lost.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

As a perennial handyman (not really) and avid do-it-yourselfer (hardly), I made a quick visit to Lowe's earlier this week to pick up a few items. I went to the Lowe's on Iverson Way (off South Boulevard) and encountered a couple of things at the home improvement store that reminded me that we're living in a digital age.

First, as I walked in, to the left of the main aisle stood a Lowe's associate named Holly. She tried to convince me to by a jug of some kind of home insect control spray that was on sale. I didn't need any. Holly is a hologram, by the way. (A few people have posted videos of the hologram on YouTube.)

As I proceeded through the store, I figured I'd go ahead and take my house key over to the station where copies are made. This way, if it took more than a few minutes, I could pick up the other items I needed while the key was being duplicated. Except, as I was surprised to find, no longer is there a counter where a Lowe's employee duplicates keys. Now there's a self-service automated kiosk called MinuteKEY. You stick in your key, choose the style of key you want (you can get a simple brass or silver key or custom keys like one with the Carolina Panthers logo), use your credit/debit card to pay for the number of copies you want, and it duplicates the key (takes about a minute for each copy).

The robots are taking over, people...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

North Carolina has become the butt of jokes, thanks to extreme policies and laws either recently proposed or passed by the state legislature (North Carolina General Assembly). While many of these measures are no laughing matter--new gun, abortion, and voter ID laws to name a few--they have become great fodder for late-night TV show hosts.

Below are a few clips from segments that have aired over the past week. I pulled a quote from each one that, if it would happen to appear on a bumper sticker, wouldn't look too fondly for N.C.

Last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, fill-in host John Oliver said: "North Carolina's voter ID law is just the tip of a true sh*tberg of the legislative session."

Friday night on Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill said: "North Carolina, right now, is going ape sh*t in a way no state ever has."

Last Monday on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert said: "Who makes barbecue sauce with vinegar? That's what you use to clean a toilet, and when I say toilet I mean Charlotte." (Commentary on N.C. begins at 4:07 mark.)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

You Should Know: All We Want Is LOVE

Posted by Jarvis Holliday On 8/01/2013 No comments
A few weeks ago, I received an email with details on an upcoming event that sounded like it would be a good fit to include on my Dusk Till Dawn blog's list of weekend events, so I did (it took place last Friday). The event, held at Bubble, was a fundraiser, and I especially like to help spread the word on events that support good causes. I'd never heard of the organization the event was supporting, called All We Want Is LOVE, but the brief details I read about it showed it to be a noble cause. All We Want Is LOVE (Liberation Of Victims Everywhere) is a nonprofit organization, based in Charlotte, that works to end human trafficking and sex slavery. Last night, the organization's founder, Jillian Mourning, appeared at the 2013 Do Something! Awards, broadcast live on VH1.

VH1 partnered with DoSomething.org, the country’s largest not-for-profit for young people and social change, to present the awards ceremony. Jillian was one of five finalists up for the Do Something Award Grand Prize, a $100,000 grant for the winner's community project or organization. They are "five 'do-gooders,' 25 and under, who are in the trenches, creating substantial change in our world," the organizers said. The five finalists each represent incredible organizations and important causes: Sasha Fisher (Spark Microgrants), Daniel Maree (Millionhoodies Movement for Justice), Jillian Mourning (All We Want Is LOVE), Lorella Praeli (United We Dream), and Ben Simon (Food Recovery Network).

The two-hour Do Something! Awards show, hosted by Sophia Bush and featuring performances by Sara Bareilles and J. Cole, was attended by numerous celebrities. It also honored stars Patrick Dempsey, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jennifer Hudson, LL Cool J, and Kelly Osbourne for their charitable work. But the show closed out with the presentation of the $100,000 prize winner, with each of the five finalists on stage. After millions of votes by the public, Daniel Maree was announced as the winner for his Millionhoodies Movement. The other four finalists will each receive a grant of $10,000. Watch the video below of the award presentation.

Last night's award show should go a long way to helping these great organizations get the recognition and support they deserve. It's what propelled me to write this blog post, and to hopefully lead more people to support All We Want Is LOVE, in particular.

The organization, according to their website, combats human trafficking in all forms, but their main objective is on sex trafficking, by focusing their efforts on the physical liberation, emotional liberation and rehabilitation, and aiding the victims back into society, as well as increasing global awareness on the issue. They fund established groups with parallel goals in liberating and rescuing victims from modern day slavery. These include groups that are rescuing victims from brothels, offering them shelter and safety, providing them with basic education, and aiding in reintegration into society.

All We Want Is LOVE founder Jillian Mourning. Photos credit: facebook.com/AllWeWantIsLove

Jillian, a Charlotte resident, model, and graduate of UNC Charlotte, has an incredible story of her own. When she was 19, she was raped and became a victim of sex trafficking for six months. Not only is she brave for sharing her story, but she turned tragedy into triumph when she started this organization in July 2012.

A lot of people tend to view human trafficking as something that's only a problem in foreign countries, but it happens more in the U.S. than you might think, particularly the sex trafficking of teenage girls and young women.

Visit All We Want Is LOVE online for more details on this great organization and how you can get involved: www.allwewantislove.orgfacebook.com/AllWeWantIsLovetwitter.com/WeWantL_O_V_E.

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