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Ok, so it's not a real arts festival

But Charlotte Shout provides PR punch to a first-rate, diverse scene

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Last week, when US Air was sending up its Chapter 11 flare, Charlotte-Douglas Airport wasn't the only site of a media stampede. Over in Founders Hall, another herd of cameras and scribes was raising dust clouds, clustering together with representatives from most of the city's major performing arts and cultural organizations.What could have sparked this moment of crisis -- when Charlotte's proud corps of TV stations came perilously close to being aware of cultural activity in their midst?

It was the beautifully orchestrated announcement of Charlotte Shout. And free grub.

Tim Newman, the preternaturally upbeat president of Charlotte Center City Partners, made the announcement into a bouquet of microphones. He aptly described the five-week extravaganza as a gathering of previously scheduled events -- with some attention-grabbing additions.

Foremost among the fresh goodies is CityVerve, a newly minted jazz and heritage festival reincarnating an old September standby, JazzCharlotte. Nnenna Freelon, John Mayall, Poncho Sanchez, John Scofield, Tower of Power, and Nicholas Payton will be the headliners.

But that, as they say in showbiz, is not all. The legendary Paul Taylor Dance Company will make its first Charlotte appearance in 20 years; the Blumenthal will celebrate its 10th anniversary; and the "month of art and soul" will conclude with Culinary Experience Week, presented by Johnson & Wales and Compass Group. Toss in the International Origami Festival, and you have a very fine mess -- and perhaps a city waking up to the true meaning of cultural diversity.

Everything that local Arts & Science Council affiliates had scheduled for September 1 through October 5 seems to have been swallowed up by the omnivorous Charlotte Shout. You could be next. Anybody standing in the streets of Charlotte could be trampled in the mad rush to climb on the bandwagon.

Of course, an aggregation of cultural events packaged together and branded with a colorful logo doesn't make a true arts festival. And certainly not one with Spoleto-sized stature. There needs to be a fresh vision and knowledgeable, purposeful administration.

When Newman made his announcement, he said the name of the new artsfest took its name from a painting by Charlotte native Romare Bearden, "Carolina Shout."

Oh, dear. As jazz aficionados know -- and the late Bearden was among them -- "Carolina Shout" was originally a signature piece by jazz immortal James P. Johnson. From Fats Waller onwards, "Carolina Shout" has been akin to the Rosetta Stone of jazz piano. Not knowing stuff like that can be pigeonholed in the same category as not completing the organ at Belk Theater before its 10th anniversary. Embarrassin'.

It's also symptomatic of a festival conceived and organized by a business outfit -- one that developed a web site before hiring an artistic director.

In future years, we can hope that Charlotte Shout will grow in wisdom and maturity. Meanwhile it has provided the most exciting marketing boost ever for the traditional beginning of Charlotte's arts season. If local groups haven't given sufficient attention to opening with a bang, the hoopla of Charlotte Shout will supply the incentive for years to come.

An Enthralling FallFortunately, nearly all of Charlotte's major theater groups had decided to hit the ground running without any prompting from Center City Partners.

Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, CL's reigning Theatre Company of the Year, may be getting the hottest start, launching their season on October 9 with Moises Kaufman's docudrama exploring the kidnap/murder of gay U of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, The Laramie Project. They're also planning to end the season with a splash, staging the Charlotte premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (May 28)

Theatre Charlotte is opening its diamond 75th anniversary season on September 12 with Show Boat by Jerome Kern, Edna Ferber, and Oscar Hammerstein II -- an American theater landmark that also happens to be celebrating its diamond jubilee. Lend Me a Tenor follows on Halloween and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof returns to the Queens Road barn after a 16-year hiatus (January 23).

Under new leadership, Charlotte Rep is leading off its new season with Tennessee Williams' most acclaimed drama, The Glass Menagerie, previewing on September 7. The PR drumbeat for the new Rep era has begun as Broadway veteran Joseph Hardy has been brought in to direct while the red carpet is laid out for Emmy-winning North Carolina native Penny Fuller to star as Amanda Wingfield. Then Rep will follow up by co-producing the 1988 Tony Winner, David Hwang's M. Butterfly (October 19).

Tom Vance is retired but the beat goes on at CPCC with Tom Hollis at the helm. CP brings back the first musical ever presented at panoramic Pease Auditorium back in 1969, The Fantasticks (September 27), following up with William Inge's Picnic (November 1).

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