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Speed Freak

Shit Creek and a big can o' beans

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Normally, someone playing a solo show with only a strummed guitar or some other acoustic instrument bores me to tears. I don't hate singer-songwriters; it has more to do with the nonchalant strumming that, when paired with yet another maudlin line about self discovery, makes me want to go Sylvia Plath on their ass and put my head in an oven.Thank God for Danny Barnes, then. The banjoist, formerly of the legendary Austin band the Bad Livers, played the Evening Muse last Tuesday. Barnes isn't a man given to flash in his wardrobe -- he took the stage in off-brand sneakers, jeans, and an old white T-shirt. The flash comes when Barnes begins his rapid-fire clawhammer-style picking, which can make what he's doing a blur. I'd wager that drink sales were down that evening, as most of what was going on onstage was a blur to even the most clearheaded patrons.

Barnes, who even played favorites like the Livers' 11-minute epic "Shit Creek," apologized for his behavior at one point, explaining that he'd been "watching a few -- OK, a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants recently while looking after a little one. Which is pretty weak as far as segues go, but the regular readers will understand.

Irregular readers, race on over to. ..(Oh, screw it. Time I retired that line anyway). Yes, SpeedStreet was in town last week, as you may have noticed if you tried to drive anywhere near uptown Charlotte (you may have also figured it out if your favorite convenience store was out of beef jerky). It's a weird thing, SpeedStreet, but it's really one of the few authentic festivals we have here. In our rush to become world class, Charlotte too often forgets the cool stuff we do have, the little indigenous things that give us a soul and keep us from becoming "CharLatte." As in, extra cream. I mean, people don't go to Memphis for St. Patricks Day; they go for blues music and BBQ. Memphis, being smart, markets blues music and BBQ. Ask an outsider what he or she thinks about when they think about Charlotte, and the first answer after the obgligatory "Is that in Virginia?" will likely be "racin'!"

So I secretly rejoiced when seeing the parade of stock cars and drivers moving down Tryon last Wednesday night. I applauded every time the sudden roar of engines scared the absolute bejeezus out of the local newscasters in front of me. I ate corndogs with glee. I saw kids with SpongeBob SquarePants inflatables, and didn't feel the urge to pop them. The inflatables, I mean.

If there was one thing that summed up the whole SpeedStreet experience for me, it was a giant, inflatable can of Pork and Beans. Yes, what signifies the consumerism and brand identification that is NASCAR and CharLatte better than a big can of pork and beans? This is, after all, the same festival where folks stood in line for 20 minutes for a package of Hamburger Helper (how about some Time Management Helper? Something's not really free if you spend half your day waiting for it). Even so, I'd have stayed in line for that big can of beans -- the piece of pork fat alone must've been the size of a sofa cushion.Much cooler were the hands-on activities, where folks could "change a tire" and do other NASCAR-related chores. Amazing, but at the SpeedStreet version of NASCAR, you even saw black people (gasp!) getting in on the fun, and getting to act out, Matrix-like, what it might be like if Humpy Wheeler and Co. quit paying lip service to diversity and actually did something about it. As SpeedStreet showed, there are fans of all races, sizes, and colors that love this homegrown sport. Hell, everyone loves a fast car. Think NASCAR's big now? Open the gates to everyone and not just the token Willy T. Ribbs figures. And don't send them to the Truck Series to languish in obscurity; give them the same chances as everyone else. CharLatte's opened its doors to everyone, and grown into a national business power as a result. It's time for Bruton, Humpy & Co. to do the same.

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