When LeAnna Eden sat down with me at the sprawling Camp North End complex on Statesville Avenue to talk about Bla/Alt, the black alternative music festival featured in this week's cover story, we were joined at one point by Camp North End's community manager, Varian Shrum. One thing I noticed when I directed some of my questions about the event space to Shrum was the respect she showed Eden.
In her answers, Shrum did not speak about the singer-songwriter in the third person. She did not say, "I think LeAnna occupies a unique space in Charlotte"; rather, she looked directly at Eden and said, "I think you occupy a unique space in Charlotte."
This detail may seem tiny, but to me it's a subtle distinction that says a lot about Shrum, Eden, and the way millennials work together on creative projects in the 21st century. It's a very different methodology from that of Gen Xers or Baby Boomers, who were taught to be individuals first. This story is not so much about the individual; it's not so much about me, but about us.
In the cover feature, you will learn about Eden's passion for bringing together young artists of color, from a variety of backgrounds, to create a sense of unity and to celebrate differences. The Bla/Alt Music Festival aims to prop up the work of black alternative musicians who perform hard rock, indie-pop, experimental punk, and mixes of rock, soul, R&B, hip-hop and Latin styles. It also aims to show that young Charlotteans of color can do it all themselves — organize, plan, design, execute, sell products, make art and make money — apart from the typical system of older, whiter entrepreneurs holding the purse strings of such projects and demanding final approval.
The Bla/Alt festival is a truly DIY endeavor — the spirit of punk rock merged with a strong "we" mentality.
"I wanted people of color to feel comfortable and respected and accepted in the Charlotte music scene," Eden said, "so I decided to create spaces that would be safe for us to be in charge, to take over, to put on events like Bla/Alt."
As Eden talked, Shrum listened, as she does when any artist comes to Camp North End with an idea and a dream.
Shrum began working for ATCO Properties & Management, the company that purchased the massive 75-acre complex two miles north of Uptown, in January. Nine months later, the 1.2 million square feet of space across six sprawling buildings and several smaller ones, where missiles and Model T Fords were once built, are slowly filling with painters, musicians, recording studios, coffee roasters, marketing agencies, community work spaces and more.
Street art splashes across the sides of some spaces. Lawn furniture provides areas for people to sit and chat and make plans. In one 240,000-square-foot building that once served as a Ford showroom, Creative Mornings has held its monthly breakfast series for young creative Charlotteans.
- Camp North End art. (Photo by Mark Kemp)
"In the early days, when I first got here, I pretty much would just invite people out and let their imaginations run wild," Shrum said as the three of us sat together in a cluster of porch swings. "If they had an idea they were really excited about, I'd try to help facilitate them making it happen."
The Bla/Alt fest was one of those ideas. When recalling Eden's proposal for the event, Shrum looked at the singer and said, "I think you occupy a unique space in Charlotte, in the world, in the music industry. I wanted to encourage that. And I know that there are many people out there who identify with what you're doing but maybe aren't aware that there's a community around it.
"What I see that you're doing," Shrum continued, "is putting your flag in the ground and giving visibility to a community that's there and that needs a place to come together and to celebrate."
Camp North End is not like most places in Charlotte. On the one hand, it isn't slick, clean and condo-ready; on the other, it doesn't look ignored, like some of the city's marginalized outlying neighborhoods that more privileged Charlotteans don't get the opportunity — or take the time — to to see or experience. Camp North End is scrappy, it's historical, but it's well-preserved. It's a piece of potential art; a blank canvas, a work in progress.
On Saturday, October 21, it will be a festival, but not just any festival. It will be Bla/Alt, Charlotte's first black alternative music festival, where artists of color will freely play the music that's in their minds and hearts and souls; where vendors of color will sell their goods.
And it will be for everyone, not restricted to anyone. It will be inclusive in the best of ways. It will be about young people of color in Charlotte taking control.
No one will be required to shout, in terror, "Hands up, don't shoot." The only hands up will be those willing to chip in.