Freeloading Charlotte misses the bus

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Walking across one of the bridges that cross the water at Symphony Park, connecting the green with the bandshell, I was the beneficiary of a pointed observation from one of the security guards maintaining order at the first-ever ticketed event in the Summer Pops Series. It was 8 p.m., 15 minutes before headliner Tito Puente Jr. was scheduled to climax an event that had begun its merriment and music-making nearly three hours earlier. One last chance for me to take a few close-in photos of the Charlotte Symphony musicians and a daylight view of the audience from the stage.

The guard looked scornfully at the green.

“This turnout is pathetic!” he said, hitting the nail right on its head. Order needed to be maintained at this?

On a beautiful evening with a lively bandleader and a salsa music machine that turned the cart path at the edge of the green into a makeshift dancehall, the vibe, the spirit, and the joy flowed freely enough. The bandshell, brightly lit in an assortment of candy colors as the sun went down, was spectacular in the dark. But compared to the masses that have flooded the greensward when the weather was far hotter and admission was free, the turnout was indeed a devastating indictment.

If Shakespeare is free on The Green, Charlotte is there with chairs, chicken wings, and drinks. If Symphony is giving a free Summer Pops concert, load up the SUV, Buffy, we’re on our way!

We’re great supporters of the arts when it comes to proudly putting up new buildings, theaters, and concert halls – as long as it bears a rich person’s name at the entrance. Their vanity fuels our vanity. But if the only reason there still is a Symphony in Charlotte is because taxpaying musicians have made sacrifices to their livelihoods, screw them, right?

When it comes to supporting our best artists and arts organizations, we suddenly have an onset of Banktown prudence and a righteous freeloading sense of entitlement. Charlotte’s cultural history is littered with the corpses of arts organizations that have perished as a result.

So I pretty much looked at the empty spaces at Symphony Park with the same burning shame as the security guard. Charlotte’s oldest professional arts organization was stretching the envelope, reaching out to the greater community, and collaborating on a damn good concert. But the $20 pre-concert ticket price – $10 for kids – was too much for our righteous freeloaders to reach back. When Tito Jr. asked, “Are you feeling it, Charlotte?!” the whoops, whistles, and applause barely eclipsed the reaction when the bandleader exhorted audience members from Puerto Rico to give a shout. It would have been thunder in a city that knew and loved and treasured artists and musicians.

Not that we’re always so stingy. I remember my amazement attending a Ray Charles concert years ago at the Verizon Amphitheatre in Concord. Despite the horrific sound system and the hassle of heavy traffic just for the dubious privilege of parking on dirt, thousands had gathered at an event where nearly all the audience couldn’t see the headliner and the headliner couldn’t see the audience! If that weren’t insane enough, when I left early in frustration and disgust, I noticed a goodly number of “concertgoers” lined up at food and drink concessions while the Genius of Soul was playing.

Somehow for this musical experience, Charlotteans were more than eager to shell out serious cash. Go figure.

Here are some photos from the Symphony concert — you should have been there!

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