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Arts & Culture
Each Thursday, WFAE checks in with a local arts and entertainment reporter about things to do in Charlotte during the upcoming weekend.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, AfroFuturism Fest Highlight Charlotte's Weekend Activities

Author Ytasha Womack is the keynote speaker of the inaugural AfroFuturism Festival in Charlotte.

This weekend in the Queen City, BLKTECHCLT will debut its inaugural AfroFuturism event; there’s the QC Fest on Beatties Ford Road and on stage, playwright August Wilson’s "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" will open Saturday at the Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square. With WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn for this edition of Weekend In Entertainment is Matt Olin co-founder of Charlotte Is Creative.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Hi, Matt.

Matt Olin:  Hi, Gwen.

Glenn: Matt, "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" is a classic play, that I’ve seen several times in different cities. It debuted in the early 1980s and is one of the 10-play series Wilson wrote to chronicle African American life in the 20th century. Remind folks who Ma Rainey is and tell us about the play.

Olin: Yeah, well, Ma Rainey was an influential American blues singer, early blues recording artist who was dubbed the "Mother of the Blues." And the play, itself, by August Wilson is set in a recording studio in 1920s Chicago. It deals with issues of race and art and religion, and really kind of the historic exploitation of Black recording artists by white producers.

Glenn: And she had over, gosh, what? Over 100 recordings? And this play, the interesting part is that she doesn't come into the play until about midway.

Olin: Yeah. And her body of work is incredibly impressive. But yeah, as a title character to show up, mid-play is sort of an unconventional approach by the incredible August Wilson.

Glenn: Yeah, but you feel her presence throughout. Curtain time for the opening show? And how long will it be at the Duke Energy Theater?

Olin: Opening night performance is 8 p.m. and it's going to be at the Duke Energy Theater until Aug. 22. You can go to CarolinaTix.org to find out more.

Glenn:  Ok, BLKTECHCLT, an incubator of sorts to support and encourage the establishment of Black-owned high-tech start ups, they are launching what’s called the AfroFuturism Fest. What exactly is this and what kinds of activities will be held at the fest?

Olin: Yeah, this is going to be so cool. It's being billed as an "unconference" around this theme of AfroFuturism. Afrofuturism, is a cultural movement in which futuristic or science-fiction works of art incorporate elements of Black history and culture. So, this unconference is using that lens to dive into issues of social justice. There's going to be speakers, panels, an ideation session, a maker space, art exhibit, even a comic book workshop.

Glenn: One of the things that makes this AfroFuturism Fest different is its "ideation session," featuring some heavy hitters in Charlotte and from around the country. Who are some of them? Tell us about the session.

Olin: So that session will be facilitated by Brandon Crooms. He's a Charlotte native and an entrepreneur. Then you pull in folks like keynote speaker Ytasha Womack, she's an acclaimed author and one of the leading minds of Afrofuturism. And amazing artists like Marcus Kaiser and Joanne Rogers and more. And you get yourself a pretty special, pretty powerful lineup.

Glenn: Time and place?

Olin: Saturday, Aug. 14. It starts at 10 a.m. And, hey, from 8 p.m. to midnight, there's also the Afro After Party at Roy's Kitchen and Patio to celebrate this inaugural AfroFuturism fest.

(Music from "The Avengers" plays)

Free Comic Book Day

Glenn: Those familiar sounds from Marvel’s "The Avengers" is just a reminder that Free Comic Book Day is this weekend. Typically, this event happens one of the first weekends in May, but it’s happening this Saturday. Matt what are some of the events on tap for it?

Olin: Well, on Free Comic Book Day, participating stores give away free comics to guests. And, you know, they have additional activities like signings from artists and more. So, around the Queen City, you got stores like Spandex City Comics, Rebel Base Comics, Hero World Comics over at Northlake Mall. They're going to allow guests to choose up to six free books from the 55 that are available.

Glenn: With COVID-19 cases on the rise, will masks be required by shop owners?

Olin: Yes, indeed. I mean, shops like the famous Heroes Aren't Hard To Find over on Pecan Avenue, they're going to require all customers, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask due to the increasing COVID numbers being reported around Charlotte.

Glenn: What time does everything kick off?

Olin: Well, it depends on the store, but you can go to websites like CharlotteontheCheap.com or FreeComicBookDay.com to see the full list and link over to each store and learn more about when they open.

Glenn: The sound of waterfalls is not often associated with North Carolina, but there are many throughout the state and they, Carolina sunsets, pine trees and other gems of the state will be featured in the Charlotte Art League’s latest exhibit. Landscape NC. Tell us more about it, Matt.

High Shoals Falls
Jodie Valade
High Shoals Falls at South Mountains State Park is an example of one of North Carolina's many waterfalls.


Yeah, I mean, we know North Carolina has it all, right? Those beautiful natural treasures, but also the cityscapes and the dive bars. And in this exhibit, you can come to see how local artists depict our great state. There's going to be a painting demonstration, live music, a collaborative 3
D landscape art project that attendees can contribute to. And while you're there, you're just going to want to stroll through some of Charlotte Art League's artists' studios and galleries, because all that work there is for sale.

Glenn: Time and address?

Olin: So Friday, Aug. 13, 6 p.m. at 4001 Raleigh Street. And I should also mention that Charlotte Art League's executive director, Jim Dukes, is going to be our keynote speaker at Creative Mornings Friday morning. So you can attend that event on Zoom as an appetizer to the landscape show later that night.

Glenn: "Self Destruction" by KRS-ONE, a stop the violence-themed recording, is the focus for an event the city of Charlotte is hosting this weekend. QC Fest is a community festival to launch the city’s new community safety and violence interruption program right?

Olin: Yeah, as you said, this free QC Fest kicks off Alternatives to Violence, which is that new violence interruption program. And attendees will be able to meet members of that new program and hear about the program's goals. But there's also going to be food and games and community resources and even some local vendors.

Glenn: There will be performers on stage — tell us who they are and a little about them?

Olin: Yeah, the event will feature performances from J. Holiday and Day 26. Now, they are the R&B group that was formed by Sean "Diddy" Combs at the end of MTV's "Making the Band," Season Four. So that should be pretty great.

Glenn: What time does everything start and where?

Olin: Saturday at noon at Northwest School of the Arts.

Glenn: OK, other events on tap: Miami Dice is headlining at Snug Harbor on Saturday. The show starts at 10 p.m. The 2021 Queen City Back 2 School Festival is this Saturday with food, children’s activities, entertainment. The bell rings for that event at noon on Saturday. Zen Studio on Morehead is having an open studio weekend for browsing artists’ latest works Saturday at noon and Chris Stapleton will be performing tonight at the PNC Music Pavilion.

Matt, thanks for joining us for this edition of Weekend In Entertainment!

Olin: Thanks so much, Gwen. Enjoy your weekend.

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