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The bears are back: Leonard Bearstein orchestra returns to Kannapolis

Nick de la Canal
A worker helps position a section of animatronics with the Leonard Bearstein orchestra in 2019, when the bears were celebrating their 20th anniversary in uptown Charlotte's Founders Hall.

There's good news for local animatronic bear fans: An 18-member robotic bear orchestra that had been a holiday staple in uptown Charlotte for more than 20 years will now play in Kannapolis.

The Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra has been searching for a new home since Bank of America declined to renew their Founders Hall contract this year. Now they’ve been hired by the city of Kannapolis. Their hourly performances will begin Friday in Village Park as part of the city’s Celebration of Lights.

The bear orchestra will perform at the top of each hour, with a 15-minute intermission between 45-minute sets. The bears play 36 songs, including Christmas classics and Hanukkah songs.

For 20 years, the bears played in Founders Hall. They didn't appear in 2020 or 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bank of America decided not to renew their contract this year. The bank did not give a reason.

Husband and wife Todd and Jessica Alexander of Spintastic Sounds are the creative team behind the bears. They said they're happy the orchestra is returning to the Charlotte area.

"My favorite part of the holiday season is watching the children's faces light up when the bears start to sing and play — those smiles filled with wonder are the tradition that Todd and I want to continue," said Jessica Alexander, in a statement.

The Celebration of Lights festival includes 250,000 light decorations and holiday displays. It runs until December 30. The event at 700 W C Street in Kannapolis is free, but reservations are required to ride the Winterland Express and Carousel.

The Leonard Bearstein orchestra will join the Chuckles Quartet, another group of animatronic musical bears starring Chuckles, Grizzly Gus, Blue, and Honey. Kannapolis officials said they play "Christmas favorites with a more fast-paced and upbeat groove."

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal