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Weekend In Entertainment: Vanessa Ferguson Sings Nina Simone, Auto Show, Speedway Christmas & More!

Vanessa Ferguson
Sandra Davidson
Vanessa Ferguson

Vanessa Ferguson will be performing songs made famous by Nina Simone live this weekend at the Jazz Room at Stage Door Theater. Also in the lineup: live comedy sketches, an auto show and an early kickoff to Christmas. Joining Gwendolyn Glenn to talk about these events for this edition of Weekend In Entertainment is Ryan Pitkin, editor of Queen City Nerve. 

Gwendolyn Glenn: Hi Ryan.

Ryan Pitkin: Hey Gwen, it’s good to see you again. 

Ryan Pitkin
Credit Ryan Pitkin

Glenn: Same here. Well, let's start with Vanessa Ferguson an R&B, soul singer from Greensboro and one of the final eight contestants on Season 12 of NBC's "The Voice" in 2017. What else can you tell us about her and her connection to Nina Simone?

Pitkin: So Vanessa Ferguson has sort of the same career trajectory as Nina Simone in the beginning, doing a lot of gigs around nightclubs, bars and lounges, internationally as well. She held a residency at the world-renowned LAN Club in Beijing, China. That's now closed. And then she toured the world with B.B. King's Blues Club All-Star Band hitting the Mediterranean, South America, and Central America.

And as many people know, Nina Simone is known as one of the world's most influential singers of the 20th century. In 2018, Ferguson performed four of Simone’s songs in the house where Simone was born in Tryon, North Carolina. That was actually just recently made a historical treasure statewide. And here's what she had to say about Nina Simone at that time.

“Nina Simone believed in that ... you should sort of use your art to say something or reflect the times. She would talk about the things that were going on. And so it's sort of a good segue to get people to pay attention.”

Glenn: So where and when will she be performing?

Pitkin: She'll have a run of four performances on Friday and Saturday evening at the Jazz Room at Stage Door Theater. And before this weekend's show, Ferguson will be leading a discussion about Simone at the Main Library uptown on Friday afternoon from noon to 1 p.m. So if you're free and can sneak over on your lunch break, that'll be a great way to start the weekend.

Vanessa Ferguson
Credit Sandra Davidson
Vanessa Ferguson stands in front of Nina Simone's childhood home.

Glenn: OK, another Friday night event is something called ScrewUp TV Live. Is that a "blooper" kind of event? What is that?

Pitkin: So ScrewUp TV was actually established in 2009 by filmmakers P.J. Barnes and Keith Welborn. They do a lot of sort of just fun online content, but they're really good at it. It’s a very great website that they run. They create sketches, web series and short films in collaboration with different creatives from different towns. This event will actually consist of some sketch comedy, some standup comedy, some improv as well, some live music, some standouts to me being the local singer-songwriter Paulina Simone, as well as rapper/producer, Yung Citizen. 

Glenn: So it will be live on stage, and then some films, as well?

Pitkin: They might share some stuff, on the projector, but I think most of it will be live performances right there in the room.

Glenn: So, Ryan, where will the ScrewUp TV Live be held? 

Pitkin: That's at the Knight Gallery in Spirit Square from Blumenthal Arts. A lot of different venues in there, but just hit up Google and you'll be able to find out how to get into that gallery.

Glenn: OK, moving on to Saturday, there is Local Comic Shop Day featuring exclusive comics and I’m sure there's going to be a large crowd there.

Pitkin: Absolutely. And Heroes Aren't Hard to Find is the spot for comics in Charlotte. And of course, they're not going to miss out on Local Comic Shop Day, which is being held all throughout the country. So on Saturday, they'll be offering limited and exclusive comics for sale, but they'll also be hosting Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor of cartoonist Kayfabe, which is sort of an online content creator around comics. They do a lot of funny YouTube videos. Ed, who created X-Men Grand Design and Hip Hop Family Tree, and then Jim, who did Street Angel and the Plain Janes, is probably how you recognize him if you’re a comics fan. They'll both be signing from 1 - 4 p.m. and then holding a live cartoonist Kayfabe event at 5 p.m.

Glenn: And that’s Saturday?

Pitkin: Saturday from 1 - 6 p.m.

Glenn: And finally to multi-day auto-related events. Where are they, Ryan?

Pitkin: So we start with the 26th Charlotte Auto Show. It's got cars, attractions, exhibits. It'll fill up nearly 280,000 square feet in the Convention Center in uptown. All the latest models you expect from Toyota, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, but also, of course, the luxury manufacturers on the floor like BMW, Aston Martin, Mercedes Benz, Maserati -- all of those and plenty more. There'll be opportunities to test drive cars. I don't know if you're going to be driving in the Convention Center. It's highly doubtful, probably have to sign some waivers. It's a great family-friendly event, though. 

Glenn: OK. And how long will this show be in town? 

Pitkin: That will be starting Friday and it'll run all the way through Sunday.

Glenn: OK {Christmas music plays]. There's a reason for that Christmas music. Tell us about it, Ryan.

Pitkin: So at the Charlotte Motor Speedway starting on Friday, Speedway Christmas opens up for race fans and holiday lovers, alike. It's the 10th edition of Speedway Christmas and it’s billed as the largest drive-through light show in the Southeast. It will showcase 4 million lights on a 3.75-mile course. 

Glenn: That's a lot of lights. 

Pitkin: Yeah, that's a lot. There's a new stretch of the drive-through named Santa Safari. It's featuring safari animals from the Serengeti. Not a thing that usually connects with Christmas, but I think it'll be amazingly creative just to go check that out. So you and some friends, family, pile up in the car, take a ride through that seasonal magic.

Glenn: I’ve done those drive-throughs in other places, and there are a lot of fun. Thanks, Ryan. 

Pitkin: Thank you. 

Glenn: And that's Ryan Pitkin, editor of Queen City Nerve.