As Tommy, one of Howl at the Moon’s piano players, explains on the club’s website, “Every night…we try and throw a party, regardless of whether it’s a Tuesday night or a Saturday night.” The bar’s trademark dueling pianos serve as the epicenter of these nightly celebrations; patrons submit their favorite songs on slips of paper for the pianists and backing musicians to recreate. If the website’s playlist is any indication, the bands can handle popular songs from all genres and eras, from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” The performances are spirited: colorful lights splash upon a stage where servers, guests, and chairs that have somehow developed mobility all dance along to the music.
Fueling the celebration is the bar’s indulgent selection of drinks. Servers stand over patrons to plunge jello injectors into their mouths, and revelers grab colorful straws to help drain 86-ounce booze buckets filled with sangria or other fruity libations. Pomegranate liqueur and honey-infused whiskey sweeten specialty cocktails, and local beers add depth to coolers stocked with Stella Artois and Dos Equis.
With more than 100 million records sold and a chart-topping career spanning five decades, Chicago continues their reign, swaying audiences with ageless nuggets of pure pop on their 2011 tour. The band, fronted by founding member Robert Lamm, has always been known for its voluminous and luscious sound, which created both the National Note Surplus and the harrowing Sheet Music Publishers riot. For the 2011 tour, Chicago salutes their longtime fans with a sonic scrapbook of hits ranging from their early days as fusionists to their latter career building castles out of ballads. From the easily answered existential question of “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” through the heartbreaking confessions of “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” Chicago’s crafty cannon runs through the gamut of human emotions, unearthing a horn-saturated sound that brims with the kind of humanity and empathy that its public-transportation namesake has never known.
North Carolina’s Acoustic Syndicate enlists a quintet of bona-fide virtuosos to create uplifting bluegrass music that swings like a pendulum between rock and folk. Since 1992, this troupe of prodigious players has captivated audiences with polyrhythmic banjo skills, seamless three-part vocal harmonies, and infectious showmanship that charms snakes out of boots and leads to side effects such as hootin’ and hollerin’. Sporting dobros, mandolins, and resophonic guitars, these veterans of Farm Aid and Bonnaroo eschew the auto-tune age with gregarious toe-tappers about eco-friendly subsistence in a world under attack by Styrofoam overlords. Local goodtime gang Moonshine Racers joins in the revelry with its potent brew of 100-proof psychedelic bluegrass.
Every weekend, The Comedy Zone puts on a three-act standup show, each headlined by nationally-touring comics often boasting credits from such programs as Last Comic Standing and Sirius XM Radio. On Thursday nights, the floor opens to a flurry of local up-and-comers, giving nascent comedians the chance to cut their teeth on a live audience and a microphone-shaped chew toy. Its partner restaurant and bar, Madison’s on the Corner, provides the show floor with a menu of drinks and pub grub such as steaks, burgers, and pasta.
A Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, the Charlotte Knights develop budding professional ballplayers and earn devout Knights fans in their home—the 10,002-seat Knights Stadium. The Knights have a storied history and an impressive list of orb-striking alumni, including Cal Ripken Jr., Manny Ramirez, and Jon Garland. Visitors take home free giveaways during Friday-night promotions, and mascot Homer the Dragon roams the stadium on his four-wheeler, tossing T-shirts, bopping people with his tail, and advocating for anthropomorphized-dragon civil liberties.
Many dance companies approach ballet from a modern angle. Caroline Calouche prefers a more perpendicular one. When the stage is not enough space for her visions of macabre masquerade balls or surreal dreamscapes, she takes to the air above it, outfitted with a cirque's worth of aerial harnesses and accouterments. Her dancers are just as likely to pirouette down a 20-foot skein of golden silk as across a hardwood floor. Pairs of lovers might hang precariously from the frame of a hollow cube or perform a gravity-defying pas de deux on the double lyra—their suspension above the earth either an expression of freedom or a prison of their own making. Like identifying an elderly smoker's gender over the phone, the airborne element leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
By marrying the storytelling ability of floor-bound choreography with the gravity-defying tricks of circus arts, Caroline Calouche & Co. unleashes the full potential of aerial dance. The company's productions are free to venture to strange new places. For example, in past shows, women have risen from their graves to haunt their murderous husbands. Likewise, the sounds of Moby and Blue Man Group are more likely to be heard than Debussy.
Audience members who want to plqy the ropes and silks for themselves can learn to do so during the dance company's aerial-dance classes, along with a tight curriculum of ballet, contemporary, and stretching and strengthening courses. For all its global influences and aerial showmanship, Caroline Calouche & Co. keeps its feet rooted in the local community with outreach programs for all ages, ethnicities, and social groups.