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Fizzle and Pop

by Darryl Spencer

December 6,2007

Forget Panthers and Bobcats; Charlotte’s gone ape over…Lynx!

No one predicted that 101,000 people would crowd onto the new light-rail system’s snazzy cars during the first two (admittedly free) days of operation. When I arrived at the southernmost station, Saturday at noon, the waiting time to board a Lynx car was two hours. 40,000 people may have used the train to avoid Uptown parking prices and slow traffic by taking the train to see the Panthers slaughtered, again, on Sunday. Those who believe Charlotte needs to solve transportation problems now are elated, and hopeful that even skeptics will become regular riders.

Even more optimistic, I believe that Charlotteans’ embrace of the New in this case could portend well for other moves toward the Major Metropolis status the city so badly wants, but which seems elusive: consider Cabarrus County officials’ kowtowing to Bruton Smith, who wanted to build a drag strip in an area where many residents, while appreciative of the economic benefits of his NASCAR track, are understandably leery of the combustible noise and another louder, rowdier crowd.

The exciting success of the first days of operation of Charlotte’s light rail suggests a hopeful conclusion about the people of Our Fair City: that they have been underestimated; that we’re not only tolerant of but eager to embrace the New. These tens of thousands of Charlotteans (and South Carolinians) didn’t come out on a blustery day for the novelty of riding an urban train car; they were there for precisely the familiarity of this act. Tens of millions of dollars have already been invested in high-rises along the Lynx route.

I’d guess that most locals have used Atlanta’s MARTA system, and even trains in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Taking an intra-urban train is not new to most of us, and if buses operated more conveniently, we might have been riding them. Express buses go right to the door of my office building Uptown, but my varying schedules made it impossible to travel express both ways. A commuter from south Meck said in a radio interview today that he finds 25 minutes of uninterrupted rail travel more appealing than his one-hour slog home every evening.

Edwin Outwater, who guest-conducted the Charlotte Symphony at the end of November with an eye to succeeding the current music director, says he knows that performing “classical music” in the U.S. at this time “is like missionary work…. In order to get people to come to concerts, you have to make sure they know about [the new music].” Working in San Francisco, he says, “he learned a lot about presenting new music in a way that helps audiences relate to it,” and that “high school kids or college kids who come to concerts…tend to like the newer music. There’s so much great music being written now that’s not alienating to people.” He wants his next conducting post to be in a place where concerts “need new audiences…are having…success galvanizing people around classical music….” Might someone with his attitude entice into our concert halls not only the “safe,” traditional, older audiences who want to hear Dvorak’s New World Symphony and see La Traviata and Les Sylphides again…this year and the next—but bring in other, younger music lovers, eager for 20th-century music?

Could—bear with me—the good burghers of Charlotte have been underestimating their fellow citizens? Remember how locals mobbed the movie theatres that showed digital simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera a couple of years ago? Who foresaw Charlotte as a sushi mecca? Is it not possible that just as we appear to be almost hungrily embracing the Lynx system—that streamlined expression of The Modern—there is a sizeable portion of our population who thirst after the Fizzle and Pop of new music—“adult” versions of the percussive, discordant music they’ve grown up with? Let’s hope so, because only such an attitude can counter Charlotte’s image as a town built around souped-up cars and biography-burping cow. I am optimistic that our welcome for the New will define this city in the 21st century.

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