Aerin It OutNightlife

A Funky, Rainy Saturday Funday in NoDa

NoDa gonna NoDa

brewery, post-pandemic social scene, GoodRoad Ciderworks
Aerin Spruill (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Normally, a rainy Saturday is my ultimate excuse to put on my biggest sweats, curl up on the couch and binge-rewatch the Harry Potter movies. But one recent such Saturday in early September required me to tuck away the only child in me and prepare for socialization, which landed me in an Uber to JackBeagle’s in NoDa.

For some, NoDa represents the “grungy”/rough-around-the-edges face of Charlotte, for others, it’s a historical home for the struggling artist that will fight tooth and nail to keep NoDa NoDa. Sure, there are new players in the NoDa game since I threw a tantrum when my parents wouldn’t co-sign my move to Highland Mill Lofts (or my hippie phase) seven years ago, but major players like Growlers Pourhouse, Heist, Noda 101, Ever Andalo (yes, I know the name and menu changes are still up for debate), Dog Bar, Blind Pig, Sanctuary, and of course, JackBeagle’s remain the same. And therefore, the fabric remains largely intact — worn in and comfy.

You know the rides with drunk friends where you are filled simultaneously with instant regret for the driver and endless gratitude that you weren’t the one who requested it? It was that kind of ride. We pulled up in front of Jackbeagle’s. I took a sigh of relief knowing that the secondhand embarrassment had come to an end but refuge was still a few rainy steps and four ID checks away — which may as well be two blocks in a downpour for a Black girl with natural hair.

I pulled my leather jacket over my bun and beelined it to the door, my plans quickly thwarted by my girlfriend chatting up a familiar face just outside the door. “Now she knows I ain’t tryin’ to get my hair wet,” I thought as I rolled my eyes and tried to squeeze past them.

Peeking beneath the collar of my jacket, my eyes met with the bouncer whose familiar wide grin seemed to be getting a good laugh at my expense. A pillar of the community, Sherman has been there perched on a stool just inside or just outside the door of Jackbeagle’s every time I’ve visited, usually donning the same sheepish grin. Something about him reminds me of the sweet version of Gort, the junkman, in Halloweentown II.

“Pray for me,” I said to him, shaking off the rainwater that had accumulated in the crease of my jacket. He giggled, his shoulders vibrating while shaking his head in solidarity, “I will.” I turned to take in the familiar chaos of the interior bar.

Patrons standing over barstools, hoping to sneak in a quick shot and a beer inside where it’s less crowded, the remnants of their cheesesteaks strewn on an unoccupied table, and groups of girls waiting in line for the bathroom leading out to the back patio. I wasn’t greeted by the respite of refreshing AC. Instead, the mugginess of the summer rain mixed with the smell of wet dog, beer, and B.O. hanging in the air. Yummy.

Live music out back meant we’d be outside anyway. About 75% of the patrons were scattered under the awning, waiting to order drinks, or snacking at the high-top tables completely unbothered by the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd slowly filling up the space and cutting off any crossbreeze. Not a solitary stool to rest my loins.

I hung back for as long as I could, fearing a claustrophobia-induced panic attack. Beneath one of the occupied tables, a pup, maybe a Maltese, caught my eye as it rolled around in a dirty puddle of rainwater. My brows furrowed at the thought of having to wring out my pet before leaving the bar, but then I saw humans doing virtually the same thing, dancing without a care for the rain or the rhythm. No judgment, do ya thang dog.

It was only a matter of time before those same rhythms and the sounds of funk and soul pulled our drunken party close to the stage and out from under the comfort of overhead covering. My girlfriend placed a cider in my hand, grabbed my arm, and pulled me through the crowd into the drizzling rain. Protesting would’ve been in vain, but oddly enough, I was actually feeling the Chicago funky jazz band, Sneezy.

The lead singer, a cherub-faced white guy clad in a red tie-dye t-shirt, bolo tie, a bandana-wrapped wide-brim fedora atop what must have been a killer curly fro, and Chaco-like sandals sat cross legged on stage belting out adlibs in the form of Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunshine”). Bandmates rubbed his exposed belly attempting to stand him up and this comedic assist quickly devolved into a saxophone solo introed by what sounded like Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man.”

I couldn’t believe my ears as I watched this merry band of misfits with the soul of Black folk perform for, well, not Black folk — and those non-Black folk were eating it up!

“Y’all know y’all Black right?!” I said as the lead singer stepped off stage for a break. He had to do a double-take curious as to whether or not he heard me correctly and then a grin spread across his face. “That’s the best compliment we’ll get all night,” he said laughing, “All of our musical inspirations are.”

After that, getting a bowl of Thai Mac to go was the icing on the cake. Despite all the change, NoDa is still gonna NoDa and I ain’t mad at it.

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