CarolinaFest Greets DNC Delegates To Charlotte

What better way to kick off a political convention than a Labor Day street festival? Convention-goers and Charlotte residents attended CarolinaFest, a street festival intended to kick off the week of events at the Democratic National Convention.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You may have heard some street noise behind some of Mara's interviews there. That was the sound of CarolinaFest. Charlotte gave Democrats a taste of the South there yesterday.

People outside gave NPR's Debbie Elliott a taste of what they're thinking.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: What better way to kick off a political convention than a Labor Day street festival?

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND)

ELLIOTT: The marching band from Charlotte's Johnson C. Smith University got the party started. You could get your blood pressure checked, watch a Habitat for Humanity house go up, and sample down-home cuisine.

DAN THE PIG MAN: Carolina barbeque, y'all.

ELLIOTT: There was barbeque from Dan the Pig Man, and vendors selling everything from collard greens with fatback and cornbread to sweet potato pie and peach cobbler. But mostly, this was a political festival.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Obama buttons, get your world-famous Obama buttons.

ELLIOTT: Terry and Kinisha Bivens are from nearby Monroe, North Carolina. They're not going to the convention, but say they came to support their candidate.

TERRY BIVENS: Bama!

(LAUGHTER)

KINISHA BIVENS: Obama.

T. BIVENS: Yeah. We've got to put this guy back in. I just think so.

K. BIVENS: He did a good job the four years that he's been serving. We haven't seen much change, but it's a change.

ELLIOTT: That kind of mediocre assessment of President Obama's first term is what party officials are working to overcome. Events like this are as much about firing up the base as they are entertaining delegates. Florida State Representative Alan Williams says it's understandable that people aren't as excited as they were in 2008.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ALAN WILLIAMS: Four years ago, everyone was just fed up with the direction that President George W. Bush had took us in. And with President Obama, he had a very transformational message, one that you only can capture, you know, once in a lifetime. It's like falling in love. You don't fall in love twice.

ELLIOTT: Enthusiasm is not a problem for 76-year-old Elease Gray, wearing a Granite State for Obama t-shirt.

ELEASE GRAY: A lot of Democrats say, I'm behind you Mr. President, but now they done turned their backs on him and ran away.

ELLIOTT: But Gray says she's hanging on.

GRAY: I'm a praying woman. I got two knees. And the Bible says, first of all, pray for your leaders before you pray for yourself. So we've got some praying people praying for President Obama. Amen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MAYOR ANTHONY FOXX: How y'all doing? Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?

ELLIOTT: Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx warmed up the crowd early.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

FOXX: Over the next three days, we're going to spend a lot of time talking about our country, a lot of time talking about our future, and I will tell you that I believe in my heart and in my soul that President Barack Obama is the right leader for this country.

ELLIOTT: Factory worker Robert Berlin drove up from South Carolina for the festival with his family, grandchildren dressed in red, white and blue. He says he's a Republican, but remains undecided.

ROBERT BERLIN: If I knew that a Democrat would do a great job, that's great. But to me, right now, I can't see either party doing for the low-income people.

ELLIOTT: Democrats this week will be trying to show that they are a friend to working and middle-class people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND")

JAMES TAYLOR: You've got a friend.

ELLIOTT: Yesterday, singer James Taylor was in the lineup of musicians here to give Democrats a boost.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND")

TAYLOR: If the sky high above you should grow dark and full of clouds...

ELLIOTT: The sky over Charlotte did grow dark, and a thundershower sent festivalgoers running for shelter.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN AND CROWD NOISE)

ELLIOTT: Convention organizers are hoping the weather clears well before President Obama's Thursday night speech in an open-air stadium. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Charlotte.

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