JEFF ELDER"Jesse Helms is in the house!" is just not what you expect to hear murmured by an excited rock concert crowd.
But Monday was no ordinary night in and around uptown, as U2 packed the arena. (More about the senator later.)
Before the show, scalpers skittering after tickets and cash-burdened victims demanded $200-$350 for good seats. (The businessmen preferred to remain anonymous.)
Folks streamed in from all over. Roger and Susan Riggs drove five hours from Williamsburg, Va., because this was the closest U2 show. "The city looks awesome," said Susan.
The big trend for concert dates? Teens and parents. Robert Lilien, a 17-year-old senior at Charlotte Country Day, came with his dad, also named Robert. "We listen to U2 around the house all the time," junior said.
There were those with a philosophical, far-sighted view: Harrison Colby and Stephen Vastardis, teenagers from Chesapeake, Va., were as far from the stage as one can possibly be. From the precipitous elevation of Section 201, Row O, Seats 1 and 2, Colby surmised, "Yeah, but we probably have really good seats, acoustically speaking."
Closer to the action was Will Gray, who stood right against the stage. The Marine, who was in Baghdad five days ago, drove from Green Bay, Wis., and waited in line since late Sunday to get so close. What does the Marine think of U2's liberal world view? "I just wish George Bush would listen a little harder to Bono."
There were volunteers fighting hunger, like Michelle Keown of Raleigh, selling white rubber bracelets for the One Campaign affiliated with Bono. And VIP suites where fresh fruit, crab cakes, three kinds of shrimp cocktail, fajitas, Szechwan steak skewers, cheesecake and Franciscan Cabernet were spread out like paradise.
Bobcats players in a suite checked out how different their home court looked. Were they fans? Emeka Okafor said he had U2 CDs. Others were downright enthusiastic. "Are you kidding? They're HUGE overseas!" said the HUGE overseas product Primoz Brezec.
Other biggies in attendance were Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon (rumored to be by the stage) and Brian Vickers from NASCAR, hizzoner the mayor, tourism guru Tim Newman and tan entertaining mogul Mary Tribble, the Queen City's own Oprah.
But no one had a night like Jarrett Bury of Charlotte. When U2 hit the stage and the crowd went wild, Bury was in the center of the ringed stage, where only the very lucky tread. Bury tossed Bono a Santa hat, and the singer pulled him up onstage.
"Oh, my God!" Bury shouted when he returned to the floor, if not quite to earth. "That didn't just happen!" No one got closer to Bono in Charlotte on Monday night.
Except possibly a certain former senator. Helms, 84, has long been a strange political bedfellow with the cause-oriented lead singer. And arena officials say they were seen in the arena together. (No word on how long Helms stayed.)
And so U2 drew all kinds to uptown Monday night -- even an aging conservative.
Perhaps Helms, too, still hasn't found what he's looking for.