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Berry and Nelly wow Kiener Plaza crowd; Arch and Busch up next

Martin Casas says St. Louis is ready to host the big national political show -- a presidential convention.
Matthew Gierse | For the St. Louis Beacon

Chuck Berry didn't duck walk, but the 83-year-old rock-and-roll legend still brought the crowd to its feet and dancing in the aisles Thursday night as part of the city of St. Louis' pitch to host the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

For 45 minutes, Berry riffed through his musical catalogue -- from "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll" to "Maybellene" and "Johnny B. Goode" -- amid cheers from several thousand packing the amphitheater in Kiener Plaza.

After a raucous finale, he was followed onstage by Rams running back Steven Jackson, who in turn introduced St. Louis-born rap star Nelly, who had the crowd jumping some more.

Also briefly addressing the crowd were St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. The only snafu of the evening occurred when Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon failed to take the stage after he was introduced by Slay. Slay told the crowd that Shannon must have gotten delayed at his nearby restaurant, touching off chuckles.

Shannon later showed up to introduce Jackson.

Tim Zolman and Debbie Nelson, both 33 and from St. Louis, said they were thrilled by the chance to see and hear Berry and Nelly for free. Both had signed up online for tickets.

But the point of the evening wasn't so much the music, or the big names, as the energy and enthusiasm elicited by the audience -- and that St. Louis civic leaders hope was shared by the representatives of the DNC, in town for several days to check out the strengths and weaknesses of St. Louis' convention bid.

Although officials aren't even confirming the DNC presence, they were visible in a special "reserved" section. And some locals reported that the national party's scouts grilled local police, the fire department and Metro officials in sessions Thursday at Scottrade Center -- where the convention would be held, if St. Louis is chosen.

On Friday, the convention entourage is said to start their day at Busch Stadium, then head off for a tour of the sites -- including a trip to the top of the Gateway Arch.

St. Louis' rivals are Minneapolis, Cleveland and Charlotte, N.C.

Union members in Thursday's crowd said they believed the selection of Charlotte would send the wrong signal to labor because North Carolina is a right-to-work state. Others speculated that it would be too soon for the Democrats to choose Minneapolis, since it helped host the 2008 GOP convention in neighboring St. Paul.

That leaves Cleveland, which some local Democrats contended privately wasn't exuding the type of aggressive interest that some had expected.

Martin Casas, president of the local Young Democrats, said the key for St. Louis' civic, political, business and labor leaders is to keep up their spirited campaign.

And if Chuck doesn't do it, perhaps the DNC group will be wowed by the "flash mob" dance that Casas said will be staged in front of, or in, Union Station before they leave town.

The song to be used has yet to be picked.

How about the obvious? "Meet Me in St. Louis."

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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