St. Louis may not be home to any major historically black universities, but this weekend we host a huge tailgate party for black collegians and alumni from all over the nation. From its 1994 inception as a fundraising football game, the Gateway Classic has grown into a three-day celebration of football and African-American culture, packed with enough events to fill this section of the paper. Here's your guide to the best this classic weekend has to offer (call 314-621-1994 or see www.gatewayclassic.com for schedule and ticket info).
St. Louis native, standup satirist and social activist Dick Gregory appears at the President Casino's Galaxy Room (800 North First Street) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 23, with musical act the Jeremiah Allen Company. Tickets are $25.
The St. Louis Rams Coaches Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, September 24, honors NFL legend Jim Brown, 1978 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims and kickboxing champion Earnest Hart Jr. The luncheon, at the Gateway Classic Sports Complex (2012 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive), costs $25.
That same Friday, the free Gateway Classic Street Festival offers a more family-oriented, grassroots celebration at Baer Plaza outside the Edward Jones Dome (Broadway and Washington Avenue), with all the usual food, merch and good vibes. At the 5 p.m. pep rally, festival-goers can get a first peek at the rival school bands that battle it out at the game (see below).
With all due respect to the game itself, Friday night may be the real main event, when LL Cool J rocks the bells at the Ed Jones Dome under the unlikely auspices of the Missouri Division of Tourism. (Score one for the tourism folks, evidently hipper than our soul-phobic, Nelly-dissing former mayor Clarence Harmon.) The Soul in the Night Concert also features underground hip-hop heads Slum Village and a DJ battle hosted by STL expat DJ Kut. Doors open at 6 p.m. and, yes, tickets are $25. Afterward, hoist martinis with Cool James himself at the all-night afterparty at Club Isis (1204 Washington Avenue). Afterparty tickets are $15, and tickets to both events are available through www.ticketmaster.com.
But don't get too far gone at the afterparty, because Game Day kicks off at 9 a.m. on Saturday, September 25, with the Gateway Classic Parade. Celebrity marshals including NBA demigod Magic Johnson, former 21 Jump Street star Holly Robinson Peete and singer Stephanie Mills are scheduled to lead the procession from 12th and Market streets east to Broadway, then up to the Dome.
Then, at the Dome at 4 p.m., all the carousing culminates in the Gateway Classic football game between Alabama A&M and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions of UAPB, led by running backs Cedric Bowen and James Johnson, trounced Kentucky State 37-9 in last year's Classic; the A&M Bulldogs aim to topple the returning champs behind wideout Anthony Wells and running back Nick Luke. At halftime each school's band tries to out-blast the other in a competition that's usually as spirited and intense as the game itself. Tickets range from $16 to $35 through www.ticketmaster.com.
With all this plus a jazz brunch, a fashion show, several black fraternity parties, a fitness walk, etc., Gateway Classic weekend lives up to the cliché "there's something for everyone."