Originally created 12/31/06

Officials close doors on crowd



As a lifelong James Brown fan, Mark Strickland was angry Saturday when James Brown Arena officials denied him access to a memorial service for the performer.

"It's a bunch of bull," Mr. Strickland, 48, said outside the arena after waiting in line two hours. "There's no way it's full. They could have set up more seats to let more people in."

Augusta fire officials offered apologies at 12:30 p.m., when the doors were shut to the hundreds still waiting to see Mr. Brown.

In 1971, Mr. Strickland said he sold newspapers on a downtown Augusta street corner and James Brown once gave him $20 for two editions and told him to keep the change.

"He was always good to me," Mr. Strickland recalled. "I can't believe I can't go pay my final respects."

However, not everyone was disappointed.

An avid golf fan, Jim Laviolette dropped by Augusta on his way home to Toronto, Canada, in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Augusta National Golf Course. He immediately dashed that plan upon hearing about James Brown's memorial service Saturday.

"We were driving home from Tampa (Fla.) and just had to come here," he said. "When I heard about James Brown, we came here as quick as we could."

Still, Mr. Laviolette wasn't quick enough as he and his companion, Bev Harvey, were among the hundreds turned away when the arena reached its capacity.

Instead, he watched the service on a portable television set up outside Augusta Presstech, just two blocks from the arena, on Seventh Street.

Mr. Laviolette described himself as a lifelong fan of Mr. Brown and once saw him perform at a venue in his hometown in 1965 when he was 15 years old.

"When he came to Toronto, nobody knew who he was," Mr. Laviolette recalled. "When he left, everyone knew who he was."

Others who did not get in or who had to work watched the service on television sets in Augusta restaurants and businesses.

Inside The Beauty Shop on Laney-Walker Boulevard, customers kept an eye on the screen.

Owner Betty Davis, who attended grammar school with Mr. Brown, said she loved how he stayed in touch with the community.

"When James Brown became popular, he never forgot where he came from, he never forgot the people. He didn't elevate himself to a big star. He was plain James Brown," she said.

Downtown at the arena, speakers blared the audio of the indoor proceedings to outdoor mourners.

Spartanburg, S.C., resident Preston Browning, 65, wasn't disappointed he could not enter the arena, so long as he can get his picture taken with Mr. Brown's longtime friend the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"Al Sharpton and Jesse (Jackson) are the ones who are kind of like the lawyers," he said. "They're the ones who stick up for the poor man, the underprivileged, to make sure they're taken care of."

Mr. Browning also credited Mr. Brown for his work with the needy.

"That's the No. 1 reason I came here," he said. "I came for James Brown."

Staff Writer Justin Boron contributed to this article.