Argenta Film Series
The Little Rock Film Festival's monthly series launched in September, dishing out some serious red meat for insatiable film buffs. At least once a month, Argenta Community Theater hosts a screening and a Q&A with one of the film's principals, usually a director or producer. Thus far, the series has featured short films, documentaries like "Kassim the Dream" and "Marathon Boy" and buzzed-about indie features such as the fantastically demented "Bellflower." Filmmaker and LRFF co-founder Brent Renaud told the Times that "the idea is to bring the kind of programming we do at the Little Rock Film Festival year-round. As the local filmmaking scene has boomed, we want to offer another place for people to come together and network with other filmmakers from around the country and even around the world."
Like some psychedelic AM signal beamed straight out of rock 'n' roll heaven, the long-running radio show Beaker Street had bounced around from station to station over the years, but wherever it went, listeners followed. Sadly, in February, Clyde Clifford's beloved and formula-defying show issued its final broadcast. Canceling Beaker Street was "a business decision," according to management at The Point, Beaker Street's home in the last few years.
Is Crystal Bridges: A) a first-class art museum that could transform the cultural landscape of Northwest Arkansas and expose budding young minds to worlds they might otherwise never see? B) a first-class art museum that was tragically plopped in the midst of flyover country where it surely will be neglected by ignorant, overweight hillbillies who will never care about fine art? Or C) a first-class art museum that was created by a modern-day robber baroness on the backs of millions of low-wage workers around the world? While there might be more nuanced views of Alice Walton's close to $2 billion labor of love (and whatever your take, there's no question that Walton loves art), most folks' opinions are going to fit neatly into one of the above categories. So what's the only thing most people will agree on, at least at this early stage? That would be that Crystal Bridges is, indeed, a first-class art museum.
This year was the 20th anniversary of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. But the festival, which ran from Oct. 14-31, had only a few months earlier looked like it might not happen at all. The Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute's financial house was a mess. It had $30,000 in debt and couldn't pay its bills and staff, and in April, the nonprofit's board voted to furlough the institute's executive director and three more part-time employees. Two board members resigned, and former director Dan Anderson stepped in to help right the ship. But the show went on, screening 110 films and hosting more than 40 filmmakers from all over the world, including "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's latest film about the West Memphis Three. The Times will follow up on the state of the festival in early 2012, so stay tuned.
The 2006 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winners went on to big things: the band moved to Nashville, signed to Big Machine Records — home to Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts, among others — and went on tour with Brad Paisley. And it was on that tour that the band got into what we'll call The Great Collegiate Door Mat Spat of 2011. Long story short: Edens Edge swiped Paisley's West Virginia rug and replaced it with one bearing a Razorback. Paisley retaliated by burning the Arkansas mat, an act which was filmed and broadcast to the entire Internet. As is their custom, Hogs fans in no way overreacted. They took Paisley's inflammatory antics in stride, offering nothing but sportsmanlike civility and entirely rational responses to the harmless prank.
In addition to stalwarts like Riverfest and King Biscuit, 2011 saw the launch of several new music festivals and the further growth of some of the upstarts. The inaugural Johnny Cash Music Festival at Arkansas State University featured heavyweights like Kris Kristofferson, George Jones and most of the Cash family. Hot Water Hills in Hot Springs and Festival on the Border in Fort Smith were promising new additions to the state's slate of festivals, while others — Valley of the Vapors in Hot Springs, The Fayetteville Roots Festival and Wakarusa and Harvest Music Festival (pictured), both on Mulberry Mountain near Ozark — continued to solidify their positions with strong lineups. Along with these are the many other smaller events focusing on blues, bluegrass, jazz, folk and classical. If you can't find a music festival to your liking in Arkansas, you probably aren't looking hard enough.
The singer, guitarist, session heavyweight, actor, stone-cold legend and native of Delight, Ark., told the world last summer that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The 75-year-old then announced he would hit the road one last time. "The Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour" caps a career that's spanned five decades, multiple No. 1 hits and millions upon millions of albums sold.
The legendary blues guitarist — who grew up in Hughes (St. Francis County) and provided spooky, scorching accompaniment to Howlin' Wolf — died in early December of heart failure. He was 80, and his final performance was at Helena's King Biscuit Blues Festival in October.
"It Is Fine! Everything is Fine"
The second in a trilogy, Crispin Glover's bizarre art-house masterpiece did not disappoint when he screened it in Little Rock and Hot Springs in July. Glover travels the country personally screening his films, which are not available otherwise. He told the Times that he would come back to Arkansas "at a later date" to screen his first film, "What Is It?" Let's hope that "later date" is sooner rather than later.
The Little Rock native's second film, "Take Shelter," won two prizes at Cannes (the Critics Week Grand Prize and the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers' SACD Prize) and was nominated for two Gotham Independent Film Awards and five 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards. He wrapped up the biggest film shoot in Arkansas history last month with "Mud," starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey. At this rate, Nichols seems likely to have a spot on this list nailed down for years to come.
What happens when you mix inclement weather, lackluster communication, Kid Rock and Kid Rock fans? We're not exactly certain, but it probably looks something like this: disappointed fans who couldn't make it to Verizon Arena on account of the snow complain on Kid Rock's message board; Kid Rock extends an offer of "A REFUND, STRAIGHT OUT OF [his] POCKET," and advises that his "so called 'fans' on [his] website bitchin and moanin and saying [he is] greedy, can GO FUCK [themselves], plain and simple." So there you have it, the Great Kid Rock Concert Kerfuffle of 2011.
One-time Arkansan and hands-down one of the finest singer/songwriters of all time, Lucinda Williams played Juanita's in October for a standing-room only crowd. Tickets sold out at near warp speed, but a few of the folks who got a hold of them complained afterward about the lack of seating. The Times therefore proposes that Williams come back to town, preferably on an annual-or-so basis, and play Robinson, followed by an after party at a smaller venue. How about it, Lucinda?
Specifically, Southern metal, even more specifically, Rwake — the Little Rock act whose gnarly epic "Rest" was one of our most-played discs of the year — and the premiere of "Slow Southern Steel," the film helmed by David Lipke and Rwake/Iron Tongue vocalist CT.
Local institutions Stickyz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack and Flying Saucer Draught Emporium both went nonsmoking this year, to the joy of many nonsmokers and the dismay of smokers, who will now have to step all the way outside to have a cigarette. The Town Pump, long a smokers' haven, went smoke-free in 2009, and the White Water Tavern followed suit in 2010, so we'll have to see if the trend continues next year. Something tells us Midtown will ban smoking sometime right after hell freezes over.
Oxford American's move
Back in October, The Southern Magazine of Good Writing announced it had leased the South Main Street spot that had formerly housed Juanita's. But publisher Warwick Sabin hinted at much grander possibilities for the space than simply a business office space: "I'm looking to continue to develop the Oxford American as more than just a magazine, to establish it as a cultural institution dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Southern culture in all its expressions," Sabin told the Times. Though the magazine's editorial offices will remain in Conway on the UCA campus, the new space could eventually host a variety of OA-branded entertainment and possibly a Southern bistro. This move should go a long way toward quelling some of the handwringing over the future of the South Main area that the departure of Juanita's had elicited.
Porter's Jazz Cafe
After several construction-related delays, Porter's Jazz Cafe opened in the renovated Gus Blass Building on Main Street. Upstairs, the place serves some tasty New Orleans-style cuisine, while the downstairs club area is a thoroughly stylish affair that hosts live music regularly. We hope this is just the first of many new additions to Main Street.
Rock Town Distillery — Phil Brandon's local maker of gin, vodka and whiskey — got off to a bit of a, well, rocky start in 2010. Basically, because of a combination of equipment problems and rose-colored-glasses, the first batches of spirits tasted way off. "Everybody said that the vodka and the gin smelled and tasted like tequila," he told the Times. "It wasn't a clean tasting spirit. It had too many other flavors in it." Brandon opted for a quiet recall, taking back all the bottles from stores and restaurants. After tweaking the recipes and fixing the equipment, he rolled out new batches, including a new product, Arkansas Lightning, an un-aged, 125-proof whiskey that is, we kid you not, positively delicious. It also netted Rock Town some awards, including a gold medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago. At the San Francisco World Spirits Competition held in March, Brandon's gin won a double gold medal — one of only six gins entered that won double gold. At The Ultimate Spirits Challenge in New York City, Brandon's Vodka bested hundreds of others from around the globe — including the output of storied makers like Stolichnaya, Skyy and Ketel One — and came within one point of being named the best in the world.
In September, The Arkansas Repertory Theatre unveiled its first major renovation since it opened back in 1988. "When you would take somebody new to The Rep for their first time, you would just try to divert their gaze upward to the art on the wall or the stairwell or just anything but looking down," Rep board chair Catherine Hughes told the Times, with a laugh. "And I'm sure that carpet was beautiful 20 years ago, when it was first put in." In addition to the new carpeting, The Rep completely rehabbed the bar upstairs, christening it Foster's at The Rep after former chairman of the board Vince Foster; added about 30 seats, and improved sightlines and acoustics, said Bob Hupp, producing artistic director.
This year saw the release of "True Soul: Deep Sounds from the Left of Stax," on the respected reissue imprint Now Again. The collection compiles the output of the legendary Arkansas label True Soul, which entrepreneur and musical impresario Lee Anthony started in the '60s and operated through the '70s. Available as two separate CD+DVDs or a single 4-LP set, it was a gorgeous work born of obsessive love of the soul, R&B and funk of a bygone era, complete with detailed liner notes, interviews with Anthony and vintage photos, ads and handbills. For souls of a different flavor, Psych of the South Records released "Lost Souls Vol. 3 Arkansas Garage Psychedelic Rock 1963-1971," its latest installment mining the Natural State's psychedelic rock nuggets. As with previous volumes, this edition was culled from 45s that were released on regional labels such as Clark, Silver-Dollar, Zay-Dee and others, as well as acetates and reel-to-reel tapes of rehearsals and shows. Much of this stuff had been gathering dust in somebody's box of forgotten dreams for the last 40-plus years, until Psych of the South owner Harold Ott came along to help this music see light of day once more.
Back in April, the Arkansas Arts Center announced its hire for director: Todd Herman. Times arts writer Leslie Newell Peacock profiled Herman in July. Her impression: "His passion for art is palpable and infectious and bound to stir donors into shelling out, which is exactly what the Arts Center needs." One of Herman's most important tasks in the near future will be to ensure that AAC doesn't lose prestige in the wake of the recently opened Crystal Bridges.
Bonnie Montgomery was everywhere this year: The Searcy native went to New York City so she could stage a reading of "Billy Blythe," her opera about a day in the life of an adolescent Bill Clinton, and stayed for a while and played a bunch of shows at all kinds of hip nightclubs and speakeasies. She recorded a radio concert and went on MSNBC and appeared in the pages of The New York Observer and Huffington Post and TIME and The New Yorker and several other publications. Upon returning, Bonnie got right back to it, playing all over the state with Montgomery Trucking, her country-rockabilly hybrid outfit, and beginning a collaboration with another internationally known Searcy native, Brace Paine (A.K.A. Nathan Howdeshell) of the band Gossip.
In 2011, we saw several venues close, open and move to new locations. The nonprofit Arkansas Community Arts Cooperative, which had changed locations three times in about as many years, ceased operation with a spokesman citing "a crisis in existence" as the reason. Capi's — the Nuevo Latino restaurant and bar in West Little Rock — closed in September. The Underground, a River Market stalwart, closed in June. And The Village, the former movie theater dome on Asher and University avenues, closed earlier in the year. Twelve Modern Lounge opened on Markham in Capitol View, in the space that once housed the short-lived Star Bar, and Juanita's moved to the River Market.
The West Memphis Three — Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley — likely need no introduction for Times readers. And this year, they were set free, thanks in no small part to the "Paradise Lost" series of documentaries about the case made by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the third of which had its Arkansas premiere at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in October and will run on HBO on Jan. 12. In August, it was reported that renowned director Atom Egoyan would helm a $20 million adaptation of "Devil's Knot" by Times contributor and indefatigable WM3 advocate Mara Leveritt. Earlier this month, it was announced that Reese Witherspoon would star in the film. And Damien Echols is working on "West of Memphis," another documentary about the case, with director Peter Jackson.
X-rated True Grit
You know, it's just a damn shame when someone takes something that you love and turns it into a porno. But that's exactly what's happening to "True Grit." Some dudes are making a porn version of the Coen brothers' 2010 adaptation of Charles Portis' brilliant, timeless novel, according to September story on XBiz Newswire. And they didn't even bother to come up with a clever porn-pun variation on the title. It's just called "True Grit XXX," which could very well lead confused video store customers to wonder how they missed the other 28 sequels chronicling the further adventures of Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross.
Adrian Tillman, a.k.a. 607, is probably the hardest-working man in show business in Arkansas. Whether with solo projects or with his brother Bobby as the duo Ear Fear, Tillman is restless and relentless. On Halloween, he released "Yik3s!" On the album's Bandcamp site, Tillman notes,"I think Big KRIT had the best album out this year. We performed with him and beat him on stage. I wanted to beat his album. So i did that. Enjoy."
This daylong event — headlined by Toby Keith and billed as the first of an annual series of concerts to benefit the Little Rock Zoo — did not go as planned. And that is putting it mildly. The promoters had counted on a crowd of around 20,000 for the event, but only about one-tenth that many actually bought tickets. Several of the vendors and others involved in putting on the show said they were not paid, including the staging company, which had to leave the stage up for several days until workers could be paid to dismantle it. The Zoo eventually received a grand total of $4,000 in the form of a check from the promoters, the amount representing 25 percent of the gross alcohol sales, a requirement of the beer sales permit.