9:30 p.m. Shooter's Sports Bar & Grill. $20-$25.
A few years ago, I encountered a deeply unsettling omen at the Waffle House: a poster advertising something called "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk." It turns out that far from being some new experimental menu item, this was in fact a cross-promotional effort for a song from a Louisiana gentleman by the name of Trace Adkins, and its subject matter was a woman's particularly appealing buttocks. "Lord have mercy, how'd she even get them britches on?", etc. I finally heard the song some months later, and it was perhaps the most disconcerting collision between urban and rural artifices that I'd encountered since being forced to endure repeated plays of a cassingle of the 1995 Rednex hit "Cotton Eye Joe" several years earlier. Similarly, "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" left me profoundly shaken, and it took only a single listen. The song was upsetting not just on account of its intense terribleness, but also because of the changing musical landscape it portended. Even though it contained no real rapping, it nonetheless pointed to a world where country music rapping was not only tolerated, but encouraged. And thus, around the same time, our nation witnessed the emergence of "hick-hop" artists, such as Uncle Kracker, Cowboy Troy and Colt Ford. When I found out about these performers, it left me feeling like Christopher Walken's character in "The Dead Zone": I'd foreseen a coming catastrophe yet had done nothing to prevent it. I thrashed about that night in a state of extreme, sleepless agitation, asking myself, "What would Porter Wagoner have thought of this world? What would Gang Starr have thought of this world, where country singers are rapping and rappers are country singing?" Finally, I awoke to the cold light of dawn and thought, "Eh, what can you do? So there are rapping country singers? No big deal." Anyways, if you've not seen the video for Colt Ford's song "Chicken and Biscuits," I highly recommend it. It's a send-up of the "Twilight" films, and at the end, when Colt has rescued the hot girl from the shirtless guys, and they're lying there on the grass and she thinks that he's reaching over to try to bust a move but then she realizes that he's actually just going in for some chicken and biscuits, located conveniently next to her, well, it's pretty hilarious. The dynamic Texas country singer Rich O'Toole opens the show. Perhaps you've heard his song "Marijuana and Jalapenos." Ford also performs at George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville Thursday night.
OAKLAWN OPENING DAY
1 p.m. Oaklawn. $2.50-$4.50.
There is no better place for people-watching in this fine state than Oaklawn. In a single afternoon, you can see just about every demographic Arkansas has to offer. You've got your horse owners and your debauched heiresses and your wealthy divorcees in their big hats. You've got your dudes in leather jackets and Kansas City Chiefs sweatpants. You've got your toupee- and sunglasses-inside-wearers peeling hundos off a fat stack and feeding them into the betting machines. You've got your pickup-driving good-old-boy contingent, naturally. You've got your guys who are obviously pimps. You've got your clusters of hungover frat bros and sorority girls nursing Miller Lites. You've got your busloads of senior citizens from outlying areas. You've got your snowbird retirees. And then, of course, you've got hoards of just plain, good old-fashioned Arkansas folks. Whether you're a race-form-reading pro who's accustomed to walking out with a heavier wallet than the one you came in with, or a novice who'll be lucky just to lose $20, it's always a good time. Plus, it just wouldn't feel like late winter/early spring in Arkansas without at least one trip down to Oaklawn. On opening day, the track has a $75,000 Fifth Season Stakes, and on Saturday, you can get 50-cent corned beef sandwiches.
'THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER'
7:30 p.m. The Weekend Theater. $12-$16.
Mention Laramie, Wyo., and many people will immediately think of the brutal 1998 torture and murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard at the hands of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who targeted Shepard because he was gay. The murder sparked a national discussion about hate crimes and inspired several songs, films and plays, including "The Laramie Project," by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project. The play was based on news stories and scores of interviews with people from Laramie about the incident. This follow-up is based on interviews with people from Laramie, as well as Shepard's mother and murderers, conducted a decade later. The Weekend Theater's production is sponsored by several area churches, including Canvas Community Church, Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church, Open Door Community Church, and New Beginnings Church of Central Arkansas. The director, Duane Jackson, also helmed the theater's production of the first Laramie Project play a few years back.
9 p.m. Revolution. $10.
The self-described folktronic act Ishi has a "sound derived from their vision to unify the instrumentation of Folk music with the endless soundscapes of electronic production," their bio says. Ishi's 2010 album "Through the Trees," incorporates many of the touchstones of dance music: thumping electro beats, droning washes of synthesizer, icy stabs of keyboard. But instead of serving to inspire dance-floor debauchery, those sonic elements were used to flesh out a set of mostly straightforward, folky rock songs. About halfway through, the album takes a pretty hard turn toward the darkly introspective, with the electronic elements largely ceding dominance to the acoustic ones. But last year, vocalist Taylor Rea and guitarist Rob Bastien quit the band, leaving brothers J.T. and John Mudd to reboot the lineup. This year, the band promises a new album and a renewed emphasis on hedonistic ass-shaking. The 18-and-older show also includes performances from Sex with Robots, Sniq, Germz and MC Kreepa.
YEAR OF THE TIGER
9 p.m. Stickyz.
It seems like just yesterday The Year of the Tiger entered the 2011 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase and made it to the final round. Not many brand-spanking-new bands have that notch on their belts, but although the band itself was new, it was made up of folks from several other prominent local acts. Mike Mullins and Rob Brackett, of Underclaire renown, started the group with Josh Tate (Elise Davis Band) and Jeremy Brasher (The Moving Front, The Stranger Steals, like 472 other bands). Now, roughly a year later, the band has released its debut EP, "Midnight Hands." The first track, "Flesh & Blood," has a big U2-sounding guitar line right out of the gate, before shifting gears to a passage with syncopated rhythm and squiggly synths that wouldn't sound out of place on a Les Savy Fav disc. "Mal De Mer" starts off with pulsing, strobe-like synthesizer and a stuttering post-punk beat before cresting with a huge chorus and soaring guitar heroics. There's a bit of a trick ending, with an unexpected classic rock style turn. The final track, "True North," starts off with a squeal of feedback and echoing guitars that show up again, supporting a plaintive chorus. Like the song before it, "True North" takes another unexpected turn toward the end, when a raspy sounding drum machine sample shuffles into the picture amid washes of synthesizer and more snaky guitar and synth lines. If you dig thoughtful modern rock, you'll want to get your grubby mitts on a copy of "Midnight Hands," certainly one of the better recordings to come out of Little Rock in quite some time.
7 p.m. Downtown Music Hall. $10 adv., $12 door.
Hailing out of Philadelphia, The Menzingers draw from the same well as a lot of the great Midwestern pop-punk outfits of the last 15 years or so, such as Alkaline Trio, Dillinger Four and The Lawrence Arms. With its soaring choruses, screaming vocals and catchy melodies, the band's sound has a touch of what I suppose gets referred to as "emo," though that term has gone through so many permutations that it's by now nearly meaningless. Basically, The Menzingers' brand of pop-punk concerns more serious subjects than does, say, Blink 182's. After this show, The Menzingers will join Rise Against and A Day to Remember as an opening act, so this is a good chance to see the band headline a show. The opening acts are The Weisenheimers and Half Raptor.
6 p.m. Statehouse Convention Center. $250.
Gladys Knight is, without question, one of the great soul singers of all time. She got started in the 1950s when she was just a child, and with her backup singers The Pips, she cut numerous chart hits throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s, including "Every Beat of My Heart," "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," "If I Were Your Woman," "Midnight Train to Georgia" and many more. Though rooted in gospel, Knight's hits spanned a wide stylistic range, from doo wop and early R&B to gritty soul to sophisticated pop. The group cut the original version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" for Motown and had success throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s, netting several Grammys. Now you're probably looking at that $250 cover charge and thinking it's pretty steep, but this is a dinner gala benefiting Arkansas Baptist College, the 127-year-old historically black Little Rock college that has been on a major enrollment upswing and expansion of facilities under the leadership of its president, Fitz Hill.