It's summertime (or close enough) and the living is easy, though as suggested a few pages earlier in “The Greatest Hits of Summer,” it's not hard to get overwhelmed by all the entertainment madness, much of which stems from the festival season we're entering. Yes, you should go to all of the biggest music hoorahs, but don't let your weekends fly by without indulging in some of our more Arkansas-centric community get-downs.
Here's a primer: To achieve the Arkansas Times Arts and Entertainment section-endorsed trifecta of festival-going, you'll need to find one that's centered on fruit (they're a-plenty), one that's meat-focused (the stranger the better) and one that's highlighted by animals racing.
Check one off your list this weekend at one of Arkansas's longest-running community events, Toad Suck Daze, now in its 27th year. No festival, of course, can match Toad Suck's etymology: Back in the steamboat days, when the Arkansas River was too low, travelers tied up where Toad Suck Lock and Dam is now and took a load off in a local tavern, where locals were known to say of them, “They suck on the bottle til they swell up like toads.”
Free and advertised as a “laid-back weekend” (finally, a festival for the amblers and the do-littles!), Toad Suck offers the standard delights of any good event: food, a carnival, a rock-climbing wall, a petting zoo, magicians, tricycle races, a 5K/10K, a golf tournament and a three-on-three basketball tournament. Of particular note is the annual “Stuck on a Truck” competition, a test of endurance that finds a dozen or so folks vying to win the truck in question by keeping their hands on it longer than anyone else. (Several years back, a friend crumpled into a crying mess after 20-something hours; 90-something hours won it that year. Perhaps there should be drug testing.)
The musical entertainment, as always, pairs local and national talent. On the main stage, popular country neo-traditionalist Blake Shelton headlines at 9 p.m. Friday and Shaw Blades, a cover band that specializes in the music of Styx, Night Ranger and Damn Yankees, headlines at 9 p.m. Saturday. On Friday, the music kicks off at 5 p.m. and runs through the headliner. Local acts also include Hwy 5, Riverbilly, Culpepper Mountain Band and jam-rockers FreeVerse, who'll be anchoring the acoustic stage. On Saturday, the music goes all day long, from noon 'til after the headliners, with bands like Happenstance and the alt-metal group Crooked X on the main stage, and Little Rock folk favorite Sara Thomas and blues-rockers Jeff Coleman and the Feeders on the acoustic stage. On Sunday, the music starts at 11:30 a.m. and lasts until after 3 p.m., when the Christian pop triple bill of Ashmont Hill, Jimmy Needham and Natalie Grant take the stage.
Then, of course, there's the real reason to show up: the toad races. I'm sure most of you caught your toad long ago and have been working it through a rigorous training program. For those who didn't plan ahead, the festival will have some toads on hand for you to size up and select for racing. Toads, goaded on by your cheering, will race at 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Skip the Kentucky Derby, this is where the real action is.