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Eureka Springs goes ‘Big Time’

Fred Tackett and Little Feat right at home with Dr. John, Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman.


  • HOOFING IT TO EUREKA: Little Feat.

EUREKA SPRINGS — The pitter-patter of little feets will echo throughout the Ozark Mountains Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15-16, as this town presents the first Big Time Festival, featuring Dr. John and Little Feat with guest Vince Herman.

Born from the vision of Fred Tackett, the Little Rock Hall High graduate, Little Feat guitarist and part-time Eureka Springs resident, this festival is looking to establish a home in the hills and blossom into an annual event for the band and its broad and mobile fan base.

Tackett and his wife, Patricia, have enjoyed the charm of Eureka Springs for years, and officially made it their second home three years ago, when they purchased a house in its Historic District.

“When I first saw this place, I knew it would be perfect for this kind of event,” Tackett said. “Our fans love to travel and most of them have a lot of disposable income.” And the ticket sales to date reflect just that.

Tackett and Paul Barrere, guitarist and lead vocalist of Little Feat, played an acoustic show at the Basin Park Hotel Ballroom in the winter of 2003 under the name “Two Feet from Little Feat.” And while Barrere found this quaint mountain town equally inviting, he said he also looks forward to returning to the Natural State for more political reasons. “Arkansas is also a better state for a president to be from,” Barrere said in a recent interview. “Much better than Texas.”

The soulful sounds of Little Feat have been heard for more than 35 years. Established in 1969, the band has endured the untimely death of its founder, Lowell George, a lengthy hiatus and several lineup changes, but the music has endured, and thankfully for the fans the band has played on.

The current lineup of Tackett, Barrere, keyboardist Bill Payne, drummer Richie Hayward, bassist Kenny Gradney and percussionist Sam Clayton has been intact since 1988, while vocalist Shaun Murphy was added to the mix in 1993.

Little Feat keeps its performances fresh by changing the setlists nightly. “I look back at the previous night’s show, and what songs we played last time we were at a particular venue and try not to repeat those,” Barrere said. “But there are songs like ‘Dixie Chicken,’ ‘Willin’ and ‘Fat Man in the Bathtub’ that seem to make it into every show.”

In 2002 the band founded their own record label, Hot Tomato Records, and has periodically released recordings of past shows from their vast vault of tapes.

The band has devoted this tour, “Calling the Children Home,” to New Orleans. Like most musicians, the members of Little Feat feel an artistic connection to the Crescent City and yearn to help in its restoration. Two of the band’s original members, Clayton and Gradney, were calling the Big Easy home when they got the call in 1977 to join Little Feat.

Another connection to New Orleans is percussion technician Rocky Tornabene, who grew up there and now resides in Slidell, La. When Katrina hit, he and his family found themselves temporarily homeless. And while they had many offers from Feat fans and friends across the country, he chose to bring his wife and two daughters to Eureka Springs to stay at the Tacketts’ house. “I had been there before and knew how relaxed it was,” Tornabene said. “The hospitality extended to me and my family from the locals was overwhelming. My oldest daughter wanted to know if she could stay and live with Aunt Patricia and attend Eureka Springs High.”

The Tornabenes’ house did not sustain too much damage and they have been able to resume life at home. But he is quick to point out that some families don’t have it as well. “There are some neighborhoods that are wall-to-wall campers,” he said. “It’s going to be a long while before things are back to normal.”

Fittingly, Dr. John co-headlines the event this year. A fixture of the New Orleans music scene, he has been a leader in raising awareness and money for disaster relief in his hometown. The good doctor’s Friday show at the Auditorium begins at 8:30 p.m.

Many events are planned throughout town all weekend. Friday at 1 p.m., the finals of the Big Band contest will be held in the Basin Park Bandshell. Six finalists chosen from this summer-long competition each will perform a 30-minute set, and the winner will take home cash, prizes and an opportunity to play the next afternoon at Feat Fest, also in Basin Park. That night the Sugarfree Allstars, along with Friends of Fred, will play an after-show gig at the top of the Basin Park Hotel in the ballroom.

Feat Fest will fully erupt on Saturday with a parade beginning at 11 a.m., complete with costumes of Little Feat song characters, followed by live music and a Cajun feast of gumbo and muffalettas in the park.

Vince Herman, formerly of Leftover Salmon, will take the stage at the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Saturday to open the show for Little Feat. Herman and Tackett have been friends for many years and are most familiar with each other’s work. “We invited Vince because of the spirit he brings,” Tackett said. “And we love to play with him.”

Following that show, Herman and Friends of Fred will join Speakeasy at Chelsea’s to carry the groove into the wee hours of the night.

Tickets for the event are $45 per auditorium show and $15 for each after-show and can be purchased from the Eureka Springs festival office by calling 888-855-7823 or by visiting www.theaud.org.

— By Scot Halsell


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