Summer is the banner season for art and culture in Central Arkansas. But we know you've got vacations to take, pools to swim in and air conditioning to aimlessly enjoy, so for planning purposes, we've distilled the calendar down to only the biggest and best.
Coming up next Wednesday, the Little Rock Film Festival (May 13-17), now expanded to five full days, kicks off with the latest from Ray McKinnon, “That Evening Sun.” There's a wealth of buzzy indies, documentaries, foreign films, Arkansas fare and shorts featured this year. Look for the complete lowdown in our cover package next week.
Long a May tradition, the Greek Food Festival (May 15-17) returns to Annunciation Church with all the gyros and baklava you can eat. Meanwhile, the Jimmy Buffett of contemporary country, Kenny Chesney, (May 16) comes back to Alltel, with the queen of the woman-scorned song, Miranda Lambert, in tow.
Nineties survivors Fastball (May 19, Juanita's) continue plying the same guitar-pop they have since “The Way” launched them into stardom more than a decade ago. One of the Pacific Northwest's favorite indie acts, the Thermals (May 20, Revolution), blends catchy pop hooks with the urgency of punk-riffs.
Of course, Riverfest, held annually on Memorial Day Weekend (May 22-24), is the state's biggest entertainment event. Last year, it drew more than a quarter million people. Look for similar numbers with headliners like the B-52s, Willie Nelson, Heart, Hinder, Buddy Guy, Bobby Brown and Flyleaf. Plus, in a tradition begun last year, the Arkansas Tent and the daytime spots on the main stages host the best in local talent.
This year's Timberwood Amphitheater Concert Series at Magic Springs (May 30-Aug. 29) kicks off with Southern rock hero Charlie Daniels and features the likes of folk-pop star Colbie Calliat (June 13), soul crooner Eric Benet (June 27), teen idol Raven Symone (July 18) and classic rockers Three Dog Night (Aug. 29).
As it does annually, the Hot Springs Music Festival (May 31-June 13) brings together some 250 international classical musicians for dozens of performances in venues throughout Spa City. For those who prefer their music a little rawer, the Detroit Cobras (June 2) play a fiery, R&B-inflected style of garage rock at Sticky Fingerz. The next day, same club, experimental, socially conscious rapper Mr. Lif (June 3) performs.
Or for movie lovers nostalgic for the days of drive-ins, Movies in the Park (June 3), the annual free weekly movie event at Riverfest Amphitheatre, officially kicks off with “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.” Other films in the series, which runs until July 29, include “Batman Begins” (June 17), “When Harry Met Sally” (July 1) and “The Bourne Supremacy” (July 8).
Oakland's Too Short (June 5, the Village) was rapping, laconically and deliberately, years before Snoop and his ilk. The grandson of North Mississippi blues legend R.L. Burnside, Cedric Burnside (June 5, White Water), together with his partner Lightnin' Malcolm, plays some of the most transfixing, dance-party-inciting blues you'll find anywhere.
The Rep finishes its season with a classic rock musical about a pinball wizard, “The Who's Tommy” (June 5). Meanwhile, the Weekend Theater begins its 2009-2010 season with “Oliver!” (June 5), a musical based on Dickens' “Oliver Twist.” Other summer productions from the Weekend Theater include “Rent” (July 10) and “Jeykll & Hyde” (Aug. 14).
Even at 72, Merle Haggard (June 7, Robinson) remains one of country music's most compelling performers. One of the most admired and obfuscating singer/songwriters in indiedom, Bonnie “Prince” Billy (June 8, Sticky Fingerz) comes to town for perhaps the first time. After last year's meteoric rise, the anthemic electro-pop group MGMT (June 9) plays a much-anticipated concert at the Village.
Now in its third year, the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival (June 10-28) takes on “Macbeth,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” and those great Shakespeare (well, maybe not) classics, “The Producers” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” at Reynolds Performance Hall at UCA in Conway.
The massively (and inexplicably) popular Celtic Woman (June 27) marks only the latest of what's been a recent flood of traditional Irish and Scottish singing groups in Central Arkansas. The newest tween idol from the Disney factory, Demi Lovato (July 2), comes to Alltel with last year's apple-cheeked “American Idol” runner-up David Archuleta in tow.
On a break from producing a reality TV show tentatively called “Marriage Ref” (really?), Jerry Seinfeld (July 10) comes to Robinson to tell jokes.
And expect a full and fervent crowd to cheer Conway's Kris Allen when the top 10 on “American Idol” (July 25) come to Alltel.