NIGHT AT THE SPEAKEASY
6 p.m. Dreamland Ballroom. $25 or a bottle of wine worth $25 or more.
So I've been watching "Prohibition," Ken Burns' latest sepia-toned, 34-hour-long exploration of something Significant and Historic and Indelibly American. While the so-called "noble experiment" was, without question, doomed to fail, it seems like drinking was a lot more fun back then, what with all the secret passwords and hip flasks and scantily clad women dancing to jazz music. Sure, there were terrible aspects to it. Chicago in the late '20s was practically one enormous carnival shooting gallery with people as the ducks. And lots of folks died from drinking toxic bathtub "gin" that was probably just rubbing alcohol mixed with lead-based pinecone flavoring or something. That was all bad. But let's be honest: there's an undeniable thrill that arises from sticking it to the squares and the scolds by doing something illicit and fun. If any place in Little Rock is perfect for recreating the look and feel of a speakeasy, it's Dreamland Ballroom. This evening of food, drink and dancing is a fundraiser for restoring the ballroom to its former glory. So put on your flapper dresses and single-breasted pin-striped suits and have fun knowing you will most likely not be arrested by federal agents and nothing you drink will cause blindness.
HARVEST MUSIC FESTIVAL
Noon. Mulberry Mountain. $74-$350.
Can one draw any conclusions about the nature of a festival's audience based on the FAQs listed on its website? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way, this tickled my funny bone: "NO illegal drugs, weapons, fireworks or NITROUS TANKS are allowed on the festival grounds. Violators will be ejected from the facility and subject to prosecution under local, state and federal laws. We're serious folks." To be fair, the same admonition is listed on the website for Wakarusa, which is also hosted at Mulberry Mountain, so maybe it's just a holdover and doesn't apply to this festival as much as it would to, say, a Ween concert. But regardless, if typing in all-caps is the written equivalent of yelling, the message screams: "Dudes, NO NITROUS TANKS! OK? For seriously!" Other things they had to yell include: NO PETS; NO GLASS; NO LASER POINTERS. Those are some solid recommendations, though. I know that if I was ripped on nitrous, a bong-smoking dog with a laser pointer would really freak me out. Anyways, if you like your bluegrass with a heaping helping of jam-tastic noodling, this is your ticket. Although given the gorgeous setting at Mulberry Mountain, it almost doesn't matter what kind of music you like. The Yonder Mountain String Band curates this annual event and plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Split Lip Rayfield and Railroad Earth play Thursday night, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones play Saturday night and dozens more bands play through Sunday night.
ARKANSAS STATE FAIR
11 a.m. Arkansas State Fairgrounds. $4-$8.
Carnival games and rides and fried everything are fun and all, but did you know the Arkansas State Fair has a homebrew competition, with categories for beer, cider and mead? They've also got a wine competition, a flower-arranging contest, a rice-cooking contest, a photo contest, a baking contest, a Spam championship, a Rodeo Queen Luncheon, a chili cook-off and a fashion review. Also, there will be concerts. Friday night, starting at 8:15 p.m., the Shreveport-born guitar titan Kenny Wayne Shepherd will commune with the classic rock spirit world, channeling the spectral essence of Stevie Ray Vaughn before a teeming mass of blues fans. On Sunday night, beginning at 7 p.m., The Marshall Tucker Band and The Confederate Railroad will administer a revitalizing dose of Southern rock, which will surely stir the crowd from its funnel cake- and fried-butter-induced torpor. The fair runs through Oct. 23.
9 p.m. Juanita's. $18 adv., $20 d.o.s.
Todd Snider rose to prominence during what could be called The Alternative Years of popular music, from roughly 1991 to 1995. He drew inspiration not from the clanging din of alt-rock pioneers like Sonic Youth and Mudhoney, but rather from the sounds of an earlier generation. His first tune to get widespread airplay was a talkin' blues sendup of grunge culture called "Talkin' Seattle Blues." If you ever wanted to know what it would sound like if Woody Guthrie got to making fun of Alice In Chains, this is as close as you're likely to get. That was a while back, and Snider has fared quite a bit better than many of the goateed angst-merchants he was gently lampooning. In addition to country and blues influences, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan loom large in Snider's sound. Like many of his '60s progenitors, Snider isn't afraid to get political. Unlike a lot of those forerunners, he maintains a sense of humor.
9 p.m. Revolution. $15.
Carl Hays is the real deal: a true cowboy and singer guy who comes to us from the mean streets of The Woodlands, in suburban Houston, Texas. It's a rough 'n' tumble no-man's-land where a wrong look at a tough customer at P.F. Chang's or the Apple Store could get you shanked. You could call Carl's style of music "Americana Lite," as he never lets things get too "heavy." He writes funny songs about girls leaving him for a guy named Jesus and things like that. It's the perfect soundtrack for sipping a pumpkin latte at Starbucks while reading a vintage issue of No Depression. Carl has some sort of connection to Arkansas that I haven't been able to figure out, despite doing a ton of research. Best I can tell, he's spent some time here for some reason and he's written songs about our state and about Little Rock. Like all Texans, Carl is extremely intelligent and humble and thinks it's funny and kinda cute that they try to have colleges here in Arkansas. Carl himself graduated summa cum laude from a tiny, obscure liberal arts school called Texas A&M University. I think that's right. Anyways, as I learned from watching his performances on YouTube, Carl is fond of informing audiences the world over that Arkansawyers are good people, but they don't have any self-esteem. Also, he tells people about how we don't even sell premium gasoline here, because we don't feel like we deserve it. So out of the goodness of his heart, Carl decided to take on the Herculean task of boosting our confidence by singing songs like "Little Rock" and "Arkansas Blues." It's gotta be tough for a Texan like Carl to sing songs about a state like Arkansas and not come off like a smug, smirking phony, but he manages to mask his contempt for our state pretty well, while also raising its pitiful profile, however slightly. So in all sincerity, thank you, Carl!
CHILI FIGHTS IN THE HEIGHTS
$2. The Heights. 2 p.m.
No matter how it's dressed up, competitive eating has always seemed like something that should be embarrassing to all involved. Hot dogs, pies, cheese dip, whatever, it all seems wasteful and kind of revolting, like America at its worst. Competitive cooking, on the other hand, is an excellent idea. It's aspirational and inspirational and something to be proud of. So good on the organizers of Chili Fights in the Heights for focusing on the cooking and not the consuming and also for raising money for the hunger relief organization Arkansas Foodbank Network. Last year, Chili Fights raised more than $2,500 for AFN. The $2 fee covers your chili tasting kit and those proceeds will go to AFN. But why not bring along your checkbook and donate a little extra? Lord knows there is no shortage of hungry people out there.
11 a.m. Hillcrest. Free.
Fall is an excellent time of year in Arkansas, as evidenced by the abundant outdoor festivals, celebrations, block parties, soirees, galas, get-togethers, functions, jubilees, jamborees, fish-fries, beer-blasts, socials, throw-downs, shindigs and gatherings. This right here promises to be some good times, with a pancake breakfast, vendors, an antique car show, a cheese dip contest, a fashion show, a hula hoop contest, pumpkin decorating, a mobile aquarium, a 5K race, a bird watching walk and a totally solid lineup of live music, including Mandy McBryde, Rob & Tyndall, The Boondogs, The Salty Dogs, John David, Elise Davis, Jim Mize, Bonnie Montgomery and Mulehead. The festival sets up between Walnut and Spruce streets.