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Sean Fresh plays South on Main

Also, Finger Food comes to The Joint, the Homegrown Music Festival comes to Mulberry Mountain, Upstate Rubdown at King's in Conway, Nikki Hill at White Water and Gawddaughter, Chapter 2 at Sway.





7:30 p.m. The Joint. $20.

Take out the tabla in Led Zeppelin's Irish folk tune adaptation "Black Mountain Side" and replace it with an ounce of Merle Travis' "Cannonball Rag" and you've got a pretty good idea of what Finger Food sounds like. Steve Davison, Danny Dozier and Micky Rigby will spend a Thursday evening at The Joint, likely surrounded by a range of picks, slides and custom-built and historic guitars and banjos, trading turns at tunes with watery names like "Downstream People" and "White River Suite." In the absence of lyrics to do the job, they'll tell the Ozark-born tales that prompted the band's genius, like the historic rabbit hole Steve Davison went down before composing "Last Steamboat to Calico Rock." The three pickers, all of whom have been finalists or winners in Ozark Folk Center's Merle Travis Fingerstyle Guitar Championship, show off their highly polished techniques in solos, duets and as a trio in a space that's acoustically sophisticated enough to let those delicate sounds resonate.



4 p.m. Thu.-1 a.m. Sun. Byrd's Adventure Center, Mulberry Mountain. $90-$125.

Summers on Mulberry Mountain didn't go dark when Wakarusa pulled out in 2016. In fact, the change of plans seems to have turned some attention to more minor festivals that might have gotten lost somewhere in all the String Cheese that Waka's been putting down in the past several years. New to that mix is the Homegrown Music Festival, with an intense focus on sustainability; festivalgoers will be outfitted with stainless steel pint glasses from which to sip Fossil Cove and Ozark Beer Company brews, collectible plates on which to gnosh and festival-branded bamboo utensils, all of which are to be washed at one of the fest's on-demand dishwashing stations. Headlining the festival are Leftover Salmon, masters of the banjo and mandolin who have been peddling their self-described "slamgrass" for over 25 years, and The Wood Brothers, complete with one-third of Medeski, Martin and Wood. Also on the bill are Town Mountain, Earphunk, Henhouse Prowlers, Taark, Arkansauce and Grandpa's Cough Medicine. Off the main stage is a "picking tent," where off-duty bands will do interviews and mix-and-match musicians in impromptu jams and themed music sets. Children are admitted free (under 12), have a dedicated dance floor and there's a family camping site with earlier quiet hours. Ticket price includes primitive camping, but for an additional $60, Byrd's will set you up with an electric campsite; call 479-667-4066.



9 p.m. South on Main. $15.

The first time I saw Sean Fresh was at an intimate house show, and despite the fact that his huge band occupied most of the living room, he managed to strut around anyway, animating his lyrics with expressions of faux surprise, serenading many lovely women perched on arms of couches with velvety vocals and generally cracking everyone up. He's genuinely charming on stage (or, in this case, on the hardwood floor) when he's crooning about romance and roses, and when he's not, he's genuinely riveting, as on "Kill 'Em All" (featuring rapper 607) from 2015's "Teshuvah Project I: FreshSeason." Asked about the motivation behind those more sociopolitically-leaning tracks, Sean says, "Social injustice is just as real as the pen that I used to write those lyrics. I know that God continues to heighten our platform so that we can speak up for those that don't have a voice." He's joined at South on Main by Lucas "Cool Hand" Murray on lead guitar, Gavin Le'nard on bass, Rafael "2 Curls" on saxophone and flute, Travis Nelson on drums, Rickardo on keyboard and DJ Nick Hud on overall vibe creation. Hud holds down the afterparty, spinning '90s hip-hop and R&B until 2 a.m.



8:30 p.m. King's Live Music, Conway. $5.

If there's a septet with grooves infectious enough to counter a native Arkansan's skepticism about residents of New Paltz, N.Y., performing music steeped in elements of old-time mountain music, it's this one. In the vein of beloved local groups like Late Romantics and Don't Stop Please, Upstate Rubdown is, at its core, an a cappella harmony group that uses percussion, winds and strings as accents, rather than as its foundation. As a result, the pauses between phrases can breathe as they do with the greatest military or college choirs and other such groups who have a schedule that generally facilitates daily practice. Mary Kenney, Melanie Glenn and Kate Scarlet slip and slide around in three-part harmony, which sometimes becomes six-part harmony when the innovative rhythm section chimes in: cajon (Dean Mahoney), mandolin (Ryan Chappell), saxophone (Christian Joao) and upright bass (Harry D'Agostino) in detailed arrangements that borrow as much from Appalachia as they do from Marvin Gaye. Vilonia singer-songwriter Taylor Nealey opens the show.



9:30 p.m. White Water Tavern. $10.

If you've never heard Nikki Hill sing, I implore you not to start with her studio albums. It's not that "Struttin" or "Heavy Hearts Hard Fists" aren't killer tracks, but they fall prey to the impossibility of catching her unadulterated, unmastered lightning in a bottle, to trying to reign in an energy that's better left in raw form. Instead, try her mash-up of AC/DC's "If You Want Blood" and Springsteen's "I'm a Rocker," or live versions of any of her original tunes. She's a North Carolina belter and a blues shouter of the highest degree, keeper of the seldom-kept promises that adorn her collection of T-shirts — "Rock N Roll," "Born to Boogie" — with the deep-seated contralto of Thelma Houston and the gritty howl of Bon Scott or Big Maybelle. She's backed by a steady band that includes her husband, Matt, a fierce electric guitar player who manages to steal the show for a few bars despite the fact that the fireball vocalist is channeling Little Richard a few feet away. This is one not to miss. (Hill and her crew are apparently playing a free show at a custard shop in Maryville, Ill., about a week after they play at White Water Tavern; for the sake of the inventory, I sincerely hope there's still a roof on the place after they leave.)



9 p.m. Club Sway. $10-$12.

If your weekend spiritual ritual includes worshipping at the altar of Britney or Madonna, you probably already know about House of Avalon's dance parties at Club Sway. "Last month was the premiere," Sway owner Jason Wiest said. "The queens did any type of off-the-wall performance they wanted, and there was a wide variety of looks among the audience." House of Avalon's anything-and-everything dance parties are a chance to deck yourself out and check yourself into a #GLITTERROCK bacchanal of DIY fashion, top-notch drag performances, the occasional campy skit, tributes to pop music matriarchs and an overall abiding sense of body positivity. "Being a part of #GLITTERROCK and going to the House of Avalon parties at Sway is one of the greatest highlights in my life," Genevieve Adele Bruno told us. "It's like going to Neverland, Oz and Wonderland all at once. It's a free pass to be whoever you wanna be." That might seem like high praise for a Saturday night party, but House of Avalon's Hunter Crenshaw and Mark Monroe started with irreverent celebrations of Little Rock's gay community and ended up with what regular partygoers say feels like family. "They not only throw some of the most outrageous, decadent, unparalleled parties that anyone has ever been to, but they've also created a movement," Cody Dunbar told us. "It's no secret that growing up gay in the Deep South can be a stifling experience. You can reclaim those childhood taunts and wear them across your chest like a red badge of courage. Or you can just wear your underwear and a poodle head. It's up to you. As a 30-year-old man, I've never felt more unabashedly myself as I have since being a part of this community. Thank #GAWDDAUGHTER."


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