>The summer kicks off with the return of celebrated Texas roots-rocker Alejandro Escovedo, a punk veteran who fuses roots rock with literate musings and, on occasion, a heart-rending string section (see: 1994's "Thirteen Years"). He plays his regular Little Rock venue, Juanita's, on May 12 at 9 p.m., $16 adv., $20 d.o.s. The same night marks the return of KUAR's annual fund-raiser/variety show, Arkansas Flyer, which comes to Wildwood for its fifth year. Local musician/radio DJ Amy Garland hosts the night, which features Garland collaborators (and Little Rock's best country act) The Salty Dogs as the house band. Fayetteville folk-duo Still on the Hill is the featured act while renowned storyteller and ASU faculty member Gwendolyn Twillie handles the yarn-spinning, 6 p.m., $20.
On May 13, early '90s pop-punk architects Smoking Popes bring their eccentric croon-rock to Stickyz alongside esteemed Texas grrrl trio Girl in a Coma, 9 p.m., $10. Down the street at Revolution, Keller Williams, the guitar virtuoso and jam-circuit all-star behind 16 albums is set to get reliably weird and wildly technical, 9:30 p.m., $19 adv., $25 d.o.s.
The always-welcome blitz of summer food festivals begins with the Jewish Food Festival offering traditional fare from deli sandwiches and chopped liver to an array of pastries, including rugelach and mandel brot (almond bread). The day-long May 15 festival also showcases paintings, jewelry and pottery from local artists and live music from Jana Cohen and the Shechinotes, Temple B'nai Israel Stars of David Band, Memphis' Temple Israel Ruach Band, the always-popular Meshugga Klezmer Band and more.
Slobberbone, the alt-country cult act whose song "Gimme Back My Dog" was declared by Stephen King as one of the three greatest rock songs ever, plays a rare show for a sure-to-be ecstatic crowd at White Water Tavern, 10 p.m. May 17.
Verizon Arena hosts a rare, country-free rock show on May 18 with alternative rock radio big-timers Foo Fighters and a band of true heavy metal legends, Motorhead, 7 p.m., $23-$43.
The Rep teams up with Northwest Arkansas's TheatreSquared to host the 2011 Arkansas New Play Fest, which features staged reading performances of professional and student plays, improv comedy and the sixth annual 24-Hour Play-Off competition. The four-day festival, which kicks off May 19 at the Argenta Community Theater, will feature presentations of Werner Trieschmann's "Disfarmer," John Walch's "In the Book Of," Robert Ford's "The Spiritualist" and more.
Rick DellaRatta, jazz pianist and Dizzy Gillespie cohort, teams up with area musicians at the gorgeous Dreamland Ballroom for "Jazz for Peace," a benefit concert to raise funds for African charities, May 20, 7 p.m., $35. Also that night, family-friendly gospel veterans return to Verizon at the Gaither Homecoming Celebration, 7 p.m., $24.50-$74.50. Thick Syrup Records, the Little Rock-based label that's attracting international attention after a recent string of cult-act releases (Jad and David Fair of Half Japanese), celebrates its birthday later that same evening at White Water Tavern with a triple-bill of bands on its local roster. Detroit rockin' supergroup Sweet Eagle, raucous garage act San Antokyo and local singer/songwriter Brian Frazier (with his full backing band) provide the tunes, 9:30 p.m.
Stickyz offers up a double-header of cover acts the same weekend with Frontiers, a Journey tribute act, taking stage on May 20, 9:30 p.m., $10, and, the following night, Nevermind, a — you got it — Nirvana cover band, 9 p.m., $5.
If all of this music stirs up your appetite, head to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church for the annual Greek Food Festival, a two-day fair of hummus, gyros, baklava, olives and more. The festival runs May 20-21.
Jim Witter and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra celebrate the hits of Billy Joel and Elton John at Robinson Center Music Hall with "The Piano Men," 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, $20-$40.
Indie-garage superstars Grace Potter and the Nocturnals swing into Revolution on May 22 as part of the "Bonnaroo Buzz Tour," 7:30 p.m., $20.
The acclaimed, award-winning stage adaptation of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" closes out a successful season of touring Broadway shows in Robinson Center Music Hall. It begins a three-day stint at the downtown hall on May 24, 7 p.m., $27-$57. More theater premieres the same night when Murry's Dinner Playhouse debuts its production of "Always Patsy Cline," with Candyce Hinkle, who garnered shining reviews during The Rep's 2009 run, reprising her role of the country great. The play/music revue runs through June 26.
A rock and roll trailblazer of the highest caliber comes to town when Wanda Jackson, the First Lady of Rockabilly and singer behind "Let's Have a Party" (1955), thought to be the first rock song cut by a woman, comes to Revolution to support her new, Jack White-produced album, "The Party Ain't Over," 8 p.m. May 25, $15 adv., $20 d.o.s.
Billboard-topping country singer Easton Corbin helps launch Magic Springs' 2011 Concert Series on May 28. Fellow country artists Rodney Atkins and Blake Shelton perform on July 2 and 9, respectively. Other highlights: '80s fox-rockers Joan Jett & the Blackhearts appear June 25, modern rock radio staples 3 Doors Down play July 16 and Disney teenie-boppers Kicking Daisies and All-Star Weekend land in Timberwood Amphitheater on June 11.
Riverfest returns to the banks of the Arkansas River for another three-day festival of music, food, crafts and cartoonish state pride (we love it) on May 27-29. This year's music line-up includes jam-rock icons Widespread Panic; nu-metal act Papa Roach; '90s Canadian pop heroes Barenaked Ladies; party-starting hip-hop act Digital Undergound; St. Louis rapper extraordinaire Nelly; hair metal authorities Poison; Texan country-rocker Pat Green; country fiddle royalty Charlie Daniels Band, and classic rockers R.E.O. Speedwagon.
Another local establishment, the Little Rock Film Festival, celebrates its fifth year with five days of movie screenings, visiting filmmakers, workshops and, of course, parties, parties, parties, June 1-5. The festival announces its lineup and puts passes on sale May 4.
Mulberry Mountain in Ozark opens up its grounds for another year of Wakarusa, the nationally-renowned, jam-heavy music festival. This year's lineup is highlighted by hippie-circuit all-stars Umphrey's McGee, Ben Harper and Relentless7 and Sound Tribe Sector 9 sprinkled with a few big-time college rockers, notably Grammy-nominated headliners My Morning Jacket. The four-day festival opens its gates on June 2.
Yet another four-day fest kicks off the same day when the Eureka Springs Blues Weekend takes to the mountain town, featuring music from John Mayall's right-hand man, Coco Montoya, slide guitar virtuoso Elvin Bishop, Southern blues rocker Tinsley Ellis and many, many more.
Classical music returns to the Spa City from June 5-18 with the acclaimed Hot Springs Music Festival, featuring loads of performances all around town.
One of the best psych-garage acts around, The Black Angels, lands in Stickyz for an evening of abrasive, but catchy, guitar rock, June 8, 9 p.m., $10.
The season at The Rep keeps on rolling when the Hitchcock spy classic "The 39 Steps" takes a turn for the comedic and pulpy, starting June 10 and running through the 26th.
And the Arkansas Shakespeare Festival returns strong for a fifth year, running from June 16 to July 3 and featuring productions of "Othello," "As You Like It," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and, for the kids, "The Tortoise and the Hare."