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The strange sounds of springtime in Arkansas

From Texas country and Memphis rap to eccentric Canadian pop acts.



>The spring music season unofficially kicks off next week with two concerts that couldn't be more dissimilar. Lady Marmalade herself, Patti LaBelle (March 17, Statehouse Convention Center), comes downtown for a "Vegas revue" of highlights from her 50 years as one of R&B's greatest divas. The following night offers the return of Memphis rap monsters 8 Ball & MJG (March 18, Revolution), who'll hopefully live up to their last Little Rock show in October 2009, when they were backed by a live band in Hill Country Revue.

Another red-eyed icon makes his return to Little Rock the next day, with poet, essayist, pot-advocate and blues brainiac John Sinclair (March 19, White Water Tavern) scatting and bopping his way through the Delta blues.

Hot Springs offers a week-long festival of D.I.Y., experimental, indie and country music with the seventh annual installment of the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival (March 20-26, Low Key Arts), featuring an amazing line-up of bands, including Brooklyn's A Place to Bury Strangers, Japan's Peelander Z, Dr. Mad Vibe of Fishbone, New York City spazz-rockers Japanther, and many more.

Always a favorite, '90s college rockers G-Love & Special Sauce (March 23, Revolution) swing into town with more hip-hop dusted roots music, this time from their forthcoming Avett Brothers-produced album "Fixin to Die."

Fresh off of releasing what may be his most acclaimed album in a long, winding series of releases, Canadian cult experimentalist and member of The New Pornographers Dan Bejar, alias Destroyer (March 23, Stickyz), comes to town for a hotly-anticipated and absolutely unexpected show.

Two punk-rock legends who traded in electric instruments and anger for acoustic guitars and serenity come to town: Kevin Seconds (of hardcore greats 7 Seconds) and Exene Cervenka (of X, arguably one of the best rock bands ever) play at White Water Tavern on April 3 as part of a tour to support their new albums.

In Fayetteville, Maceo Parker (April 8, Walton Arts Center), the funk and soul saxophonist for James Brown and Parliament/Funkadelic, brings his backing band and famous licks to the groove-hungry crowds.

Little Rock gets a dose of melodic post-punk straight from the U.K. when British Sea Power (April 15, Stickyz), which is responsible for a couple of great albums from the early aughts, comes to town in support of a widely-praised new album, "Valhalla Dancehall."

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra ends its 2010-2011 season with performances of Ravel, Mozart and Mussorgsky in "Pictures at an Exhibition" (April 16-17, Robinson Center Music Hall).

The Arthur Russell-influenced experimental bassist for Dirty Projectors, Nat Baldwin (April 19, Dreamland Ballroom) brings his acclaimed fusion of music and multimedia to the gorgeous, historic downtown space.

The Little Rock Wind Symphony welcomes springtime back to Arkansas with "Wildflowers" (April 17, Second Presbyterian Church), which features the Brazilian tones of Ney Rosauro and two new works by young American composers Carter Pann and Frank Ticheli.

April winds down with what's probably the biggest show of the season when the easy-listening, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Taylor (April 29, Verizon Arena) brings his timeless, Grammy-winning oeuvre to North Little Rock.

The following night, on the other hand, should get wild when "taildraggin' " Delta legend T-Model Ford (April 30, White Water Tavern) returns to the stage for another reliably unbelievable show full of dirty Delta blues.

Fayetteville gets a country music fan's dream doubleheader with alternative country goddess Lucinda Williams and Texas outlaw country icon Billy Joe Shaver (May 1, Arkansas Music Pavilion) co-headlining the night's bill.

After being booted from Harding for making people dance, Robert Randolph and the Family Band (May 10, Revolution) bring out the gospel-inspired, pedal steel-driven roots-funk that put the band's front man on Rolling Stone's "100 greatest guitarists of all-time" list.

Speaking of gospel, soon after the Family Band leaves town, the Gaither family swings into town for "A Gaither Family Homecoming" (May 20, Verizon Arena), the Christian music concert tour fronted by Southern gospel king Bill Gaither.

And, of course, Riverfest (May 27-29, Riverfront Park) is set to return for another long weekend of fried food, sunshine and music from, this year, '80s hair metal act Poison, aging (gracefully, relatively) rockers REO Speedwagon, California funk-rappers Digital Underground and, in the prerequisite big-name rapper spot, the best-selling, Grammy-collecting St. Louis rapper Nelly.

The first week of June provides two great excuses to get up to the mountains and into some music festivals when the Eureka Springs Blues Weekend (June 2-5, downtown Eureka Springs) returns for its 2011 installment with former John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers member Coco Montoya, Oklahoma guitar god Elvis Bishop and many more.

The other festival, Wakarusa (June 2-5, Mulberry Mountain, Ozark), brings four days of camping and an amazing lineup of outdoor-friendly music from one of the best American bands around, My Morning Jacket, college favorite Ben Harper, throwback soul diva Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, the up-and-comers Mumford & Sons, who backed Bob Dylan during the 2011 Grammys, the winning duo of this year's Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, and more than 100 others.

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