7:30 p.m., Verizon Arena. $28.70-$54.15
We've written about it plenty of times before. Gigging in Arkansas may not be a top priority for touring, big name rock bands, but for country music, our Verizon Arena is a required, "must-play" venue for anyone worth his boot leather. It has to get expensive for the dedicated country fan. In just the last year, the Little Rock market has been privy to shows from Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, George Strait and, one of my favorite concerts of last year, an unbelievable live retrospective from a soon-to-retire Brooks & Dunn. It's such a profitable area for boot scooters that if you were to gather up all the ticket stubs from the past 20 years, you'd have a pretty good overview of the history of new country music. Now Jason Aldean's ready to tack his name up with the big guys. He's no stranger to playing Arkansas, gigging at Magic Springs in 2007 and at Riverfest in 2009 before making his way to superstar status and a spot at Verizon. Since he began making stops in the Natural State, Aldean's particular brand of nostalgic, "tenderbilly" anthems have earned him two platinum records and a smattering of top-spot singles with songs like "Why" and "Big Green Tractor." Country music has been hungry for electrified, beer-and-Skynyrd party rockers lately and Aldean's been the genre's go-to man since making a name for himself in 2005 with "Hicktown." It's a Big & Rich-penned, stars-and-bars jam with a music video from A&R hell: mudpits, lifted trucks, the air full of beer cans. Sure, it looks like a fun time. I just can't imagine any of my buddies from back home who moved to the sticks to take up permanent residence in their own version of Hicktown would be caught dead listening to this on any back road, ever. From this angle, he's about as country as Pink is punk. But pop pays and not everybody wants to be Kris Kristofferson, so hats off to Aldean, the businessman. May you continue long on the road of Coors Light wishes and catfish dreams. He's supported by rising star Eric Church and femme-power duo, The JaneDear Girls. Aldean also makes a stop the following night in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas's Barnhill Arena, 7:30 p.m., $44.75.
'THE COLOR PURPLE'
7:30 p.m., Robinson Center Music Hall. $22-$52
Like "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Beloved," or "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Alice Walker's vibrant Pulitzer-winning novel holds a proud place in the annals of Southern literature. Wrenching, controversial and, like its peers, completely irreplaceable, it's the story of Celie, an impoverished victim of rape in turn-of-the-century Georgia. After first being adapted into what may be Steven Spielberg's greatest film in 1985, "The Color Purple" found itself, 20 years later, faithfully revived on Broadway, set to jazz, gospel and the blues and receiving standing ovations at curtain, hyperbole in print and 11 Tony nods for Best Musical, Best Choreography, Best Music and, four times over, Best Performance. In short, this musical is a beast. Judging from the runaway success that was "Wicked" and Little Rock's revitalized interest in live plays, we can all but guarantee that the three-day stand of "Purple" will be the next in a chain of notable local theater. And with tickets starting at an enormously reasonable $22, there's just no excuse for any theater buff to pass this up. The musical opens Friday night at 7:30 p.m. before offering a 2 p.m. matinee and 7:30 p.m. evening performances on Saturday and Sunday.
OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW
8 p.m., George's Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville. $25.
One of the greatest stories of recent bluegrass lore went down in 2007, when the hard-line traditionalists of the Mountain View Bluegrass Festival booted Cadillac Sky, a moderately forward-thinking hill music act, from their festival for being progressive to the point of being, apparently, offensive. Now, keeping the rustic sound of bluegrass pure is, in its own way, a noble effort and one that shouldn't go unappreciated. Unfortunately for purists, a nation of dirty youngsters are rapidly changing the face of bluegrass music. Even in a bluegrass stronghold like Arkansas, one of our state's greatest acts is a mohawked, Dexadrine-hearted act called Cletus Got Shot. Nationally, the movement is even larger and no one typifies the face of the new old like Nashville's beloved Old Crow Medicine Show. Since finding national notoriety in 2004 with the release of its signature tune, "Wagon Wheel" (a cover of an incomplete, oft-bootlegged Bob Dylan song written for the soundtrack of "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid"), Old Crow has cracked away at the rural landscape with Highwaymen harmonies, a Woody Guthrie ramble and a set of influences spanning the distance from Earl Scruggs to Public Enemy. And now, the collective is enjoying enormous success, sharing "Austin City Limits" duty with Lucinda Williams, performing regularly on "A Prairie Home Companion" and, if dorm rooms are anything like they were when I called them home, providing an all-but-constant hum on college campuses everywhere. My mandolin-playing buddy John, who, like the rest of his family, is no stranger to bluegrass festivals, once played Old Crow for his dad, who scrunched his face and said, "That ain't how Bill played it." Mr. Monroe may not have played it that way, but, more than likely, our kids will. The flagship nu-grass stars are supported by two Northwest Arkansas acts: the horn-heavy R&B act FOS Project and the long-running, groove-rocking Uncrowned Kings.
THE BIG CATS
3 p.m., Dreamland Ballroom. $5
You've gotta hand it to The Big Cats. Not many old punks keep their guitars strapped on long enough through their adulthood to get a chance to turn their all-ages shows — a staple of punk ethos that's usually aimed at giving underage teens a place at concerts — into a big, handmade "welcome" sign for families with small children (i.e. their friends). Another reason to give it up for The Big Cats: They're simply one of the greatest bands ever to spring out of the local musical fountain. During last summer's Arkansas Music Poll, they cracked the top 10 list dedicated to local acts; they're all-but-unanimously beloved throughout town. Their last album, "On Tomorrow," is as beloved a release as any to come out of Pulaski County in recent memory and a defining moment of our local sound. Now, the Cats are in the studio, working on their follow-up album, and offering Little Rock a number of rare shows, an uncharacteristic move for the band whose live appearances have been scarce for years. We're not complaining. And we're certainly not complaining about this one: a family-friendly matinee at the rustic Dreamland Ballroom at Arkansas Flag & Banner Co. We look for any excuse to check out the Dreamland ruins. And we take any chance we can to check out The Big Cats. Which makes this show a no-brainer.
8 p.m., Baum Walker Hall at Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville. $32-$65.
Here's the thing about Randy Newman: There's nothing left to say about him, yet there's everything to say about him. In the ongoing American musical history, he sits in the highest echelon, an ambitious, daring artist as essential as Cole Porter or Bob Dylan, if only because he had the imagination to split the difference between the two. He's our country's Jonathan Swift, a big-hearted, blunt-mouthed satirist with a keen ear for ragtime melodies and a sharp, often misunderstood pen turned towards rednecks, politicians and, of course, short people. Despite never receiving the commercial accolades due him, Newman's albums — especially the five pieces of wax he pushed off in the '70s — will forever hold a place on any budding songcraft's "must-study" list. Even if he never shook up the charts, his influence can't be ignored. I shudder to think where music would be today without the heart-rending strings of "Louisiana 1927," the wistful, high yearn of "Dayton, Ohio – 1903" or the teasing drums in "Living Without You." And he's still necessary. As a chronicler of recent history, perhaps he's needed more than ever. Take a shot at the most recent Newman essential, "A Few Words (In Defense of Our Country)," a melancholic, patently dry musical shrug about the Bush-era pickle we found ourselves in and the countries quick to hate us, rife with lyrics like "We don't want your love/Respect at this point is pretty much out of the question/Times like this, we sure could use a friend." For me, Randy Newman's voice is the intonation of America's best corners and truest back porches, not to mention the voice I, just like so many others, hear when I sit down at a piano. This show marks the icon's first trip back to the state since his first-ever Arkansas appearance in 2007, opening Eureka Springs' May Festival of the Arts.