How do you sum up eight years in an 800-word column? Do you even bother? After all, we're talking about my last eight years, not yours. But, no doubt somewhere along the way our paths have intersected: perhaps on the shuttle bus to Alltel Arena for one of the many great shows that venue has brought in all in my time here at this newspaper. Perhaps at a tailgate party, or at old Ray Winder Field. Perhaps at Riverfest Amphitheatre, at the Symphony or the Rep or the Weekend or Community theaters. Perhaps at Juanita's or Sticky's or the Metroplex. At Capeo, or Ferneau, or Senor Tequila. Perhaps at Market Street Cinema or the Rave.
Eight years. I've really been “at the job” of newspapers for much longer, it just focused on entertainment during these past eight years. Starting next week, it will focus on sports. Again. Where I started eons ago.
There are many who will say there's little difference in sports and entertainment. Certainly nothing has been quite as entertaining about sports in Arkansas than following the Razorback saga the past several months: the problems surrounding football coach Houston Nutt and the way he's polarized the fan base; the difficulty landing a basketball coach after firing Stan Heath, who was promised by someone he would retain his job; and the beloved athletic director who fears being irrelevant and won't leave.
Eight years. Don't know about you, but my days from the start of fifth grade to high school graduation seemed like an eternity. The period from college graduation to that magic 3-0 mark didn't seem nearly as long as it should have been. But it seems like only a couple of years, certainly not eight, since I nonchalantly asked Kelley Bass who the Times was eyeing as his replacement, and a couple of weeks later in 1999 I was packing up at Arkansas Business and planning for my first full coverage of Riverfest.
Kelley hasn't been too far away, contributing a column or review here and there, and if I'm asked, I'll gladly offer my services for a review here and there. But, as it seems we go full circle, I'm heading back to Arkansas Business Publishing Group to help Publisher Jeff Hankins create a sports publication and provide daily sports coverage on AB's website. I've been as lucky as anyone could imagine, and I leave a job I love. How many people get to say that?
However, the time for this new project is now.
In eight years I've interviewed people who had great influence on music, including personal icons Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen, both of whom I figured would give me 10 or 15 minutes and instead told me more than I could imagine about the “Summer of Love,” which they helped create with their music. Texas heroes Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green and Ray Wylie Hubbard not only were there for phone time, they welcomed me on their buses. Rick Nielsen was a very cool interview; so was the great one, Al Green. There were many more. I even managed to impress my mom and her friends in getting phone time with music icons Liza Minnelli and Marvin Hamlisch. I still have Liza's phone number amongst all the mess on my desk in case you want it.
I probably joined many of you at Alltel Arena for such superstar acts as Elton John, Springsteen, the Eagles, Clapton, the Rolling Stones and most recently the Who as well as Rod Stewart. I was among a handful of folks who bothered Alltel Arena general manager Michael Marion so much about bringing the Dave Matthews Band here, he landed them just to shut us up. Of all the shows, though, the one sight I don't think I'll ever forget is Britney Spears' “shower scene.”
Through the Musicians Showcase, I made friends with some of the best music makers in the state. Through this job, I found out what a truly moving and important musical “Rent” was, and learned more about the theater from people like Bob Hupp and Cliff Baker in eight years than I knew in three decades previous. Interest in the Rep's productions led me to see Chicago's Steppenwolf.
My CD collection is overflowing, and my book collection now could fill rooms, and the regular visits to restaurants throughout the state have helped me put on too many pounds.
The best thing about the past eight years is that it exposed me to horizons never before imagined. I hope only that the new Times entertainment editor, Lindsey Millar, is as lucky. Lindsey came to us from the Localist, which has been a terrific online site for art and music.
So, though I'm moving on, I don't figure I'll be too far away. We may cross paths again at the Norah Jones show next month, or the Pete Sampras-John McEnroe exhibition that may be coming here in July, or in the fall on the War Memorial golf course at the massive tailgate scene (where I first crossed paths with the infamous Teresa Prewett, in fact), or certainly at the 30th Riverfest later this month. There are a couple of acts playing at the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis this weekend that will be officially announced by Riverfest on Monday to play May 27 on the North Little Rock side. I'll be there all day, and I'll bet at least 10,000 others will be too.
Good luck to all.