After a long, icy winter, cabin-feverish Arkansans can look forward
to a spring bloom of live bands. Here, we note shows on Little Rock's
club scene worth plugging into your planner and preview the season's
festival lineups at Riverfest; the Blues Weekend and Opera in the Ozarks
(Eureka Springs), and Wakarusa (Ozark).
Kings of the Muscle Shoals, Ala., jam-house-psych scene and festival circuit regulars BoomBox will feature sequencers, turntables and lead guitar by the son of Grateful Dead backup-singer Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay (March 19, Revolution). John Lee Hooker Jr., another son of American music royalty, visits town with his updated take on his father's rustic talking blues (March 20, Sticky Fingerz).
Sweet Eagle, the local supergroup with a cult following under its belt after only three shows join chief peddlers of fried sonic testosterone, J. Roddy Walston and the Business for a raucous double header (March 21, White Water Tavern). When Green Jelly, the comedy-rock band that takes a legendary pride in its ineptitude, comes to town, puppets, stupidity and nostalgia abound (March 22, Juanita's). Concluding this three-day stint of ridiculously named outfits, Little Rock gets a taste of Brooklyn with experimental popsters Suckers and literate streetsmith Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson (March 23, Sticky Fingerz).
Hot Springs hosts a couple of particularly eye-catching events with the annual “Keith Sykes Weekend” (March 26-27, Arlington Hotel), where the award-winning songwriter (known for penning songs for Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine and Jimmy Buffet) will be joined by 10 fellow troubadours for two days of performance and shoptalk. Across the road, three Chinese rock bands, Carsick Cars, P.K.14 and AV Okubo stop in on their way to SXSW for “China Rocks!” (March 26, Maxine's).
G-Love and Special Sauce, the hip-hop-by-way-of-hacky-sack college favorites are still touring and, even more surprisingly, still making music after 17 years (April 1, Revolution). British singer/songwriter and collaborator with Billy Childish and The White Stripes, Holly Golightly comes to town in her newest, garage-y incarnation as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs (April 7, Sticky Fingerz). British-born rapper Slick Rick, with his trademark eye patch and Mr. T-style gold chains, remains compulsively listenable more than 20 years after he recorded songs like “La Di Da Di,” “Children's Story” and “Teenage Love.” Beatbox pioneer Doug E. Fresh and actress Vivica Fox, who's hosting, share the bill, a birthday celebration for One Stone Entertainment's Chris Bowen (April 9, Revoltuion).
Critically acclaimed Scottish outfit Frightened Rabbit has built a reputation for intense live shows thanks to its desperate rock music with emotion to spare (April 23, Revolution). Known for his experimental funk-metal band, Primus, his collaborations with Tom Waits, and for composing the theme music to “South Park,” eccentric bass madman Les Claypool visits as well (April 24, The Village). Fresh off hosting the Oscars, Steve Martin shows off his adept banjo-playing ability, with the bluegrass band The Steep Canyon Rangers (April 24, Walton Arts, Fayetteville).
Poppy, harmonic and hook-heavy Los Angelenos Local Natives are quickly making a name for themselves in the music press for their hypercurrent Afropop-guitar/angular drum sound (April 26, Sticky Fingerz). In Conway, UCA hosts the touring Moscow Festival Ballet company for a one-night only performance of “Sleeping Beauty” (April 26, Reynolds Performance Hall).
Two of the most beloved bands on the college charts, the genre-mashing, ever-bright Dr. Dog and the melodic, Southern gothic Deer Tick (May 3, George's Majestic Ballroom) visit Fayetteville. The next night, Little Rock plays host to the latter (May 4, Sticky Fingerz).
The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra holds a night of famous cinematic scores, songs and love themes from “Wizard of Oz” to “Lord of the Rings” with “Spotlight on Hollywood” (May 7-8, Robinson Center Music Hall).
Then comes the Arkansas festival music season.
The Riverfest lineup for the three-day Memorial Day weekend (May 28-30, Riverfront Park) is shaping up nicely with Oklahoma's jam stalwarts Cross Canadian Ragweed, bluesman Robert Cray, classic rock radio staples Steve Miller Band, country radio superduperstars Blake Shelton and Gary Allan and perennial blues-rock favorites The Black Crowes.
Accepted (and adored) as the quirkiest town in Arkansas, Eureka Springs holds its annual Eureka Springs Blues Weekend (June 3-6, various venues) and celebrates the 60th anniversary of its yearly Opera in the Ozarks festival by staging three of the most well-known operas in the canon with Bizet's “Carmen,” Mozart's “Don Giovanni,” and Puccini's “Tosca” (June 18-July 27, Inspiration Point Lookout).
And finally, the new kid on the festival block, Wakarusa (June 3-6), hopes to repeat the success it had last year after it moved to Ozark and brought in over 80 bands over four days. Headliners include Widespread Panic, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Umphrey's McGee and Disco Biscuits. Joining these overlords of all things jam are garage blues heroes The Black Keys; '90s radio staples Blues Traveler (you now have “Hook” stuck in your head); Frank's son, Dweezil, performing Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa; the soulful, Harding University-enraging Robert Randolph and the Family Band, the fantastic, soul outfit of Black Joe Lewis and the frustratingly underrated twilight country act The Moondoggies.