2009, A to Z 

All the bright spots (and a few low lights) in the year of Arkansas pop-culture.

BIG DEALS: The OA focused on Arkansas, Billy Bob acted like a jerk and Robin Williams told jokes in NLR.
  • BIG DEALS: The OA focused on Arkansas, Billy Bob acted like a jerk and Robin Williams told jokes in NLR.

ARKANSAS MUSIC It was a banner year for Arkansas music, as a number of these entries will hopefully demonstrate. But as far as a broad celebration of the culture, nothing matched the Oxford American's Arkansas-focused Southern Music Issue and double CD. In the debut of its new state series, the Conway-based OA skipped past the heavyweights ? names you know, like Johnny Cash, Al Green, Levon Helm and Louis Jordan ? in favor of a standout collection of unjustly forgotten or ignored acts. Should-be stars like Bobby Brown & the Curios, Kenni Huskey and Little Beaver. Could-be stars like the American Princes, Jim Mize and Suga City. Plus, all sorts of oddballs and compelling footnotes. Lots of local folks contributed articles, too (including, in full disclosure, me). Make sure you read Times contributor Sam Eifling's article on Little Beaver. It's one of my favorite pieces of music journalism of the year.

BILLYS Big, mostly bad, year for Billys ? especially Billys with compound first names ? in or from Arkansas. Billy Bob Thornton acted boorish and was a bust at the box office. A cringe-inducing video of him throwing a passive-aggressive temper tantrum in an interview with his band the Boxmasters on Canadian radio went viral and overshadowed the legit artistry of the group, and Forbes ranked him number three in its annual list of Most Overpaid Stars (for every dollar he was paid, his films only earned $4). Pocahontas native Billy Lee Riley, one of the great Sun Records innovators, died at 75. Illness forced Billy Joel to cancel a leg of dates, including one at Verizon Arena, on his co-headlining tour with Elton John. Most of the dates were later made up, but “scheduling conflicts” prevented the duo from rescheduling in North Little Rock, which was especially bitter since the show was to celebrate Verizon/Alltel Arena's 10th anniversary. Billy Joe Shaver, the great outlaw country singer/songwriter, almost redeemed his brethren with a concert at Revolution in November. The 70-year-old showed no sign of his age. Instead, he pantomimed wildly (once flapping his arms like a bird), told hilarious stories about his family (his mother, he said, had a rear end “13-axe-handles wide”) and sang in the same gentle country tenor he's hung his lyrics on since the '70s.

COMEDY Four of comedy's biggest names made stops in Central Arkansas this year. Age and experience hadn't changed Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams, who came to Robinson and Verizon, respectively. Seinfeld built his act around the same sort of wry observational jokes you remember from the “Seinfeld” days (“Why say a lot of things to a few people, when you can say nothing to everybody!” he offered as a new catch phrase for Twitter), and Williams, even after recent heart surgery, still spewed the same sort of unrelenting barrage of spastic free associations and impressions you remember from his coke days. David Sedaris, in Little Rock for a Literary Festival benefit, showed off his own observational prowess, noting that billboards advertising catfish and Jesus outnumber all others between Memphis and Little Rock. And Dane Cook, famous for celebrating “the shocker,” told jokes at Verizon about dropping your cell phone into a urinal. Woot, woot.

DANCE MUSIC You can't say that Little Rock's been a wasteland for those looking to get down ? local promoters and DJ crews have kept the rave kids sated for years and Discovery, the Saturday late-night dance spot, turned 30 (!) this year. At the same time, the culture hadn't exactly been thriving either. But 2009 felt like a turning point. Two new venues opened. Discovery's Norman Jones transformed the cabaret room at Off Center into a dance club, Pulse, and restaurateur Jerry Barakat reconfigured Gaucho's to accommodate the nightclub Rio's. And while venues continued to book '90s DJ heroes (like Crystal Method at Juanita's), they also managed to score not just big-within-the-subculture names like Le Castle Vania (the Village), Borgore (Revolution) and Treasure Fingers (Downtown Music), but certified superstars like Girl Talk (Revolution) and deadmau5 (the Village). Cool Shoes, the monthly dance party at Downtown Music, kept packing in young folks. Two spin-offs died, but in December, Cool Shoes' visual effects dude Cameron Holifield had huge success with a new party, Spectrum, at Star Bar. 




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