As if great beer weren't reward enough, you can earn prizes for sampling local craft beverages
"Antiquities" Local filmmaker Daniel Campbell, 29, proved Arkansas-made film is in good hands with his deadpan, quirk-fuelled "Antiquities." Clocking in at a brisk 14 minutes, the short follows antique mall scrub Terrence (Jason Thompson, stand-up comedian and drummer for The Reds, in a hilariously awkward role and wig) and his callous, curt boss, Blundale (a scene-stealing Roger Scott), playing hooky from work, landing in strip clubs and urban barbershops and talking about Terrence's object of affection, Marissa (Jennifer Pierce). The film's punchy John Hughes by-way-of Wes Anderson charm helped it land the Charles B. Pierce Award for Best Film Made in Arkansas at the 2010 Little Rock Film Festival and spots in film festivals from Oxford, Miss., to Portland, Ore. And it looks like the auteur-in-training isn't showing any signs of slowing down. Campbell tells us he recently secured $5,100 from 31 backers in order to make his next short, "The Orderly," a Southern Gothic comedy about a psychiatric hospital orderly charged with getting two patients to a home five hours away with only three hours to spare. JT.
Brother Andy "You'll know him when you see him." In some Little Rock music circles, it's a bit of a joke about Andy Warr, the giant, neckbearded young rocker who toes that line between backwoods Syd Barrett and a "foretold" musical Moses for the Little Rock Sound. Since winning the 2010 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase with his main band, Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth, Warr has released his Big Damn Debut in "Mystical Indian Hitmakers," is soon to release "Hell's Angles," the sequel to that album, this New Year's Eve, and has strapped on and plugged in as a regular member of Detroit rockers Sweet Eagle, Dixie metal outfit Iron Tongue and Southern synth-funkers Pilot Whale. As if he wasn't hard enough to miss to begin with, the unmistakable 6'6" redhead made sure he was omnipresent and inexhaustible in 2010, too. He makes us feel lazy. And short. JT.
Country music: Central Arkansas is never going to draw all the big concerts. We're too small and our demographics don't match up with the fanbases of some of the world's biggest pop stars (in other words, sadly, there probably aren't enough of us willing to shell out $50 or more to see Lady Gaga or Kanye). But when it comes to contemporary country, you'd think we were Nashville for the concerts we get. To wit, every winner (and most of the nominees) of this year's Country Music Association Awards played Central Arkansas in 2010 or late 2009. Here's just a sampling of the names who played in 2010: Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Brooks and Dunn, George Strait, Reba, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, Miranda Lambert, Marty Stuart, Lee Ann Womack, Joe Nichols, Darius Rucker, Easton Corbin, Martina McBride, Hank Williams Jr., Trace Adkins, Loretta Lynn, Justin Moore and Gary Allan. LM.
Dude-tats. Also known as "bro-tats," this local tattoo phenomenon picked up steam in 2010 as more and more local musicians got tattooed variations of Thick Syrup Records head honcho Travis McElroy's bearded silhouette. For his part, McElroy got a massive tattoo of Andy Warr on his chest with the words "In Warr We Trust" floating in a laurel above. Dude-tatter Matt Quin most succinctly captured the motivation behind the trend: "When your brother dies, you get his name tattooed, RIP and that stuff. The way we're doing it celebrates your friends while they're alive. Like, 'I love the shit out of you. I love you so much I'm going to get your name or face tattooed on my body.' "LM.
Elise Davis' "Trouble" We called it during an August profile of the prolific local songbird and it still stands true: "Trouble," the highlight of Elise Davis' new album, "The Same Vein," is our favorite song to come out of Little Rock all year. Brisk, melodic and driving, it's a pop earwig of the highest degree, deceptively catchy, supernaturally listenable and miles better than anything any of her major-label counterparts have released in years. JT.
Film Arkansas is on the ascent as an unexpected, Southern mecca for movie appreciation. The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is still going strong in its 18th year, even expanding: Festival Director Dan Anderson is curating the Arkansas Underground Film Festival (ARKUFF!), a three-day celebration of the cinematic fringes with entries traversing the space from Locust Bayou's Phil Chambliss to the early works of David Lynch. Up the road, the Little Rock Film Festival is rapidly becoming a heavy hitter on the film festival circuit, drawing not only national praise but 25,000 guests into the seats in this, its fourth year. To put things in perspective, that's 10 times as many people as were in attendance for its inaugural year. The Ozark Foothills Film Festival in Batesville remains a staple for cinephiles in the northeast chunk of the state, as does its counterpart in Fayetteville, the Offshoot Film Festival. Festivals aside, even libraries are getting into the mix. This year saw the emergence of Conway's new Faulkner County Film Society, which takes to the Faulkner County Library monthly to highlight notable directors with a double-feature in their honor. Recently, it's screened films by Jane Campion and Jim Jarmusch. Central Arkansas saw the bright lights this summer as Hank Williams biopic "The Last Ride" began shooting with local Harry Thomason at the helm. The film, distributed by Fox, is expected to hit theaters in 2011. Now, if Pine Bluff could bring back its yearly film festival and Little Rock could support a dedicated repertory movie theater in our empty downtown, we'd be in serious business. JT.
Gone, but not forgotten: Little Rock actress Lisa Blount, who starred in "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Chrystal" and won an Academy Award, along with her husband Ray McKinnon, for "The Accountant." Swamp rock pioneer Dale Hawkins, who wrote "Suzie Q" and spent much of the last half of his life in North Little Rock. Little Rock musician Luke Hunsicker (more in "L: Luke"). Legendary jazz guitarist Herb Ellis, who gained fame as a member of The Oscar Peterson Trio and lived for many years in Arkansas in semi-retirement. Blues man Calvin Leavy, famous for the blistering blues side "Cummins Prison Farm," where he later served time (he died, from complications related to diabetes, in the Arkansas state prison system). Atkins native Norris Church Mailer, a model, artist, author and, perhaps most famously, wife to Norman Mailer. Cult filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, director of "The Legend of Boggy Creek" and the namesake of the award for best Arkansas film at the Little Rock Film Festival. LM.
Hendrix College, music venue For more than a decade, Hendrix hosted a series of free concerts, open to the public, featuring names to make any music geek's head spin: Lucinda Williams, John Cale, Bill Frisell, Van Dyke Parks, Gillian Welch. That series is no more. But Hendrix certainly hasn't quit booking national acts. In fact, this year, the college might've been Central Arkansas's hippest venue, as it hosted performances from four of indiedoms most revered: Girl Talk, Clipse, Deerhunter and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Too bad, at least for non-students, all but Grace Potter required an invite from someone on campus. LM.
I: Isaac Alexander Throughout the year, the musician/graphic designer was responsible for a string of eye-catching flyers that look great behind a frame or wheatpasted to a telephone pole. But Alexander stood out this year when "See Thru Me," a soft-spoken album he released in 2007 to fervent acclaim in small circles, landed in our Greatest Arkansas Albums poll, sitting right alongside Louis Jordan and Al Green as a contemporary spoiler of the highest degree. To our ears, it still sounds like a cold classic, ready for nationwide appreciation. JT.
Johnny Cash: Even seven years after his death, Dyess' favorite son is still making headlines, with his induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame; the release of his final collaboration with Rick Rubin in February to unsurprisingly near-universal acclaim; Grammy recognition for the crowd-sourced, eerily animated video for "Ain't No Grave" (available at thejohnnycashproject.com), and with the famous jumpsuit he wore while recording "Live at San Quentin" auctioned off for $50,000 — over 10 times its original projected price. Also, the Man in Black was named the single greatest native Arkansan musician of all time by a landslide in our Arkansas Music Poll. JT.
King Biscuit Can we stage a burial ceremony for that antiseptic mouthful of a name that stood in for "King Biscuit" while out-of-state marauders held it hostage? Something cleansing like setting a canoe filled with all the unsold "Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival" merch on fire and kicking it out to the Mississippi River? Because the Biscuit's back, y'all. Not only did organizers — led by irrepressible director Munnie Jordan — manage to negotiate an agreement to, once again, use the festival's original name, they staged one hell of a festival in 2010. BB King, Dr. John, Taj Mahal — where else are you going to find headliners like that for a $25 weekend pass? Times readers got to witness the renaissance firsthand on the last day of the festival. Nearly 100 of 'em rode the Arkansas Times Blues Buses, which came equipped with kegs of beer and live on-bus performances from North Little Rock cigarbox guitar whiz Bluesboy Jag. It was a party. LM.
Luke It's hard to think of a more beloved figure in the Little Rock arts world than Luke Hunsicker, who passed away this year at age 29, after a long battle with brain cancer. Music fans across the country knew him as the rangy, charismatic bassist in American Princes. He joined the band as it was blossoming from a local favorite to a national touring act signed to North Carolina's Yep Roc Records. Followers of the local music scene remember him as one of the area's most in-demand bassists, who, at one time or another, played as a member of 613 Mob, Big Boots, The Evelyns, Silver Swirly, Sugar and the Raw, Them of Delphi and Under Rues. And friends and family remember him as an arts polymath, who drew, sculpted, sewed and cut hair. His name will live on in the newly established Luke Hunsicker Memorial Scholarship for a graduating Parkview senior who wants to study art or music. LM.
Miss Arkansas Yes, pageants are tired and vapid. But let's forget that next year. Because Fort Smith native Alyse Eady, crowned Miss Arkansas last July, is surely the best contender our state's sent to the Miss America Pageant since, well, ever. For starters, she's got all the requisite qualities: She's strikingly pretty; she advocated, in the Miss Arkansas pageant, for a good cause, the Boys and Girls Club; and as a recent OBU grad, with a major in communications, she's not likely to bungle her answer to the onstage question. But most of all, we're smitten with her for her talent: a yodeling, ventriloquist rendition of "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." Yup, an African-American pageant contestant is yodeling and singing one of Arkansas's greatest contributions to country music — Arkansas native Patsy Montana made it the first million-copy seller for a female country artist in 1935 — without moving her lips! We need Alyse Eady T-shirts. "Miss America" airs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15, on ABC. LM.
New... Wherein, we stick odds and ends. New Mann. Amidst a nauseating number of puns on his last name, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra introduced its bright, new music director, Philip Mann. New prehistoric bird. Hollanda luceria, a prehistoric bird identified earlier this year, was named in part for Lucero. The newly identified species most closely resembles the modern Southern Screamer, which perhaps led scientists to think of lead singer (and Little Rock native) Ben Nichols' voice. New books. Highlights include former Oxford American editor Paul Reyes' tour de force account of the housing crisis, as seen from the ground, "Exiles of Eden"; C.D. Wright's affecting blend of poetry and reportage, "One with Others"; Janie and Wyatt Jones' zany guide book "Arkansas Curiosities"; Tom Dillard's encyclopedic take on "Statesmen, Scoundrels, and Eccentrics" in Arkansas; Rick Bass' "Nashville Chrome," a fictionalized account of Arkansas's first family of country, The Browns; and Jay Jennings' insightful and carefully reported racial history of Little Rock, "Carry the Rock: Race, Football and the Soul of an American City."
Opera Sure, with Eureka Springs' 60-year-old and running "Opera in the Ozarks" festival and University of Arkansas's premier opera ensemble, the high Italian art form has found an unlikely home in the hills of the Natural State. But the opera world focused its attention on Central Arkansas when Bonnie Montgomery and Britt Barber staged a well-received workshop debut of their long-anticipated folk opera, "Billy Blythe," this November. The Clinton-centric production quickly found itself in The London Daily Telegraph, Gawker and even as a joke in a "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" monologue.
Portis It was a big year for a novelist who hasn't put out a book in 20 years. In April, the Oxford American gave Charles Portis $10,000 as part of its Lifetime Achievement in Southern Literature Award at a big fete at the Capital Hotel. He showed up, in a suit and tie, ducked out and returned more than an hour later in a Members Only jacket, claiming he "forgot all about this." Our correspondent Jaman Matthews overheard Portis answer a woman who asked him about the Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit." "I'm all for it," he said, "as long as the checks don't bounce." That was as close to on-the-record as he came in the press coverage surrounding the film of "True Grit." He gave an interview to the New York Times Magazine, but only on the condition that he not be quoted. Thankfully, the Coens' excellent and entirely faithful adaptation is likely to clean up at the box office and receive attention at awards ceremonies. Which, hopefully, will help launch Portis out of cult status into his deserving place among the pantheon of great American novelists. LM.
Quotes Ubiquitous last year, Arkansas's most famous pop stars continued to give amazing quotes to the national press.
"Man parts are not meant to be seen out in the open." Kris Allen, in the conclusion of an MTV.com article entitled "Kris Allen Recalls Naked Sleepwalking Adventure."
"I said to my teacher, 'I can't be a singer because I'm not pretty enough and I'm fat.' And she looked at me and said, "Tell that to Nell Carter, babe.' That changed my life forever!" Beth Ditto, giving good quote in her 482nd cover story, this time in Paper Magazine. LM.
Reunions Little Rock bands can be a fickle bunch, disbanding and reuniting at string-shredding speed, but 2010 saw two of our town's most beloved bands reform (at least temporarily) when alt-country heroes Mulehead took to White Water Tavern for a two-night stand after being unjustly bumped from the Riverfest lineup in favor of Uncle Kracker. But local music fiends hit the motherlode when Vino's celebrated its 20th anniversary, temporarily reuniting booze-rockers Big Boss Line, power-pop icons The Baileys and, most notably, Ho-Hum, Little Rock's greatest local band. Fists were pumped, songs were sung-along and everyone's communal faces were successfully melted. JT.
"Seagulls" A close second for our local song of the year, this effervescent single from Greers Ferry is the only song the new yacht-rock-geared local super group (featuring members of Big Silver, The Easys, The Good Fear and The Salty Dogs) released this year. Maybe a full-length will drop just in time for boat party weather. LM
Theater As Times contributor Werner Trieschmann pointed out in his review of "Wicked," this year, "the idea that Arkansans can only see great shows by hopping on a plane to New York City ... took a big hit." In 16 performances at Robinson, Celebrity Attractions managed to sell nearly 40,000 tickets to "Wicked," which surely makes it Arkansas's biggest theater success ever. Arkansas native Avery Clarke offered a tour de force performance in the title role of The Rep's acclaimed staging of "Hamlet." The Arkansas Shakespeare Fest continued to impress. And The Weekend Theater continued its tradition of bringing challenging, socially conscious fare to audiences. LM.
Unsung moments in rock 'n' roll history The first sentence of Keith Richards' autobiography: "Why did we stop at the 4-Dice Restaurant in Fordyce, Arkansas, for lunch on Independence Day weekend?" LM.
"Voices for Justice" The year's biggest concert wasn't billed as a concert at all. Instead, "Voices for Justice" was a rally to support the West Memphis 3 in advance of a Supreme Court hearing (that ended up granting the three new evidentiary hearings) led by the WM3's most famous friends, who all came armed with guitars: Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines, Patti Smith, Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur. LM.
WTF guests We try not to give in to the picture of the small-town hayseed, slack-jawing at the big-city others strolling into town, but this year tested our steel. Director/vintner/demi-god Francis Ford Coppola was spied around town for the second time in two years. This trip, he was picking up his private jet, a Falcon 7X, at the Falcon finishing center. The notoriously reclusive Dave Chappelle stayed in town for an undisclosed amount of time, churning the local rumor mill into overdrive. Filmmaker/musician (and Coppola leading man) Vincent Gallo played a last-minute gig at Juanita's with his band, RRIICCEE, before shutting down White Water Tavern. Rap godfather Slick Rick landed in Little Rock to celebrate a birthday with local promoter Chris Bowen. And on the trash TV side of the spectrum, Jose Canseco and his increasingly floppier arms boxed UALR baseball coach Gary Hogan a few months before Angelina Pivarnick of "Jersey Shore" infamy took to North Little Rock, trash-texting Snookie with one hand and drinking vodka with the other. JT.
X-Rated: Maybe "X-rated" only if you run with the Family Council. Instead, we'll suggest "titillating" to describe the Pretty Things Peep Show, which came to Revolution twice in 2010. Here's how Times contributor Sam Eifling described the troupe's Valentine's Day gig on his blog (sameifling.com): "Picture strip-teasing cheesecake all dolled up like Suicide Girls inspired by Vargas pinups, peeling off pieces of sailor suits to reveal their birthday suits. One bustier-clad lass, Heather Holiday, swallowed swords in the early act and then swallowed fire in the second, blowing the latter into a billowing dragon ball that could be felt from the crowd." LM.
Year's best concerts This year had more great concerts than our amp-addled heads can recall, so in the name of brevity, here's a quick rundown (in no particular order) of what still stands out at year's end: Lil Wayne's menacing rap bravado at Verizon Arena; Ho-Hum's one-night stand at Vino's 20th anniversary; Robert Plant, with a voice undiminished by the years, and the Band of Joy putting on a clinic at Robinson Center Music Hall; a top-notch Times New Viking using its one date between tours with Pavement and Guided by Voices to rock White Water Tavern; John Prine calmly proving why he's a living legend at Robinson Center Music Hall; ghoul-punk god Danzig's Halloween-time rager at The Village; Loudon Wainwright III, self-deprecating as ever, at The Aud in Eureka Springs; Titus Andronicus' punk history lesson at Revolution; one of Brooks & Dunn's final shows at Verizon Arena; Drive-By Truckers' "lights-out" set at Revolution; Xiu Xiu weirding out the capacity crowd at Sticky Fingerz; Old 97s' powering return to Little Rock at Revolution; The Body destroying Juanita's P.A. in no more than 20 minutes; Lightning Bolt's stunning avant-punk set at ACAC and the innumerable shows from local and area bands which prove, time and time again, that Arkansas is filled with talent. JT.
Zombies Vampires were so 2009. For better or worse, America's flirtation with zombies has burst into a full-blown obsession with the reanimated dead. AMC's "The Walking Dead" is the year's water-cooler show of choice (at least around the Times office) and no fewer than 70 full-length zombie flicks of varying legitimacy were released over the year. In-depth zombie debates left the comic book stores and became de rigeurrghrhgrrr. Arkansas certainly wasn't immune to the fervor. The sadly deceased walked along downtown for the Little Rock Zombie Walk in October and UCA writing professor Robin Becker released "Brains: A Zombie Memoir," a well-received new addition to the zombie lit canon through HarperCollins Publishers. JT.