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A forum on the future of the Little Rock music scene 

'What would it take?'

I don't think I'm going to shock anyone by saying that cities larger than Little Rock offer more in the way of cultural events. I doubt anyone reading this labors under the delusion that our art and music scene here can rival those in New York, Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, etc. Those places have more money, more people, more venues, more academic institutions, more practice spaces, more public transportation, more studios.

But a deeply altering realization for me, about a year ago, was that Little Rock's smallness can itself be a benefit. Something I can take advantage of here, something that wasn't possible when I lived in Austin or Chicago or Boston, is the fact that I know everyone. While this has its disadvantages when it comes to, say, dating, when it comes to making changes in the city, knowing people is game-changing.

True to my age bracket, the year-ago realization came in the form of a Facebook post. Yet another dear friend was leaving Little Rock for brighter artistic horizons in larger metropolitan jungles, and I was desperate to put a finger in the dam. How do we keep our creative people if they don't find it possible to work here? So, I turned to the digital corkboard and asked, "What would it take, realistically, for Little Rock to become a supportive city for artists and musicians?" Seven days, 90 comments, several private messages and a handful of arguments later, 20 people met to talk in the Oxford American's Annex behind South on Main. The post, the conversations that followed, the months of meetings and emails revealed a powerful truth: Most of the people in Little Rock talking about the condition and future of the local arts and music scene were talking about the same few things.

We approached a handful of friends who are active in the music community here, and asked them their thoughts on the future of the Little Rock music scene. What is the best or worst thing about being an artist here? What does it mean to be a part of the local music scene, and what could we do to improve it? Their replies follow. To participate in the survey yourself, find the Little Rock Arts Survey Facebook page.

LIZZIE BURNHAM
  • Lizzie Burnham

More touring, more women
By Correne Spero

I think one of the more nefarious aspects of trying to be a musician in cities like New York and L.A., and even Chicago, Nashville or Austin, is that everyone thinks they are about to be famous, or at least very much wants to be. And this is something that I have noticed seems to be absolutely missing from the Little Rock musical culture. In fact, most musician friends of mine here would probably laugh at such a notion, or find it mildly distasteful. There is a sort of laid-back, self-deprecating sense of humor that musicians here seem to share, and I think the fact that most musicians in Little Rock have other jobs, careers and passions, and that their egos are not entirely consumed by this quest for fame through music, is in large part responsible for the authenticity, creativity and diversity of the art here.

In terms of what we could do better, the first thing that comes to mind is the flip side of the same coin: There is just so much talent here that at times I wish more folks would just roll the dice and bet on themselves and take what they are doing to the national (and international) level. It is a joy to watch folks like Adam Faucett, Bonnie Montgomery, Kari Faux and Pallbearer really get out there and tour and show the world what Little Rock has to offer — they represent us so well. I wish at times that others would give it a go so everyone I know all over the world can hear them and see them play!

When I lived in New York, both of my bands were comprised of all women, and one in particular was known for making somewhat unconventional music in terms of what was expected of women in that industry at that time (and even by today's standards, I think). Over the years I think I have heard just about every sexist, rude and small-minded thing you can imagine from industry execs, engineers, producers, sound guys (and yes, they are still almost all guys) — you name it. I basically came to regard this as normal.

While the music scene in Little Rock is predominantly male, as is still the case everywhere (with, of course, some exceptional Little Rock women making some incredible contributions), I really cannot remember a time here that I have felt odd or strange for being a girl who plays music — or ever feeling that someone didn't want to play with me, or respected me less because of my gender. I think most people would assume this open-mindedness would be more the case in progressive New York rather than in the South, but I am here to tell y'all it's the reverse, for me at least.

And so that brings me to my other suggestion. I would love to see more girls playing music in Little Rock. The women already making music in this town are giants in my eyes and some of my best friends on the planet, and I just hope more women will join us. Come on in, gals, the water's fine!

Correne Spero is a member of Northern State (New York), Lucky Bitch (New York), SPERO (Little Rock) and Daughters of Triton (Little Rock).

SHERRY L. SPEER
  • Sherry L. Speer

More avant-garde acts from out of town, more unity in town
By Alexander Jones

Little Rock's music scene is small, but it punches above its weight. We are blessed with a cadre of great musicians in this city. Even as many musicians move on to bigger, greener pastures, it has been my experience that youth, transience or new ideas always seem to replace what is lost.

What the scene is not is static. Savvy, wise and generally thoughtful veterans often pine for the days when Vino's booked Queens of the Stone Age or Green Day in its back room. But wait a minute! There are many excellent bands that continue to stop in Little Rock to ply their trade. That said, we do need to work on bringing more avant-garde artists into venues like White Water, Stickyz and Vino's.

Another consideration moving forward — in any worthwhile endeavor — is how important it is to integrate the constancy of change into existing structures that are often taken for granted by those working in the present. Hopefully other musicians, observers and music fans share my goal of bridging some of the divides I have witnessed within the Little Rock music scene.

It is my hope that our beloved, but at times cliquey, scene begins to morph into a broader, deeper collective. Our city is not big enough to sustain excessively fractured mini-bubbles: country here, hip-hop there, hardcore today, and post-punk tomorrow. I admit, perhaps it is not something to be done at every show. But the best bills of the past few years have incorporated the best of each of those genres to build something less coherent, less static, but altogether more exciting.

Alexander Jones is a member of the Little Rock band Bombay Harambee.

A communal show and practice space
By Ron Mc

I feel the arts in Little Rock are strong, but there is a need for consolidating efforts and information. And there is a need for fostering unity. I believe a specific and designated venue for the arts can give Central Arkansas's creatives what they need.

The arts community would benefit greatly from a permanent venue. This venue would be a place where artists can create and display their work. So, there would need to be working studio spaces as well as performance areas. This place should allow for all levels of artists to participate. The artists should help run the facility as well as have an investment in it. That way they can receive a return financially as well as creatively. Little Rock needs a venue that is run by and for its artists.

I personally know poets, musicians and dancers who constantly search for places to practice and perform. And I've also had many conversations with visual artists, actors and songwriters who seek places where they can perfect and showcase their talents. We would love to have a home. Somewhere that everyone knows is for the arts (across social, economic, racial and hierarchal lines). All artists and all parts of the community should be invited.

Ron MC is a rapper and teacher.

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Take advantage
By Goon Des Garcons

If I was to give a piece of advice to the kids of Arkansas looking to make a name for themselves in music (or anything, period) it'd probably be this: Take advantage. Take advantage of your time, your dreams, your reality and your surroundings. We all know Arkansas isn't a place too big on progression and pushing culture, but that doesn't mean it has to be like that forever. It all starts with us. I hear people use the "no one's ever come out of Arkansas" excuse as a crutch all the time when really it should serve as the greatest sense of fuel ever. This state is a diamond mine for creativity and talent that hasn't been discovered yet. It's like we're this huge blank canvas that no one's made their mark on yet. There are a couple of dashes and blotches here and there, but no definitive soundscape or aesthetic. To me that's almost the perfect metaphor for the state as a whole. There's just all this space and opportunity waiting to be turned into something new and refreshing. Everything's right here for us: We just gotta take advantage. You bored in the small town you're from? Start something. You and your friends hate doing the same things every weekend and want to introduce something new to your city? Do it. Take advantage of any and everything around you and turn your dreams into your surroundings. All it takes is a little dedication and drive. You wouldn't believe the shit me and my friends did in three years here.

Goon Des Garcons is a rapper and the founder of the Young Gods of America collective.

Soak in the history
By Jeremy Brasher

One of the things I like about the music and art scenes here in Arkansas is the incredible invisible continuity and history that is all around us like air, or possibly background radiation. I say invisible because so much of the past is unknown and unseen to us. You know, getting older is like gaining an exponentially unhelpful superpower: Through your accumulated experience you accrue lots of trivial information that seems very interesting to you but likely isn't to anyone else. I bet career historians are some of the most frustrated people on the planet — they probably drink themselves to sleep just to get by.

I'll give you a local example just from my little corner of the subculture I came out of: It amazes and excites me to see entire new generations of punk-rock kids living in the same rent houses that my friends and I lived in some 20 years ago. The fliers on the door are essentially the same. The style is pretty much the same. I imagine their bands are eerily similar to those of their distant rental predecessors. Do they realize their place in the, uh, I guess you would say, lineage? Maybe yes, but maybe no. I can't just go over there and regale them with stories of all the things we used to get into in their house. Or ... can ... I? No, no ... gotta stop that. Gotta try not to be the guy.

Of course, the inevitable flipside of this situation is that somewhere out there, someone is reading this who saw Black Flag at the S.O.B. in '86 and wrote something similar in the Spectrum about my friends and I when we moved into their old house. Before that someone was writing about the beatnik kids living by the railroad tracks in the Arkansas Gazette and ad infinitum. It's a real cultural Philip K. Dick situation we seem to be in around here, and not like in a bad way where we turn out to be robots or something, but in a cool way with house shows.

Jeremy Brasher is a member of The Canehill Engagement and The Moving Front and a columnist on the Times' culture blog, Rock Candy.

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Give us space
By Alex Flanders

Both as a consumer of art and an aspiring artist myself in Little Rock, one thing I can't help but notice is the lack of studio resources. I know you're working on it, Little Rock, but some of the artistic disciplines are seriously getting the shaft. How cool would it be if photographers had their own darkroom where they could develop film and print photos? Something community-oriented, or even a subscription-based space where supplies are provided. Something's got to give!

As far as musicians go, too many conversations with most of the multitalented folks around town have turned into complaints of not having a proper practice space. Therefore not practicing as a band at all. Therefore not booking any shows around town. Therefore hurting the music scene. And I get it! Too-high rental prices make vacant office spaces nearly impossible, and nobody wants their dreams haunted by sounds of a shredding guitar from the residential unit above them at 1 a.m.

What I'm saying is we need space, and it's not us, it's you. Give us a chance; I promise we'll make something great.

Alex Flanders is host of the KABF-FM, 88.3, program "GIRLS" (8:30 p.m. Thursdays).

Better avenues for promotion
By Derek Brooks

Could we create more avenues for promoting throughout the state? For instance, where does one go to actively promote in North Little Rock? How does one get the word out other than using the Internet? Permits exist for holding a special event, but what about a permit that gives you the ability to legally promote your own music event? Something that would allow you to pass out fliers or post fliers in places like malls or light poles on street corners or wherever without having them taken down.

Another idea could be to add on to an existing idea of showcasing local talent. There are events that hold a "best of" local talent, but how about one that includes anyone who wishes to participate — make it a month long event that includes music and visual art, and let the people who attend decide what they like the most. This may help other artists meet one another and cultivate the growth of the scene at the same time. And who knows what could be produced from that kind of collaborative effort?

Derek Brooks is a rapper (ill_chemist) and host of the KABF-FM, 88.3, program "4817" (9 p.m. Saturdays).

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