As if great beer weren't reward enough, you can earn prizes for sampling local craft beverages
By John Tarpley
9 p.m., Juanita's. $16 adv., $20 d.o.s.
Unless Neil Young or Patti Smith makes an unlikely trip back to town or Warren Zevon or Townes Van Zandt reanimates and zombies up to a local mic, Little Rock isn't likely to see a show from a greater Great all year. "Wait: if this guy's so 'Great,' then why isn't he famous?" For decades, the Alejandro Escovedo story has been that his talent has far outweighed his renown and his deserved mainstream success has been elusive, inexplicably. His consolation prizes aren't awful, however: "Artist of the Decade" by alt-country magazine No Depression, a demi-god in his native Austin and nearly unanimously adored by critics, musicians and others in the peanut gallery from collaborator Bruce Springsteen to fellow Texan George W. Bush, who kept Escovedo in his iPod during his presidency. In short, if you know Escovedo, you probably love him as much as I do and you'll be there. If not, and you're open to a new favorite singer, clear out your Thursday night plans.
6 p.m., Wildwood Park for the Arts. $20.
KUAR celebrates Arkansas Heritage Month and the 115th anniversary of the Civil War during this year's installment of "Arkansas Flyer," the annual, twang-tinged music revue/comedy show/storytime hour/big ol' barbecue. The night, emceed once again by Amy Garland, the local songcraft and host of "Backroads," the terrific radio hour (KABF, Friday nights, 5 p.m.), features country swingers extraordinaire The Salty Dogs as house band, Fayetteville folk duo Still on the Hill's banjo and violin Ozarkia, Arkansas State University professor Gwendolyn Twillie spinning Civil War yarns and the return of the Invisible Radio Theater, performing old-time radio sketch comedy. The night kicks off at 6 p.m. with a barbecue dinner catered by Capitol Smokehouse.
10 p.m., White Water Tavern. $7
"He's the best singer/songwriter I ever threw out of my studio." Steve Earle, quote factory he is, spit that one out about Malcolm Holcombe, the rough and tumble Appalachian folk singer. His grumbled, minor-key confessionals command a resounding reverence and stir up more than a few welled eyes. During his last visit to White Water Tavern, the crowd sprawled out on the floor, unable, I like to think, to stand up and take it all in. Holcombe's rustic, primal finger-picking is astonishing enough; pair it with the manner in which he sings, eyes rolled into the back of his head, convulsing as he channels a certain ancient rumble and, yeah, it can sometimes be too much to take in all at once. But why the hell does he have to play the same time as Alejandro Escovedo? Looks like it's going to be coin flip time this Thursday.
KEITH SYKES WEEKEND
8 p.m., The Arlington Hotel, Hot Springs. $50.
The songwriter whose collaborations with John Prine, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Jimmy Buffett is the namesake of what's starting to look like an annual Hot Springs tradition. The Keith Sykes Weekend lands yearly in the Arlington Hotel for two days of songwriting shop-talk, Bloody Marys and gigging. This year's bullpen includes Roger Cook, whose songs have been performed by Elton John and Neil Diamond, amongst others, and who made what we estimate to be a bajillion dollars when he wrote "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" for Coca-Cola; Buzz Cason, the Nashville songwriter whose track, "Soldier of Love," was famously covered by The Beatles on the "Live at the BBC" album; Jed Zimmerman, a young Memphian and Sykes protege; Grace Askew, a young folk-soulstress making waves in that world; Delta Joe Sanders, another mud-soaked Memphian, and rootsy Little Rock lady Shannon Boshears. Tickets are available at KeithSykes.com.
9:30 p.m., Revolution. $19 adv., $25.
Keller Williams is something of a jam-band circuit all-star, an acoustic guitar M.V.P. Also, the man is a beast. I've spent nine years with his unfairly overlooked album "Laugh" and, in particular, his signature song, "Freaker By the Speaker," and still for the life of me can't comprehend how this goofy, babyfaced bro next door lures this certain lick out of his guitar with such clarity and precision. Live, however, he's known for his bag of tricks. A one-man jam band, Williams employs a spread of loop pedals plugged into mounted guitars, basses and mics, creating on-the-spot jams. Even people averse to the jam scene can't help but be wowed by the spectacle. Just check out the YouTube comments sections for the man: "I could listen to him all day, even when I'm not stoned. But I'm always stoned, so it's super amazing." Thanks, bonghitter38.
SIR THREADIUS MONGUS
9 p.m., The Afterthought. $7.
This Tulsa, Okla., jazz group was slated to play The Afterthought this February, but, when a couple of members couldn't make the trip at the last minute, the night turned into a three-man session. Fine, no doubt, but a minor bummer nevertheless. Sir Threadius Mongus' 2006 album, "This is Sir Threadius Mongus," is a stellar document of the left-field six-piece and one that's caught on with a number of people around town. (Read: my friends that I've shoved it upon, pretty much threateningly.) Imagine Lena Horne and Captain Beefheart running into each other in a backwoods cabin jam session. Spectacularly, such a proposition manages to come off as totally accessible and not particularly an endeavor in difficult listening. This make-up gig is months in the making, not to mention one you won't catch us missing.
9 p.m., Stickyz. $10.
This Chicago, Ill., act is, without a doubt, about the closest thing you can get to pop-punk godfathers. For the few uninitiated (or the flat-out young), the Smoking Popes spent the mid-'90s making a name for themselves by trading in punk snarl for crooning vocals that float somewhere between Mel Torme and Morrissey. Shockingly, it worked well. Really well. The band's breakthrough single, "Need You Around," was omnipresent in the decade before last (wrap your Jennifer Aniston haircut around that one) and still stands up years later. Since the Popes' heyday, they've kept releasing music at a steady tack, including their latest, "This is Only a Test," a well-received concept album which landed in stores last month. Another act that aims to tie punk attitude to the golden oldie aesthetic, Girl in a Coma, returns to Little Rock to open the night.
JEWISH FOOD FESTIVAL
10 a.m., River Market Pavilions. Free.
The annual day-long festival of Jewish food, music and art returns to the River Market. We're ready to dig in. Even the names are fun to say: rugelach (a strudel), hamantaschen (that's a cookie), schnecken (a sort of cinnamon roll). Try to forget how common the food is and re-embrace the joys of pronouncing pastrami. A dish that's easy to say and delicious, to boot: the stuffed sweet and sour cabbage rolls. Also, expect a day's worth of music from Jana Cohen and the Shechinotes, Cantor John Caplan, Shelly Amizur and the Dance Troupe, Jerry Jacobson, Meshugga Klezmer Band, Temple B'nai Israel Stars of David Band, B-Flat Minor and Memphis' Temple Israel Ruach Band.
10 p.m., White Water Tavern. $5.
Reforming after a five-year breakup, Slobberbone launched a reunion tour that sold out a two-night stand at White Water Tavern last December. Crazier, however, is the fact that the weekend brought in people from 16 different states. Formed in 1992, the Texan cowpunkers churned out four cult albums, including "Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today," a literate, guitar and horns-driven album that's an alt-country classic by anyone's standards. The band also has the great and random-as-hell distinction of making one of the "three greatest rock and roll songs ever" according to Stephen King. Slobberbone is, no doubt, a band that sounds better with a belly full of beer, so expect a lot of people to call in sick the following day.