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A is for Ashlie Atkinson, the Arkansas native who has won serious acclaim onstage (she won the 2005 Theater World Award for Breakthrough Performance for her role as Helen in Neil Labute's "Fat Pig") and has taken on numerous roles of all stripes on the big screen ("Inside Man," "Compliance," Martin Scorsese's forthcoming "The Wolf of Wall Street") and the small ("Law & Order," "30 Rock," "Louie"). She had a major role in Fox's "Us and Them" (a Yankee remake of the U.K. hit "Gavin and Stacey"). The pilot and six episodes of the original 13-episode order were filmed earlier this year, though the order was cut back and the remaining six episodes weren't filmed. The seven episodes in the can will be aired most likely in March, according to a representative for Atkinson. If the response to the show is strongly positive, there's a possibility that the show could be put back into production. Atkinson commented via Facebook that "no bullshit, this was the funniest, loveliest, most professional group of folks I have ever had the pleasure of working with on television. I miss it already, but I know what I learned is going to serve me well throughout my life and career."
B is for The Body, whose new album "Christs, Redeemers," was met with near universal acclaim. PopMatters gave the album an 8/10, noting that "The Body makes difficult music, and 'Christs, Redeemers' is that difficulty at its most masterful and controlled, even as it seems at every turn unruly, deeply and truly dangerous." A Pitchfork review said that the album "finds The Body at the apogee of their brutality." The duo, Little Rock natives Chip King and Lee Buford, is headed across the pond in April to play at the prestigious Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands.
C is for Cruelty, such as that exhibited toward Colonial Wine & Spirits manager Paul Lewis by his underlings, Jake Dell and J.T. Jumonville, who played a brutal prank on their boss. The two cruel subordinates set up a hidden video camera in the stockroom, which caught Jumonville leaping out of a huge box and scaring the everloving crapola out of Lewis. Granted, Lewis's terrified, arm-waving reaction was subjectively hilarious, which is probably why the video was a huge hit on YouTube (where it is mysteriously no longer available). Back in October, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel played the video on his show and interviewed the three about the in-store chicanery. "We've been scaring Paul for about five years now," Dell admitted. Lewis was a good sport about it all though, even if when frightened he does look, in Kimmel's words, "like a baby pterodactyl being born."
D is for Downtown Music Hall. The venue closed its doors in December after several years of providing a home to the metal, hip-hop and dance music scenes in Central Arkansas. Owner Samantha Allen posted on Facebook that she will be "taking a very small break to focus on getting my health on track and then I will be back doing what I love more than anything in the world ... booking shows, promoting bands and trying my best to build the best local music community in the world!"
E is for effortless, which is how the Razorback football team made it look all season long on their march to 12-0, an SEC title and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Psych! Just kidding! Wasn't that hilarious? No, it wasn't, and neither was the Hogs dispiriting 3-9, first-ever-winless-in-the-conference inaugural season under head coach Bret Bielema. No need for another full autopsy on Hogpocalypse 2013 though; let's just hope things get better next year and move on to F.
F is for festivals (again). There were several of note this year, including perennial favorites and newer entries. Riverfest is the biggest of the bunch of course, and this year as in all years there was plenty of bellyaching about the lineup from the usual collection of wet blankets and Debbie Downers. But odds are thousands of folks enjoyed music from Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker, Kelly Rowland, Peter Frampton, Lupe Fiasco and the other acts. Up on Mulberry Mountain, there was a wet and muddy Wakarusa, with music from Widespread Panic, Snoop Lion, The Black Crowes, Gogol Bordello and Of Monsters and Men, among others. The very next weekend saw the birth of Waka's boot-scootin', whiskey-shootin' little brother festival Thunder on the Mountain, which had Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, Big and Rich and plenty more big-time country artists. The Yonder Mountain Harvest Festival in October was a hit, with Tedeschi Trucks Band headlining alongside many more folk, Americana and bluegrass bands. King Biscuit boasted Robert Cray, Marcia Ball and Gregg Allman as headliners. There was also the Fayetteville Roots Festival, which featured Arkansas-born folk fave Iris Dement. The Johnny Cash Music Festival got a little more traditional this year with Vince Gill, Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers and Jimmy Fortune, along with Tommy Cash and Joanne Cash Yates. The Butler Center's Arkansas Sounds festival was back with a great lineup for its second year, including Collin Raye, Tav Falco and Panther Burns, Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks and many more. Down in Hot Springs, you had Valley of the Vapors in the spring and Hot Water Hills in the fall to bookend your summer. And of course Eureka Springs hosted its long-running annual blues, jazz, folk and bluegrass festivals.
G is for glowing, which describes reviews of the Sundance Channel series "Rectify," created, produced and directed by Ray McKinnon (an Oscar-winning director, actor and former Little Rock resident) and which counts former Times columnist Graham Gordy as one of its writers. The show centers on Daniel Holden (played by Aden Young), as a man just released from a long prison sentence after DNA evidence vacates his conviction in the rape and murder of his girlfriend. He's free, but many in the small hometown he returns to aren't so sure he's innocent. The L.A. Times' Mary McNamara wrote of the show that "it isn't just good TV, it's revelatory TV," describing the series as "mesmerizing." Ellen Gray of the Philadelphia Daily News called "Rectify" "a beautiful and disturbing new drama" that's "the best new show of the season." The New York Times' Mike Hale wasn't quite as taken (calling it a "slow and tepid bummer") but he seems to be an outlier. In May, the Sundance Channel announced it had ordered 10 more episodes.
H is for Hal Needham, the Arkansas-bred stuntman extraordinaire who passed away in October at 82. Needham spent the '60s practically reinventing the profession, then later he got on the less dangerous side of the camera as director of car-chase movies such as "Smokey and The Bandit," "The Cannonball Run," "Stroker Ace" (all of which starred his buddy Burt Reynolds) and the '80s cult classic (though critically reviled) BMX flick "Rad." Needham was awarded an honorary Oscar this year, only the second stunt performer or coordinator to earn one.
I is for Iron Tongue. The Little Rock outfit released its debut long-player "The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown" this year on Neurot Recordings. Writing for PopMatters, novelist and critic David Maine praised the album as "a fuzzhead's dream: layers of bluesy, sinewy guitars piled on more sinewy guitars, full-throated anthemic vocals and an overwhelming sense of fighting against the encroaching doom. Rock and roll redemption, indeed." In New Noise Magazine, Brandon Ringo wrote that "it's refreshing to hear a band try to mix classic rock and doom metal and not actually rip off Black Sabbath or anyone else for that matter, something that makes this band even more worth listening to."
J is for Justin Moore. The native of Poyen has found success in Nashville in chart-topping singles, a No. 1 album and sold-out shows if not necessarily in industry awards and the little statues that come with them. When Moore was snubbed by the CMAs this year, he took to Twitter to clear the air with a few tweets: "For all you loyal, wonderful fans of mine. you keep askin why you never see me on awards shows. I feel like I owe you a response. thruth is ... I have no idea. I would love for you to have the opportunity to see me on that stage. And be on that stage. As of yet, I've not been asked ... Nonetheless, you have given me a blessed life and career, which I'm thankful for. I owe that to you guys and COUNTRY RADIO! ... If awards come to me down the road, great. If not, that's fine too. No matter what, I have you all. I have those sold out arenas on the road ... I have the opportunity to play my music across the country for a living thanks to country music. Thank you for your passion. I love you all ... Plus, my 4 year old just told me I'm her entertainer of the year. That's better than any trophy...:) See y'all #offthebeatenpath..God bless ... Also, congrats to all the winners tonight." And there you have it. As many of us tell ourselves about the Razorback football team, there's always next year.
K is for "King of the Cocktail Party," John Willis's excellent EP of sophisticated pop songcraft, which he released back in August. I wrote of the record that Willis' musical influences (Motown, '70s singer/songwriters, gospel) "certainly shine through on his new EP, especially on the title track, with its range of sounds: a gentle Brazilian lilt here, a jaunty chorus of background singers, what sounds like a harmonium in the distance, and wry observations throughout. Opener "The Ladder" is a bouncy, piano-led number with rich, gorgeous vocal harmonies and an ending that recalls Harry Nilsson in his prime." Willis also recorded an episode of AETN's On the Front Row, which aired recently.
L is for loss, which is what many in the area's musical communities understandably felt when Jeffrey "Bushy" Hudnall and Mason Mauldin passed away. Hudnall, a concert promoter and pioneer of Arkansas's electronic music scene, died in his sleep on Jan. 3 at age 38. He was one of the founders of Cybertribe and brought in some of the biggest names in EDM to the area. Mauldin played in numerous Little Rock bands, including Sugar and the Raw and Big Boots, and was also a pilot for Central Flying Service. He died at age 31 in a plane crash in Louisiana.
M is for move, which the Arkansas Music Pavilion will be making next year, leaving Fayetteville for Rogers. The outdoor venue, which opened in 2005 and was originally located at the Northwest Arkansas Mall, was purchased by the Walton Arts Center in 2011 and moved to the Washington County Fairgrounds for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. In May, the WAC announced that the AMP would be moved to a new, permanent location just up I-540 near Pinnacle Hills. The move caused some consternation among music-lovers in Fayetteville, but it's tough to argue with 91 percent of the $11 million budget (including the land) being donated by billionaire Johnelle Hunt. As I noted back in May however, "You gotta wonder what the reaction might be from the tony gated communities of Pinnacle Hills to hearing Ted Nugent or whoever playing at top volume at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night."
N is for Nate Powell. The North Little Rock native had a big year with the publication of "March," the first in a trilogy of graphic novels about the life of legendary activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Lewis and Andrew Aydin wrote the book and Powell illustrated it, working closely with the Civil Rights icon. Powell, who since 2009 has been making his living from his art, also began work this year on a graphic novel spinoff of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," a hugely popular YA fantasy series by author Rick Riordan.
O is for overhaul — a $68.6 million overhaul to be precise, which is what voters in Little Rock approved earlier this month for Robinson Center Music Hall. The Depression-era venue hasn't seen any major renovations since it was built in 1939, and while the redo looks impressive, with a huge glass wall facing north, it isn't an expansion. There will be slightly more space, with an addition of about 4,500 square feet, but there will actually be fewer seats (though they'll be more comfortable) and the stage will be lowered to accommodate the bigger productions of today's big-time Broadway shows. Funding will come from bonds issued and paid for with the city's 2 percent hospitality tax, similar to how the Statehouse Convention Center was paid for. Construction is set to begin in July and be finished in September 2016.
P is for premiere, as in the two world-premiere musicals the Arkansas Repertory Theatre produced this year — "Treasure Island" and "Because of Winn Dixie." The first was a reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of buried loot and Jim Hawkins' quest to survive mutiny and crazed pirates and make it off of the island alive. It was a fun and funny family show with an impressive cast and evocative set design and costumes. The other world premiere was the "Because of Winn Dixie" (running through Dec. 29), based on Kate DiCamillo's popular children's book of the same name. As my colleague David Ramsey noted, it's "the first pre-Broadway musical to star a live dog in a leading role." It brought together an all-star creative team: music from Duncan Sheik (Tony and Grammy Award winner for "'Spring Awakening"), lyrics and book by Nell Benjamin (Tony nominee for "Legally Blonde") and direction by John Tartaglia (Tony nominee for "Avenue Q"). If that wasn't enough star wattage, the Rep also staged the well-received first production of a newly reimagined version of the Rodgers and Hart musical "Pal Joey," directed by Peter Schneider, the Tony Award-winning producer of "The Lion King."
Q is for question, as in, "Can you please put that in the form of a question?" This wasn't the first time someone from the Natural State was on the popular quiz show Jeopardy, of course, but this year there were two who were on the show. First up was the totally awesome Little Rock high school senior Leonard Cooper, who won Teen Jeopardy (and $75,000) in stylish fashion in February and who was included in our annual Academic All-Stars issue (he was also on the cover, natch). Conway native Brock Thompson, author of "The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South," was on the show earlier this month. He's also a veteran of the cover of the Times; we printed an excerpt of his book back in 2010. As if that weren't enough Arkansas reppin' on Jeopardy, Little Rock radiologist Shane Whitlock earned a spot on the upcoming "Battle of the Decades" tournament. Whitlock won the College Championship in 1996 and was featured on the Tournament of Champions that year and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005. He'll compete on '90s week, March 3-7.
R is for Rothko and Rockwell. Our fine-arts critic Leslie Newell Peacock was impressed with the Arkansas Arts Center's Rothko exhibit. The show "will renew your faith, if it had been lagging, that non-representational art can provoke a deep visceral response," she wrote. "Go sit in the final room of the exhibit, in the Winthrop Rockefeller Gallery, and be quiet with the work and be convinced that Rothko's application and placement of color were not random or decorative gestures, but nearly narrative expressions of emotion." Crystal Bridges in Bentonville brought in a Rockwell show that drew more than 121,000 people, more than saw the show at any of the 12 museums that hosted the show prior.
S is for solvent, which the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute became this year after selling the historic Malco Theater to pay off the organization's debt. Susan Altrui, chair of the HSDFI board, told the Times in June that the transaction "removes all debt owed on the theater and its related property by HSDFI and places it in the hands of an individual committed to renovating the building and making it available for future public use." The festival itself also had a great year with many excellent sports documentaries, including "The Big Shootout," about the 1969 "Game of the Century" between No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas, and "Jose Canseco: The Truth Hurts."
T is for tasty, which our first annual Heritage Hog Roast undoubtedly was, featuring slow-roasted whole pigs from several of the region's most creative cooks. This also could've fit in the C category, as in colder than a well-digger's ass. Yes, it was unseasonably frigid for the first weekend in May in Arkansas (it snowed several inches in Northwest Arkansas that weekend). But the cold/nasty weather didn't stop the inaugural celebration of all things porcine, slow-cooked. Eat Arkansas's Michael Roberts noted that there were fewer than two points separating the first and third place teams. Ultimately, the Country Club of Little Rock won out with the judges, but as Roberts wrote, "there wasn't a bad bite of food to be had at the event."
U is for Undercroft, one of Little Rock's newest venues housed in one of its older establishments, Christ Episcopal Church, formed in 1839. Christ Episcopal started hosting concerts and arrived on the live music landscape with a bang, announcing shows with legendary soul diva Mavis Staples, acclaimed vocal group Cantus (each of which were staged in the church's large sanctuary) and synth-heavy singer/songwriter Nedelle Torrisi (held in the more intimate Undercroft space).
V is for victorious, which is what The Sound of the Mountain was at this year's Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase. The Russellville quartet won on the strength of cinematic, sweeping instrumental post-rock realized with impressive chops from every member.
W is for William Harrison, the author of several novels and short-story collections and the co-founder of the University of Arkansas's renowned Creative Writing program, who died this year. Harrison was widely known as the screenwriter of "Rollerball," the dystopian '70s sci-fi film based on his short story "Roller Ball Murder," which was published in Esquire in 1973. But his other works were critically praised and he earned many grants and fellowships over the course of his career. Harrison was a native of Dallas, but lived in Fayetteville from the mid-'60s until his death in October.
X is for "XX," the debut from Little Rock's long-running garage rock reanimators The Bloodless Cooties on Thick Syrup Records. The band first formed two decades ago (the album title being the Roman numerals for 20). I wrote on Rock Candy that "the Cooties mostly play cover tunes, ranging from '60s pop hits to '50s country weepers to rockabilly rave-ups to garage-psych classics to obscure numbers from the oddest of oddball outsiders. While it took 20 years to arrive, this album-release show will no doubt prove to have been worth the wait. Oh yeah, the cover art for the album was created by none other than Raymond Pettibon, who created some of the most iconic punk album covers ever for the likes of Black Flag, Minutemen and Sonic Youth."
Y is for yes, as in, "Is it a good idea for the Little Rock Film Festival to move downtown? Will people really walk from venue to venue in the summertime?" The answer was a resounding "yes!" to those questions. About 25,000 people watched more than 80 films at the 7th annual LRFF. Taking top honors with the Golden Rock awards were "Short Term 12" for narrative film and "Dirty Wars" for documentary. "This year's festival demonstrated that a winning formula could be improved," Times editor Lindsey Millar wrote. "The two main theaters, Argenta Community Theater and The Rep, could comfortably accommodate far greater crowds than the largest primary theaters of festivals past and, since they and other venues screened one film or program at a time, lines were manageable and rare." And next year, there will be the addition of the 325-seat theater at the newly opened Arcade Building in the River Market along with ACT and The Rep.
Z is for zany, which could certainly describe 21c, Bentonville's new hotel/restaurant/boundary-pushing art gallery. It's part of a chain based in Louisville, Ky., that has locations in Louisville and Cincinnati, with others planned for Lexington, Ky., and Durham, N.C. Times contributor Katherine Wyrick went to the opening and found "the space itself is airy and light-filled, welcoming and beguiling. A serpentine vintage Italian couch winds its way through the lobby, behind which hang the arresting photographs of South African artist Pieter Hugo. (They all linger in the mind, but there's one particularly stirring image of a child atop a chained hyena that still haunts me.) A striking photograph of a bison (as large as an actual bison) hangs behind the front desk; a sparkling pile of crystal encrusted antlers twinkle in the hallway; an interactive sculpture of whirring fans sits outside the elevators. It's a full-immersion experience into the world of 21st century art, where no place is out-of-bounds — from bathrooms to the boardroom and gym." Oh yeah, and then there are the penguins —giant, green plastic penguins that are moved throughout the building during the day. The Cincinnati location has yellow penguins, Louisville has red ones. Wyrick found their presence to be "both playful and disorienting in a pleasant sort of way." Sounds zany.Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the status of the Fox show "Us and Them." It has been corrected.