The final day of the Arkansas Blues and heritage festival in Helena opened with Shawn Kellerman on fire on the main stage. I'm a born sucker for guitar theatrics in blues and Kellerman never disappoints. As usual, though, Cherry Street itself, and not the main stage, provides some of the best entertainment. Smells of alligator, crawfish, sausage of every description and lots of other stuff I won't eat drift past as the blues pours out of nearly every corner. A guy playing an electrified “diddley bow,” a simple instrument comprised of a stick, a cigar box and two strings from which he ripped a blues funk, drew a crowd of dozens. Then there's the lighter sounds of Valerie June, a woman who over the years has really begun to come into her own with an expanded set list of original tunes, all of which drift sweetly from a voice that may not match her appearance, but somehow makes her all the more intriguing. This year, too, there were fewer closed storefronts along the street. Something is definitely going on in Helena.
The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra opened its season Saturday night with a return visit by the 28-year-old violin virtuoso Augustin Hadelich, who had appeared with the orchestra in the Beethoven concerto two years ago.