A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
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I is for The Iron Man, a.k.a. Michael Burks, the electric blues guitarist who lived in Camden and had an international following. Burks, 54, had just returned stateside after some European dates when he collapsed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport of an apparent heart attack. Blues fans were understandably devastated at the sudden loss of one of the genre's best performers. In August, Alligator Records released Burks' final album, "Show of Strength."
J is for The Joint, the new comedy venue/live music club/coffee house that opened in Argenta in May. The folks who opened and operate the club are also the in-house comedy team "The Main Thing." Vicki and Steve Farrell and Bret Ihler produce and perform original two-act comedy plays that run twice a week. So far, they've performed "Little Rock and a Hard Place," which skewered local politics; "Electile Dysfunction," ditto but on a national scale; and "A Fertle Christmas," a holiday satire about the small-town Fertle Family and their attempts to impress their big-city kinfolk. Along with the comedy, The Joint also hosts live music of pretty much every genre and beer and wine tastings. It's a welcome new offering in the Central Arkansas club scene.
K is for Kevin Kerby, who released the understated "Apostles' Tongues" this year. It's a family album, with Kerby's son Gus contributing on the fiddle, and it's a much quieter record than some of his previous work. The songs tackle Kerby's sobriety, faith and other issues that fall more on the somber end of the spectrum. That's not to say it's a downer. Despite ruminations such as "I Should Have Gone to the Funeral," Kerby's wit, wordplay and sharp sense of humor shine through.
L is for Levon Helm, native of Turkey Scratch, drummer and heart and soul of The Band and one of the finest musicians Arkansas ever produced. Helm passed away April 19 of cancer. The Times spoke with several musicians who'd known and played with Helm over the years, including Ronnie Hawkins and Earl Cate, who said Helm "was a one-of-a-kind person and just an unbelievable musician. His feel at the drums was something. I've never experienced anything quite like it."
M is for "Mud," Little Rock native Jeff Nichols' third feature-length film. The film, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, with Nichols muse Michael Shannon in a minor role, wrapped principal shooting in Southeast Arkansas in fall of 2011. The film debuted at Cannes, with Los Angeles Times blogger Steven Zeitchik calling it "perhaps the most accessible and unabashedly crowd-pleasing movie to play among the roughly dozen English-language films here." It's set for a wider U.S. release sometime next year.
N is for "Nitetime," the latest from Little Rock rapper Pepperboy, who we featured back in September. He was recently praised by The Fader and Spin and was given a mixtape shout-out by Lil B. He dropped the album on Dec. 12 — 12-12-12, a day he commemorated as "Pepperboy Day." I noted on Rock Candy that "Nitetime finds Pepperboy dishing out some 100 percent truth about the big issues: Life, love and death; drugs; the streets; the game; staying out of trouble."
O is for Oxford American, which had a ... well, let's just say the storied "Southern Magazine of Good Writing" had an unusual year, in which the board of directors fired founding editor Marc Smirnoff and managing editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald over allegations of sexual harassment and other misbehavior. It all got pretty weird. There was some foot photography and (alleged) attempted literal hand-holding of interns and so forth on the part of Smirnoff. Smirnoff started a website to tell "our story of losing the Oxford American," which involves taking a lot of 47,000-word potshots at Warwick Sabin and various others affiliated with the magazine. Anyway, the OA hired former Harper's editor Roger D. Hodge to take over. He's from Texas and lives in New York City.