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Back to what I really love 

I couldn’t wait for Dickey-Stephens Park to open in North Little Rock, but as of this writing (Tuesday) I haven’t gone. I still might make it tonight, before the Travelers briefly take to the road.

Arkansas Times reporter Jennifer Barnett Reed, who like me shares a deep love for the St. Louis Cardinals, gives you the inside and out of Dickey-Stephens from opening night in this week’s cover story, while our anonymous sports columnists J.R. and Henry wax poetically almost like David Halberstam on page 42 about what the new park’s opening means.

And where was I, the sports lover, the guy who couldn’t wait for Dickey-Stephens to open, a few of you may ask?

I was checking out one of my other loves: a local, original music show at Juanita’s that the University of Central Arkansas Honors College had pulled together. At Butch Stone’s urging — he teaches an honors class on the business of rock ’n’ roll there — based on his experience seeing me tipsy with microphone in hand at Musicians Showcases long past, the college kids asked me to emcee.

For the chance to see Latture, Damn Bullets and Further Down for free? You bet I would.

Throw in Josef Hedinger, a young Fort Smith R&B/pop singer who performed only with his keyboard, and it was a well-spent three hours. And, as good as the music was inside Juanita’s, the little impromptu concert held on the sidewalk outside by Damn Bullets’ Paul Morphis and Joe Sundell was equally fun.

I would like to see Hedinger with a full complement of musicians and backup chick singers. He appears to have the talent and original compositions to go places.

I’ve written reams already in the past few weeks about Damn Bullets as well as Latture, the Conway six-piece. But last Thursday marked only the second time I’d seen Latture live, outside of their appearance in the Showcase two months ago. I want to say that if I left the impression that the two females in the band are merely eye candy, that’s not the case. Mandi Tollette, who appears to be the band’s “club girl,” if we were speaking in ska terms, adds great harmonies above pianist Seth Latture’s melody line while serving as somewhat of a cheerleader urging their fans to pump fists or sing along. Jessica Algaier’s violin is a major component in the music, and all the more important in future shows that the side men keep her strings in tune.

Meanwhile, I also deduced that if bassist Jordan Wright, guitarist Cale Mills and drummer Jason Bourg wanted to form a side project of heavier material, I expect it would be outstanding.

When the groups covered material, such as Latture doing “All Along the Watchtower” or Hedinger singing Lennon’s “Imagine,” the efforts were imaginative and good.

Further Down, a Showcase finalist in 2005, showed how much difference two years can make. The Jonesboro quintet has become a solid Southern rock band.

While Damn Bullets was splendid on stage — a friend said, “They’re like the early Beatles doing country” — I’ll always remember the covers being played outside Juanita’s, from “Blister in the Sun” to “Amazing Grace,” and that you can see in these guys’ faces how much they love to play and sing.

Now, it’s on to Dickey-Stephens Park and the cheap seats.

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