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Big times at Riverfest 

The 2012 edition gets rolling Friday.

Late May approaches and with it the descent of thousands upon thousands of fun-seekers to Little Rock for music, food and good times at Riverfest. The annual festival has changed considerably since 1978, when the Junior League brought the Little Rock Wind Symphony down to Murray Park for The Summer Arts Festival, which would eventually move down the river a bit and become Riverfest.

The throngs — likely around 260,000, based on last year's attendance —will gather this year for a diverse array of music that leans a bit toward the rock side of the spectrum. You've got your classic rock, with Lynyrd Skynyrd (who'll play a two-hour set) and Joe Walsh, your virtuoso blues rock with Gov't Mule and your contemporary rock with Staind, Chevelle, Third Eye Blind, Neon Trees and MuteMath. But there's also big-name hip-hop, with Snoop Dogg and B.o.B. as well as one of the biggest R&B acts of all time, Boyz II Men.

Country music might not be represented quite as heavily in 2012 as in years past, but country lovers can definitely get a fix with The Cadillac Black (recently in town supporting Dierks Bentley) and Nashville giants Little Big Town. "Some years it's heavier on some genres and some years it's not," said DeAnna Korte, executive director of Riverfest. "My goal is to try not to book an act up against another act that somebody might want to see both of, but it does happen occasionally."

Here's something that's been addressed in the Times before, but probably bears repeating if only because it's such a perennial Riverfest refrain: "The lineup is subpar, they should really get such-and-such gigantically popular band." Well, such-and-such gigantically popular band is also gigantically expensive, and with a 2012 entertainment kitty of between $650,000 and $700,000, booking one or two such bands would wipe out the budget.

"Our budget is very minimal in the grand scheme of things, when you look at festivals around the country and especially festivals that draw as large as we do," Korte said. It's also worth pointing out that for the money — somewhere in the range of $15-$30, depending on when you bought a ticket — you can see a bunch of bands that, on their own, would likely command ticket prices well above that relatively low price.

Of course, in addition to all the music, there are many more attractions at Riverfest. There are dozens of vendors and artists selling their wares along Merchant Row. The Dallas Cowboys on Tour is a mobile museum of Cowboys memorabilia and exhibits, including a locker room replica. Monster Energy Drink is bringing in a BMX team for some extreme bike stunts and tricks. The Sustainival is back, with an array of carnival-type rides that are all powered with vegetable oil.

The Familyzone, which is free to the public all weekend, features the Yarnell Family Stage, with a variety of music, dancers and more. There'll be a weenie dog derby, a huge trampoline exhibition, The Rock-N-Stroll 5K fun run and walk, the Super Retriever Series and The Ruff on the River Pooch Parade at 3 p.m. on Saturday, which will benefit four animal rescue organizations.

FRIDAY MAY 25

GOV'T MULE

7:45 p.m., Bud Light Stage (Clinton Center)

Since the mid '90s, Gov't Mule has been keeping the blues-rock flame alive. The band was founded by guitarist Warren Haynes and the late bass player Allen Woody, both of whom also played with The Allman Brothers. Haynes is still a member of the Southern rock stalwarts, and is also a frequent collaborator with various Grateful Dead members. Gov't Mule's crunchy, groove-heavy sound might not have broken through to mainstream success, but it's got a dedicated following of diehards and live show tapers that's probably comparable to a number of other jam band heavies. Expect plenty of virtuosic playing (Haynes is the No. 23 greatest guitarist of all time, according to Rolling Stone scholar David Fricke), hand-clapping from the audience, a couple-three interesting covers and good vibes all around.

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