Down by the river 

Family is still the operative word, but headliners still make Riverfest go.

With all the focus on the big name music talent, it's easy to forget that Riverfest isn't a music festival. “It's a family festival,” DeAnna Korte, festival director since 2004, says (and says often). “That's what sets us apart from festivals like Memphis in May. We still provide activities for families that don't cost anything beyond admission.”


So it's fitting that when Korte is asked about this year's festival, she talks long and effusively about things like Wii being onsite with its new Wii Fit game and X-box and Guitar Hero tournaments and face painting and bungee jumping and rock-climbing.  

If those don't pique your or your kids' interest, she's also got dogs that jump high and far. The Super Retriever Series championship, in North Little Rock on Saturday and Sunday, debuts this year with retriever dogs jumping for height and distance into a pool. After the dogs get wet on Sunday, retriever series organizers will try to gather more than 300 kids to break the Guinness World Record for kids blowing a duck call for at least three minutes. If your child wants to make history, you have to sign him/her up at superretrieverseries.com.

So there are kids activities and lots of food and drink opportunities (see page 18), but despite the family festival atmosphere, nothing pulls in the big crowds like the music. This year's diverse line-up leans heavily on nostalgia, with headliners like Chaka Khan, Huey Lewis and the News and ZZ Top, but youth will be served. There are also chart-toppers, modern rockers, singer/songwriters, country starlets and the best local line-up in years (see page 19). In other words: something for everyone. The headliners:





7:30 p.m., Budweiser Stage (NLR)


n You can't mess with his pedigree: The only son of outlaw country legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, Shooter Jennings comes by his raucous ways naturally. Like many sons of country stars with musical aspirations, he got his start playing rock 'n' roll in a band called Stargunn. But roots run deep, and after seven years on the L.A. rock scene, Jennings went country, though he's managed to hold on to a fair amount of that rock 'n' roll swagger with four albums in the last three years. Pop culture fiends remember him for his portrayal of his father in “Walk the Line” and for dating Drea de Matteo. He's sure to have a full audience on Friday playing before Merle Haggard.



8 p.m., Acxiom/Miller Lite Stage


n Paul Thorn has stories. A Tupelo-born son of a Pentecostal minister, he's been a professional boxer (he once fought Roberto Duran), a factory worker and a folk artist in the Howard Finster tradition. For the last decade, he's been weaving those stories into a solid body of gritty, offbeat roots music. According to Kris Kristofferson, Thorn is “the best kept secret in the music business.” He comes to Riverfest in support of his latest album, “A Long Way from Tupelo.”



9:30 p.m., Acxiom/Miller Lite Stage


n Where you been gone so long, Huey Lewis and the News? According to the Internet, HL, now 57, has been living the active life in Montana — fishing, playing golf, riding his Harley. And the band has been touring, just not in our neck of the woods unless I missed them on the casino circuit. But look out, unsuspecting music lovers who missed the '80s; you'll soon be digging for your parents' vinyl copy of “Sports” after falling deeply and ironically in love with the theme song to this summer's can't-miss comedy, “Pineapple Express,” sung by none other than Huey Lewis! Sadly, it might be too early to hear the cut on Friday. Your favorite hits from “Back to the Future” will have to do.



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