Fall's big events come into focus 

Looking through our fall performing arts calendar elsewhere in this paper, we've picked out a few spots where you could camp out and be highly entertained throughout the autumn. The concerts that find their way to Alltel Arena are coming in groups this year. The middle of August was a big time for the North Little Rock venue; mid-to-late October will be very similar. Multiple Grammy Award-winning Norah Jones, Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire (the latter two together), and R. Kelly and Jay-Z (together) are lined up. Good news may be coming shortly on Velvet Revolver, the supergroup formed with Stone Temple Pilots front man Scott Weiland and Guns n' Roses guitarists Slash and Duff. All those shows are coming this way between Oct. 19 and Halloween. Alltel's big fall gets a "jump" - pardon the pun - with Van Halen (Sammy Hagar is back with the Van Halen brothers and Michael Anthony for the first time in seven years) arriving Friday, Sept. 24. "There's not a whole lot out there [touring], so we're glad to be able to land these shows," Alltel Arena general manager Michael Marion said of the October lineup. "They aren't big shows in the Britney Spears, George Strait size; we're going with the lower bowl on all of them. But they should be a lot of fun, they cover a wide range of tastes and should be of interest to a lot of music fans." The Norah Jones show on Oct. 19 (tickets: $56.25, $46.25, $26.75) has been on the calendar for months. Chicago and EWF ($49.50 and $35), a pair of dominant '70s and early '80s acts that are still popular among the baby-boomers for their brassy sound, are booked for Sunday, Oct. 24. R. Kelly and Ja Rule get that big weekend started on Thursday, Oct. 21. Marion couldn't confirm the Velvet Revolver date yet, as the contract wasn't signed, but "Save Your Seat" customers had received notice of a pending show with the hot modern rock group, with two currently songs in the Top 10, for Oct. 31. There seems to be more than a little symmetry in the Presidential Celebration concert featuring Arethra Franklin, the Queen of Soul of cried for a little "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," and former President Bill Clinton, who didn't get any from his political enemies during his eight years in the White House. Franklin will be a special guest of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra for a high-dollar event at Robinson Center Music Hall on Nov. 16, right in the middle of the Clinton President Center celebratory events. Tickets range from $85 to $145 and are available through the ASO box office at 666-1761. Showtime is 8 p.m. And as fall begins to cool down to the holiday season, the ASO welcomes country pop star LeAnn Rimes for her "Symphonic Christmas" at 8 p.m. Dec. 4. Tickets, at $36 to $72, currently are only available to subscribers to the ASO season-ticket plans. The fabulous Ann Hampton Callaway, who channels Ella Fitzgerald and is one of the most acclaimed singers in New York, is the guest at the ASO's high-dollar Opus Ball Nov. 6. Robinson Center is getting an interior reworking to transform it into a Carnegie Hall-style venue in time for that show. Call 666-1761 for information and tickets. Jamie Farr, famous for his role as Cpl. Klinger on CBS-TV's long-running Korean War comedy/drama "M*A*S*H," steps into the part created by comedian Frank Gorshin when Celebrity Attractions brings the Broadway hit "Say Goodnight, Gracie" to Robinson Center Music Hall Oct. 11-13. The tribute to the wit and wisdom of George Burns will be performed at 7:30 p.m. each night. Gorshin was originally scheduled to play the part here, but the aging funnyman has been ill of late. Tickets range from $20 to $50; call 244-8800. The season's most anticipated show, "Mama Mia," comes here next March. When the Arkansas Repertory Theater concludes its season-opening "My Fair Lady" on Oct. 10, it will already been in preparation to show off the this year's winner of its $10,000 Kaufman and Hart Prize for New American Comedy: "The Sleeper." The play will be staged beginning Oct. 29 on the MainStage, with Rep artistic director Brad Mooy handling the direction. Tickets are $28 and $22; call 378-0405. The show will run until Nov. 14. Reynolds Performance Hall on the University of Central Arkansas campus, which opened with much fanfare in 2000 with the incomparable Ray Charles, seems to have taking another leap its talent offering for 2004-2005. Several big names dot the UCA Public Appearances lineup, beginning Sept. 24 with the Four Kings of Rhythm and Blues - onetime Drifter turned soloist Ben E. King, New Orleans R&B star Lloyd Price, "Duke of Earl" singer Gene Chandler and Jerry Butler, the "Iceman." Showtime is 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $25 for the general public and $10 for UCA students. Call 1-866-810-0012. Later in the fall, enjoy the acclaimed vocalist Patti Austin as she sings Ella Fitzgerald tunes with the UCA Big Band on Oct. 21; the new play "Victoria," starring Montreal's Dulcinea Langfelder, and bluegrass from its current master, Ricky Skaggs, and his band, Kentucky Thunder, on Dec. 10-11. A full slate of more big names is set for the 2005 portion, including the acoustic duo of bassist Edgar Meyer and Nickel Creek mandolin player Chris Thile.

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