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Mary Gauthier at White Water Tavern 

THURSDAY 5/23

MARY GAUTHIER

9 p.m. White Water Tavern. $20.

I've listened to and loved plenty of sadly beautiful music in my time: Leonard Cohen, Cat Power, Nick Drake, Townes Van Zandt, Jackson C. Frank. All of those folks have made timeless records that have resonated on a deep emotional level. I have never been as emotionally wrecked as I was after listening to Mary Gauthier's 2007 album "Between Daylight and Dark." I fired the album up on the ol' Spotify, thinking, "OK, what's up next? Acclaimed folk singer/songwriter I've never listened to before. I'll check out some of her tunes, play a few of them from throughout her catalog and write up a To-Do. No biggie." What I heard stopped me from doing anything else other than listening and trying to keep my eyes from welling up, which had become a very tall order by the time the final strains of the last song, "Thanksgiving," were ringing out. I listened to the entire album start-to-finish. The playing is masterful, the instrumentation full and rich but never overshadowing Gauthier's extraordinary voice, which is smoky and smoldering one moment, clear and high the next. And of course, the songs are just devastating. I started to listen to Gauthier's 2010 album "The Foundling," which has to be her most personal work. But by the time I got to the second song, "Mama Here, Mama Gone," it was frankly just too much to take. It's not maudlin, it's neither self-pitying nor over-the-top nor anything else that might diminish its power and thus make it easier to withstand. It's a simple, beautiful, utterly devastating song that becomes truly wrenching if you know Gauthier's backstory, of her troubled upbringing and how she finally made contact with her birth mother later only to be denied a meeting. But Gauthier never wallows in misery. She faces down some of the most painful feelings imaginable with honesty and grace. A lot of very good singer/songwriters have come through in the last few years. Very few have been close to the stature of Mary Gauthier. I believe she deserves to be counted among the ranks of the great. This show is not to be missed. Winnipeg native Scott Nolan opens the all-ages show.

THURSDAY 5/23

FLOWING ON THE RIVER

5:30 p.m. River Market Pavilions. $35.

This looks to be a fine way to get yourself in the Riverfest spirit: A wine and craft beer tasting the night before things kick off. You can mill about the River Market Pavilions and sample from an array of beverages while experts, including Bruce Cochran of Custom Beverage, fill you in on all of the interesting tidbits and tasting notes of each beverage and their respective vintners and brewers. And what would a booze tasting be without some delectable nosh to accompany it? Providing hors d'oeuvres will be Blue Coast Burrito, Your Mama's Good Food, Bray Gourmet, Brenda J. Majors Catering, Palette Catering, Newk's Express Cafe, Boscos, Cabot Cafe and Cake Corner, Sufficient Grounds Cafe, Cheers in the Heights and J&M Foods. FreeVerse Duo provides the live musical entertainment. Also of note, this event is a fundraiser for Argenta Community Theater's upcoming ACTing Up Summer Camp, which will provide students in grades K-8 with the opportunity to learn about stagecraft, theater, film and filmmaking. There are a small number of scholarships available. Find out more at ArgentaCommunityTheater.com.

FRIDAY 5/24

MAD NOMAD

9:30 p.m. White Water Tavern.

Mad Nomad is one of the newer entries on the Little Rock musicscape, having formed in September. But they're not exactly taking the leisurely route, having already finished up their first full-length, the nine-song "Black Out," available at this album-release show. The group plays an amped-up sort of indie rock that's informed by the classics (Replacements, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr.) and unabashedly guitar-centric. They remind me a bit of the Springsteen-gone-punk sounds of Against Me! circa "New Wave." Most of the tunes are of the fist-pumping, triumphant sort, but they slow down the pace a bit on the Southern-rock-riffing "Me Tarzan, You Jane" and they break out the acoustic guitars on the wistful "When You Were Here." The band includes Joe Holland, Jacob Mahan, Jesse Bell, Adam Hogg and Chris Honea. Hogg's piano playing adds some nice texture to the guitar squall. The album, good on its own merits for sure, is also a promising indicator of things to come. Good-time party-rockers Booyah! Dad and The Bootheel of Springfield, Mo., will open the show.

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