'Most Likely To Succeed' plays at Ron Robinson 



7 p.m. Ron Robinson Theater.

For this month's installment of our film series, the Arkansas Times is partnering with Noble Impact and the Clinton School of Public Service to show "Most Likely to Succeed," a documentary arguing the American school system requires a fundamental overhaul to meet 21st century economic realities. I'm eager to see it. Let me also get this out there: I'm pretty skeptical of the premise. It's true that K-16 education is saddled with its share of anachronisms — an extended summer break, for example, is a wasteful relic of an agrarian age — but I'm not sure the Silicon Valley-tinted vision of reform extolled by the film is where our schools need to be heading.

After the screening, we'll have a panel Q&A about public education; the panel will include executive producer Ted Dintersmith, an assistant commissioner from the Arkansas Department of Education, a University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff professor and former superintendent, and myself. It should be a lively discussion.

Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist who conceptualized and funded the film, appears to not be cut from quite the same cloth as other "entrepreneurial philanthropists" who've waded into public education, a la Jim Walton or Bill Gates. He's loudly critical of high-stakes standardized testing, acknowledges the mixed record of charter schools, and avoids demonizing unions. But at the same time, he excoriates traditional education with the same alarmist hyperbole one hears from folks like Gates and Walton. "Almost all ... U.S. high school and college science classes, even at top-rated institutions, remain locked into a broken pedagogy whose main purpose is weeding kids out of these career paths," Dintersmith opined in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

Because the American reading public has an endless appetite for rhetoric confirming our national paranoia that everything is going straight to hell — especially The Kids — that sounds like hard-nosed truth-telling, but it doesn't square with the fact that the number of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering awarded by colleges and universities in the U.S. has grown by 19 percent in the past five years. Nonetheless, I'm going into "Most Likely to Succeed" with as open of a mind as I can muster, and I'm looking forward to the conversation to follow. Come join in. BH



7:30 p.m. Wildwood Park for the Arts. $30.

Every so often a group of young, classically trained musicians — as invested in the cultural present as they are in the canon — will come up with a formula they're convinced will finally, once and for all, usher classical music into the digital age, persuading plugged-in millennials that, yes, violins and sheet music can be cool, too. Witness the rash of orchestral pop cover albums in the 2000s, those string quartet tributes to Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails or Incubus or whatever. One problem with those albums is that they were terrible. Another is that the format itself seemed doomed — in terms of cultural production, it's the equivalent of tying both hands behind your back and swallowing sedatives: You've lost before you even started. It's easy to get this impression from Brooklyn Rider, which the Washington Post has described as "the string quartet from Brooklyn everybody talks about." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called them "a Beethoven-goes-indie foray into making classical music accessible," which is about as bleak as it gets, blurb-wise. Luckily, this is a misleading way to describe what turns out to be a fascinating group, the members of which are firmly in the tradition of 21st century classical ensembles, if perhaps better-dressed. Like the crowd-pleasing Kronos Quartet, they embrace avant-garde classics and new commissioned pieces, working with forward-thinking young composers and indie rock-world figures alike (Wilco's Glenn Kotche, Deerhoof's Greg Saunier, David Byrne, etc.). WS

FRIDAY 11/20


7 p.m. Ron Robinson Theater. $20.

Twin brothers Earl and Ernie Cate were born in Fayetteville and grew up in Springdale. As teenagers, their musical idols were hometown hero Ronnie Hawkins, and especially his band — Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm. The things that people would come to love about The Band — that blend of old, weird American regionalism and '70s blues-rock sentimentality, of literary imagination and rugged plain-spokenness, the mandolin and the organ, humor and religious intensity — those things became the Cate brothers' template. Through their association with Helm (look up the great video of the group backing him on "Sweet Peach Georgia Wine"), the Cate Brothers Band traded local prominence for L.A. and David Geffen, and released a string of albums in the 1970s that are, if not overlooked classics, well worth revisiting (for fans of Poco and The Eagles, et al). Their biggest hit, "Union Man," is a four-on-the-floor dancefloor stomp — it would be at home on a playlist of late '70s disco-ish rock singles (a gritty, working-class counterpart to Boz Scaggs' "Lowdown" or the Rolling Stones' "Miss You"). In the '80s, the Cate brothers joined The Band on world tours, filling in after the departure of Robbie Robertson. These days Earl Cate plays regularly under the name Earl & Them, along with Helm's nephew, Terry Cagle, and other longtime collaborators. Ernie, who doesn't play as often ("He's kind of more or less enjoying his retirement," his brother told No Depression), will rejoin the Cate Brothers lineup this weekend for a "special performance of their biggest and best songs." WS



7:30 p.m. Juanita's. $10.

The Phoenix, Ariz., natives that make up Andrew Jackson Jihad specialize in a kind of hyper-literate acoustic punk that sometimes sounds like the Violent Femmes and other times sounds a lot (a lot!) like The Mountain Goats. Their latest record, "Christmas Island," features songs like "Getting Naked, Playing With Guns," "Linda Ronstadt," and "Temple Grandin," in the latter of which front man Sean Bonnette sings things like, "Open up your murder eyes and see the ugly world that spat you out." They sing about politics and social issues with outrage and real earnestness, and with the self-lacerating passion of leftist Protestant-apostates. WS



8:30 p.m. Juanita's. $15.

There have been whole months in my life for which Houston's Devin the Dude was my favorite rapper. This isn't one of those months — it's been a while — but it doesn't matter: I take his greatness for granted, as we all should. I spent a long depressing winter once listening to his third record, 2004's "To tha X-Treme," more than almost anything. It's one of the all-time-great, sad, drug albums, I think — up there with Pink Floyd's "Meddle," Marvin Gaye's "Here, My Dear," John Martyn's "Solid Air." Even the samples are harrowing: "Cooter Brown," with its sad-sack Willie Hutch hook ("Our life used to be so wonderful, but oh, look at me now"); "Right Now," built from a plaintive James Taylor loop. Album highlight "Anythang" is a brutally poignant, self-help anthem. "Really ain't no need for self-pity," he sings, "Cryin' when there's no one else around." The song's refrain is the distilled essence of Devin the Dude, the humble, humane through-line to his work minus all the stoner trappings: "Anything is plenty, man, and is better than nothing at all." He's the Willie Nelson of Southern hip-hop — you come for the good vibes and stay for the sensibility. WS




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