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After a fairly quiet winter, spring is so jam-packed with national touring acts coming our way there's no excuse for not stepping out. Not even the recession. The biggest concert of the season, Riverfest, is just $20 in advance for three days of music.
Start marking up your calendar.
Since amicably splitting from the Drive By-Truckers, Alabama's Jason Isbell (March 25, Sticky Fingerz) has put out two literate albums of Southern rock and soulful country and toured tirelessly with his band the 400 Unit. Chris Tomlin (March 26, Alltel) is one of the most popular vocalists in contemporary Christian music. Long a favorite in Texas, rousing country singer Pat Green (March 27, Revolution) seems poised, with the recent release of his 11th album, “What I'm For,” to ascend the country pop charts.
In Hot Springs, “Pickin' and Winnin' ” (March 27-28, Arlington Hotel) gathers 10 acclaimed songwriters, including Keith Sykes (Jimmy Buffett had a hit with his “Volcano”), Richard Leigh (Crystal Gayle crossed over with his “Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue”) and Susan Gibson (she penned the Dixie Chicks biggest hit, “Wide Open Spaces”), for two days of concerts. As part of its annual American Residencies Program, the National Symphony Orchestra (March 29, Robinson Center Music Hall) presents, for one performance only, pieces from Wagner, Dvorak and more.
Famous for finishing second in the sixth season of “American Idol” and for his beatboxing prowess, Blake Lewis (April 3, the Village) now tours and collaborates with Finnish trance DJ Darude. A metal lovers paradise, the “Music as a Weapon Tour” (April 4, Riverfest Amphitheatre) features eight acts with ominous sounding names like Disturbed, Bury Your Dead and Spineshank. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (April 10, Robinson Center Music Hall) goes pop with “The Magical Music of Disney.” Speaking of names, the three members of cult alt-rock band Dinosaur Jr. (April 14, Revolution) have some of the best, particularly when you group them together — J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph.
Perhaps the greatest saxophonist ever, 78-year-old Sonny Rollins (April 15, Walton Arts), collaborated with everyone from Thelonious Monk to Max Roach to Miles Davis. “The AETN Foundation Doo Wop Celebration” (April 18, Robinson Center Music Hall) returns with Shirley Alston Reeves of the Shirelles (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”), the Cadillacs (“Speedo”), Terry Johnson's Flamingos (“I Only Have Eyes for You”), the Marcels (“Blue Moon”) and Frankie Ford (“Sea Cruise.”) Michael W. Smith and Stephen Curtis Chapman (April 19, Robinson Center Music Hall) are two of the longest tenured and most popular performers in Christian pop. Across the river, Nickleback (April 19, Alltel) offers post-grunge to the masses. Guster (April 21, Chi Omega Greek Theater, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville), a pop-rock band that uses bongos prominently, has long been a college favorite.
Blues on the River (April 25, Riverfest Amphitheatre), features half a dozen performers who specialize less in blues than what might be termed “grown folks” music, a genre that's soulful and usually ribald and often features synthesizers. Like last year, Big Robb headlines. This time, he's joined by Gavin Richardson, Jeff Floyd, Donnie Ray, Lacee and Wendell B.
Teen-favorite Jason Mraz (April 28, Alltel) blends blue-eyed soul and gentle acoustic ditties. He's touring with Chicago punk-pop Plain White T's, who received a Grammy nomination last year for the acoustic ballad “Hey There Delilah.” With the combination of spare, rhythmic arrangements and lead singer John McCrea's deep speak singing, Cake (May 1, Arkansas Music Pavilion, Fayetteville) has released five albums of irony-drenched alt-rock.
The annual Conway get-down Toad Suck Daze (May 1-3) is still confirming its line-up, but it looks like pedal steel virtuoso Robert Randolph will bring his jam-y Family Band to town on Saturday, and Jars of Clay, Christian pop's answer to Toad the Wet Sprocket, follows on Sunday. Gangster-rapper turned media conglomerate Snoop Dogg (May 4, Village) comes to Little Rock after his appearance at Memphis in May.
After staging Edgefest (May 9) in a parking lot in North Little Rock last year, organizers this year bring the concert to the country. Cooper Farm, off Faulkner Road from I-440, hosts the daylong metal festival, which features the likes of Slipknot, Staind, Chevelle and Drowning Pool.
Country superstar Kenny Chesney (May 16, Alltel) borrows some of Jimmy Buffett's beach-party shtick in his radio anthems. His tour mate, Miranda Lambert, has made a career out of sharp woman-spurned songs. Former Hootie in the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker (May 22, Arkansas Music Pavilion, Fayetteville) has successfully gone country.
As usual, the peak of the season is Riverfest (May 23-25, Riverfront Park and the North Shore Riverwalk Park). Now in its 32nd year, the festival seeks to build on last year's record-breaking turnout (252,000) with a tried-and-true formula: Nostalgia acts from all genres (the B-52s and Willie Nelson on Friday, Heart and Buddy Guy on Saturday and Little River Band on Sunday) will team with more contemporary country and rock acts (Gavin Rossdale on Friday, Jason Aldean and Hinder on Saturday and Flyleaf and 3 Doors Down on Sunday). There are several headliner acts still to be announced. In the daytime spots, look for a broad array of fine local music. And, after an impressive debut last year, the Arkansas Tent, in North Little Rock, promises to showcase an appealingly diverse collection of local groups in an intimate setting.
Unlike most of its peers from the '80s, Queensryche (May 27, Arkansas Music Pavilion, Fayetteville) has built a career on a decidedly progressive brand of heavy metal. Ben Folds (May 29, Arkansas Music Pavilion, Fayetteville) specializes in a self-consciously nerdy brand of power pop. At Magic Springs, the Timberwood Amphitheater concert series kicks off with the Southern-to-the-core Charlie Daniels Band (May 30).
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