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Riverfest 2014 preview 

CeeLo, fireworks, dogs doing interesting things highlight this year's Riverfest.

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"We're opening Arkansas and Little Rock up to a lot of people who may not have had another reason to come down here," Korte said, and at this they've already succeeded, selling tickets in 30 different states (and as far away as Toronto). "It's the usual stress," she said, musing on the enormity of the enterprise facing her and her team. "I think one of the amazing things is that it takes 10 days to set up, and then it's all going to come down in one. When you come back to work on Tuesday, you won't even be able to tell that we were here." WS

FRIDAY 5/23

EASTON CORBIN
8 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

Riverfest has served as a launching pad of sorts for some of the now bigger names in country music. Remember when an unknown Carrie Underwood performed on the Main Stage? Jason Aldean has made a few visits. There are plenty more. Easton Corbin may be that next country music star you can say you saw at Riverfest. He signed his first record contract at age 27 in 2009 and one year later had two No. 1 country hits, "A Little More Country Than That" and "Roll With It." Corbin followed that up with the album "All Over the Road" in late 2012, and that record spawned two more singles for the Florida native. The TV show "Hee Haw" was Corbin's initial inspiration, and he was fortunate enough to get guitar lessons from session musician Pee Wee Melton when he was 14. Not long after that, he was landing music festival slots. When Nashville took notice, it put him on tour with Brad Paisley. Corbin has a third studio album due out this year, "Clockwork." JH

LEE BRICE
9:30 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

Lee Brice has paid his dues over his 34 years to get his chance at being a Nashville hitter, and he made the most of it in 2012 with his first No. 1 single, "A Woman Like You." Before that, his "Love Like Crazy" was Billboard's Top Country Song of 2010 and charted for 56 weeks on the Hot Country Songs list. Brice followed up "A Woman Like You" with chart-toppers "Hard to Love" and "I Drive Your Truck," all off his second album. His writing work with Garth Brooks, Adam Gregory, the Eli Young Band and Tim McGraw has led to singles that also bolstered his growing rep in Nashville. Brice (like McGraw or Trace Adkins) looks like a football player or someone who could serve as his own security; it was an arm injury suffered playing college football at Clemson (he was a long-snapper) that ended his athletic career and turned him toward music. He had already been writing his own songs on guitar or piano since he was a kid, though, and he'd developed his voice singing in church. Turns out football's loss was country's gain. JH

CHICAGO
9:30 p.m., Coors Light / Arkansas Federal Credit Union Stage
(First Security Amphitheater)

When Chicago first graced these parts in 1973 or thereabouts, they were among pop's power groups of the day, but they approached playing live like they were a pops orchestra, all inwardly focused, all their hits played rote, then off the stage to the next show. What changed through the years, what made Chicago a more vital stage band and not just a recording phenomenon, was the suddenly shifting lineup — for better or worse. Underrated rock guitarist Terry Kath, who seemed to be in his own world on stage, accidentally killed himself at about the time Chicago first fell from being pop favorites in the late 1970s. Producer David Foster took over and emphasized Peter Cetera's syrupy-sweet "new" sound; the ballad-heavy Chicago marked the band's restoration atop the charts in the first half of the 1980s. Cetera then went his happy solo way, and others helped Chicago's originals forge on. The core of the band, though, is still in place and, as you'll know if you saw the Grammys in February, still driving the band: pianist/keyboardist Robert Lamm, trombonist Jimmy Pankow, trumpeter Lee Loughnane and sax/flautist Walter Parazaider. When you cut away all that has been Chicago for 47 years, what still remains is this foursome, the heart of a band that grew up mostly at DePaul University, then blew up on the national scene with its pumping brass section and catchy, often thought-provoking, politically-tinged songs, many written by Lamm or Pankow. As one of music's biggest sellers of all time, they've topped 100 million records sold, and they're at Riverfest as the event's annual big nostalgia act, to appeal to the graying hairs (like this writer). It figures they'll know to trot out a long set of classics that still resonate 40-plus years later: "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," "Saturday in the Park," "Beginnings," "25 or 6 to 4," "Feeling Stronger Every Day," etc. JH

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