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Riverfest 2015 preview 

The Pretty Reckless, Robert Earl Keen, Jake Moore, Girl Talk and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony among the headliners.

ILLEGAL ART: Girl Talk performs on the Bud Light Stage 9:45 p.m. Sunday image
  • ILLEGAL ART: Girl Talk performs on the Bud Light Stage 9:45 p.m. Sunday.

Besides providing the usual full family fare of entertainment, food, fun and music, Riverfest's 38th edition is embracing new technology in a couple of important ways. One, the advanced tickets that allow Riverfestgoers to enjoy everything at nearly half the price of a gate admission are available only through the event's website this year; and, two, the festival's music offerings will now include a headlining EDM (electronic digital music) act for Sunday's finale: Girl Talk.

Ticket buyers who purchase the $25 all-inclusive admission before midnight Thursday, May 21, through the website (riverfestarkansas.com) can print their own tickets to exchange at the gates for their three-day Riverfest wristbands, or they can simply have their receipt scanned from their phone. Up until this year, advanced tickets were sold through a participating retail vendor's locations. The key for festivalgoers is buying before the deadline, however; purchases at the gate for Riverfest weekend will be $40.

DeAnna Korte, executive director of Riverfest, says it was time for changing its ticketing approach with the technology available through phones and the like. Also, by centralizing the ticket sales on the Riverfest website, it helps the organizers better understand their demographics.

"It's information we really need, to book what people really want to see," Korte said. "For instance, we know we've already sold tickets in 28 states. It's nice to capture that data."

Pop singer Sheryl Crow — with such Riverfest-perfect hit songs as "All I Wanna Do (Is Have Some Fun)" and "Soak Up the Sun" — is without a doubt the one festival act that will have far-reaching appeal among music lovers; but country, R&B, New Orleans funk and hip hop are prominent among the headliners as well. Riverfest has also offered some smaller EDM acts in past years, but Girl Talk will be the first time the festival has presented a major EDM headliner, and the performance will follow the annual fireworks display over the Arkansas River.

As for the nonmusical draws, Korte says she's thrilled that Riverfest is offering "Over the Edge," allowing people to rappel off a side of the 14-story First Security building in the River Market district.

"It will be an exciting thing for spectators to watch. That's going to be kind of cool," she said. "They do it all over the North; this is the first time it's come to Little Rock and we have a license to do it. We're really excited about that." The daring display will kick off with the local news media trying it out Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Festivalgoers get their chance all day Saturday.

Riverfest for the third year will serve as the site for the National Baggo Championship, while the Super Retriever Series returns to the riverside under the Main Street Bridge. A Riverfest fun run is scheduled for Saturday morning, beginning and ending at the Heifer Village and crossing the Arkansas River. Kids of all ages will enjoy a Saturday "pooch parade" and a "short-legged wiener dog derby" that starts at the Heifer complex, Korte said. The Deltic Timber KidZone returns with assorted fun acts throughout the weekend, including a visit from the Little Rock Zoo's penguins on Saturday. A Cirque du Soleil-style group, Recreation Studios, will be roving the Riverfest area as well as performing on stage near the Clinton Presidential Library.

The Riverfest footprint stretches from the Main Street Bridge on the west to Heifer International on the east side. Headlining music will again be featured on three stages: the Miller Lite/Arkansas Federal Credit Union Stage at the amphitheater in Riverfront Park; the Bud Light Stage in the Clinton Presidential Center Park and the Stickyz Stage just east of the I-30 bridge by the river.

Meanwhile, the smaller Stickyz stage doesn't lack for big sounds. Gaelic Storm, who rock a Irish style with some California-based Irish ex-pats and began its rise to prominence after appearing in the 1997 Oscar-winning film "Titanic," will get fans foot-stomping on Friday night; Mansions on the Moon headlines with The Whigs and Vinyl Thief on Saturday night; and George Porter Jr. and His Runnin' Pardners (including members of New Orleans' Meters) are the post-fireworks Sunday act, with Hot Buttered Rum and Leopold & His Fiction opening. Every stage also has music or other fun acts both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, including Ghost Bones, the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winner, playing the Stickyz Stage at 4:15 p.m. Saturday.

Shuttles will operate both from War Memorial Stadium and from North Little Rock's Lakewood Middle School behind the Target store to ferry festivalgoers to and from the event. Bring a nonperishable food for donation to the shuttle locations for $1 off the regular $4 round-trip fare. Shuttles will run as late as 12:30-1 a.m. to get everyone home. JH

These are the headliners on the two biggest stages:

Friday, May 22


The Pretty Reckless
8 p.m. Friday, Bud Light Stage (Clinton Presidential Center Park)

Taylor Momsen isn't one of those savvy young actresses trying to parlay her television success ("Gossip Girl") into a music career. She had already formed the basis for The Pretty Reckless before the "Gossip Girl" pilot aired in 2007. Still, it's startling to see vivacious blond-and-blue-eyed Jenny Humphrey all glammed up in heavy eye shadow and screaming heavy rock on songs like "Going to Hell" and "Fucked Up World." Google the videos if you dare, for a preview.

The "real" Taylor Momsen, as far as Momsen is concerned, is the one making music. "Music is where I can be me," she told Parade magazine early on in the "Gossip Girl" run. "I really do it because I love it, honestly. It's what I want to do with my life. I mean, it's my only goal."

She tellingly added, "Acting is easy. I've been doing it for so long and I totally love it. But you're playing a character instead of yourself. Music is more personal because you're writing it and you're involved in every step of it."

Oh, to be as blessed as Momsen, who has also modeled since she was 2 (she's 21 now). The Pretty Reckless juxtaposes the beautiful Momsen, raised a Catholic, though she hardly had a normal childhood, against three rough-looking New York dudes who provide the raucous sound. There is nothing sweet about the message she's trying to convey with these songs. JH

Kris Allen
8 p.m., Friday, Miller Lite/Arkansas Federal Credit Union Stage
(First Security Amphitheater)

Has it really been six years since Jacksonville native and Conway resident Kris Allen edged out Adam Lambert for "American Idol"? White soul vs. Freddie Mercury wannabe? Boy, those were heady days. It seemed like all of Arkansas was tuning in to "Idol," and Allen's every appearance in any Central Arkansas restaurant or retail outlet was followed with delirious fans phoning their friends to tell them they "just saw Kris Allen."

They can see him again opening for Sheryl Crow on the opening night of Riverfest and relive some of those memories from 2009, when Allen was THE American Idol — that may have been the last year the Fox network's "American Idol" even really mattered, too, since ratings have taken a big tumble in subsequent years and next season will be the show's last.

Allen certainly didn't sit idle since winning — as "American Idol" he enjoyed a couple of years landing everything from well-promoted tours to appearances singing patriotic songs at major events — but he also didn't turn into some Hollywood-bound star either. He's recorded three albums since his "Idol" victory, including last year's "Horizons" that he cut in Nashville with veteran producer Charlie Peacock. He wrote most of it in 2013 while hanging at his home around Conway with his wife and newborn. He was idled for most of 2013 anyway after a serious car accident that left him with a broken arm. While Allen was known for more soulful pop during his run to "Idol" fame, he said that the music on "Horizons" draws inspiration from a couple of his favorite artists, James Taylor and Paul Simon.

He'll still probably be best known nationally for his version of "Live Like We're Dying," which was included on his debut album and which sold 1.7 million copies. His second album, "Thank You, Camellia" produced the single "The Vision of Love." JH

ALL SHE WANTS TO DO: Sheryl Crow performs at the Miller Light Stage 9:30 p.m. Friday image
  • ALL SHE WANTS TO DO: Sheryl Crow performs at the Miller Light Stage 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Sheryl Crow
9:30 p.m. Miller Lite/Arkansas Federal Credit Union Stage
(First Security Amphitheater)

If you think about it, most of the big country crossover artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson can trace their roots back, not to the country queens of the past, but to someone like Sheryl Crow, who made a big splash in the '90s by appealing to wide audiences with country-tinged tearjerkers like "If It Makes You Happy" right next to catchy danceable numbers like "All I Wanna Do." She has more in common with country contemporaries like Shania Twain than she does with the other '90s singer-songwriters like Jewel or Melissa Etheridge that she's often lumped together with. Crow shows her country tendencies more than ever on her most recent album, "Feels Like Home," recorded in Nashville. She also has the distinction of being probably the least controversial artist to ever have an album banned from Walmart (based on Crow's criticism of the store's gun sales in one of her songs). Her huge catalogue of free-spirited yet down-to-earth songs are sure to make it worth your time and money down by the river this year. JS

Halestorm
9:45 p.m. Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center Park)

Riverfest marks just one of dozens of stops this spring and summer for heavy alternative rock band Halestorm's major U.S. tour (with The Pretty Reckless along as the opener). Halestorm is on the road in support of its third studio release, "Into the Wild," which hit in April, and is best known for its 2013 Grammy win in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category with "Love Bites ... (So Do I)," becoming the first female-fronted group to be nominated and win in the category. Lzzy Hale, the female face up front on guitar and vocals, was once named by Revolver magazine as "One of the Hottest Chicks in Metal." She's backed by brother Arejay Hale on drums, Joe Hottinger on lead guitar and Josh Smith on bass — Smith supplanted the Hale duo's dad as bassist in 2004 for the Pennsylvania-based act. Halestorm followed up its Grammy win with the Billboard Hot Mainstream chart-topping "Freak Like Me" and was included on a Ronnie James Dio tribute album covering"Straight Through the Heart." JH

Saturday, May 23


Sister Hazel
6 p.m. Bud Light Stage (Clinton Presidential Center Park)

Cruising along the ever-thinning border between alternative and adult contemporary, Sister Hazel rode its way to prominence alongside similar acts such as Spin Doctors, Hootie and the Blowfish and Matchbox 20. You will most likely remember the group by its platinum hit, "All For You," with its merry-go-round chorus and jangly acoustic guitars. The band had a few more hits in the following years, such as "Champagne High," (the one with the wedding cakes in the video) but never quite matched the success of its first single. Despite that, Sister Hazel has maintained a loyal following, touring the country pretty consistently for nearly two decades and winning over the hearts of many, including the late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott; the band played at his memorial service earlier this year. Sister Hazel's success helped create the mold that would help many future crossover artists take their place among the alternative, adult contemporary and country charts. Come along and relive those glory days; you might forget who you're listening to, but your ears will be content. JS

Robert Earl Keen
7:45 p.m. Miller Lite/Arkansas Federal Credit Union Stage
(First Security Amphitheater)

Robert Earl Keen's status as a country-folk master continues to grow as he cements his place alongside the sainted company of fellow Texas troubadours Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt. Keen's found his place at the fringes of modern country music, disconnected from Nashville's hit factories and slick production but equally rooted in folk storytelling traditions and honky-tonk revelry. Listen to any number of bands that find themselves labeled alt-country today and you'll hear Keen's voice being emulated. His most recent album is a bit of a departure, a set of bluegrass covers that mixes traditional elements with contemporary songs and his own style. If you're a fan of any kind of country/roots/Americana music that doesn't sound like it's been auto-tuned, you'll probably find something that suits you with Keen. Check out his signature "The Road Goes On Forever." Riverfest is lucky to have him this year, and it'll be a real treat to see him on a big stage. Find a good spot not too far away from the beer stands and enjoy one of Texas' finest musical exports. JS

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
8 p.m. Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center Park)

When East Coast and West Coast rappers dominated the hip-hop scene in the mid-'90s, it was a group of five from Cleveland that broke the mold of what rap music should sound like. With a rapid staccato delivery mixed with harmonizing cadences and the backing of N.W.A. founder Eazy-E, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony made fast impact on the world of hip hop in the mid-'90s. Collaborations with Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. further solidified the group as a force to be reckoned with in the industry. With over 20 years in the game, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony will no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest rap group of all time (For more, see page 22). JM

Kip Moore
9:30 p.m. Miller Lite/Arkansas Federal Credit Union Stage
(First Security Amphitheater)

Kip Moore grew up in Tifton, Ga., a town of 16,000 in south Georgia where the poverty rate is 36 percent, more than double the U.S. percentage. His dad worked as a golf pro, but with six kids to feed, the family scraped by. On the weekends, he'd take Kip down to the coast to fish, and play Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Bob Seger, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen on the radio on the ride down. Moore escaped Tifton on a golf scholarship to Valdosta State. Then he escaped Georgia altogether to live in a $50-per month hut in Hawaii. Then he got to Nashville, and he put out a record, "Up All Night," that sounded like Bob Seger, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen run through the Nashville machine. Thanks to singles like Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" and "Beer Money," it was the best-selling album of 2012 and 2013 by a male country singer. His follow-up record, he told Billboard in January 2014, would be more "intense." His new songs would be about blue-collar people "doing the daily grind, getting by, with big families — the construction workers, the factory workers, those kind of people." The lead singles from that album didn't catch on, so Moore worked on something different. Riverfest might serve as an early testing ground. LM

FROM CHAOS: 311 performs on the Bud Light Stage 9:45 p.m. Saturday image
  • FROM CHAOS: 311 performs on the Bud Light Stage 9:45 p.m. Saturday.

311
9:45 p.m. Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center Park)

It's 1995 and you're in the New Music aisle at Best Buy. You consider getting that Nirvana B-sides collection because you're still sad about Kurt Cobain, but you know that alternative rock music is an unstoppable force that will grow and evolve into the next millennium. You want something new. Rap is awesome because your parents hate it, but you know they'll never let you keep that Tupac album, so you keep looking. You come across a shiny blue case with three numbers on it and impulsively purchase it, discovering that 311, hailing from the multicultural Mecca of Omaha, Neb., and named after the police code for indecent exposure, have just realized your musical dreams of combining hip hop, reggae and alternative rock into a singular vision of the future of music. With hits like "Down," "Come Original" and "Amber," 311 promise to take you back to those sweet dreams of hazy, sun-drenched beaches, guitars and DJs, partying endlessly into the night. You won't want to miss out, "cause when the lightning flashes sweet electricity/all the world then stands revealed with the clarity/of raw voltage, briefly we see, and the hope is/you'll be able to tell just what dope is." JS

Sunday, May 24

Galactic With Macy Gray
6:15 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center Park)

At various stages in its history, the New Orleans all-genres jam band Galactic has brought aboard guest R&B singers; the band early on included Theryl "House Man" DeClouet as a member before he left the group, and in recent years Galactic partnered with Living Colour's vocalist Corey Glover. Currently the band has Erica Falls adding vocals and will be with the band this weekend.

But we're not sure the band has ever had a guest singer with the cachet of Macy Gray, who has been performing spring with Galactic, including the group's appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and this weekend in Little Rock.

A review from Nola.com even hinted that Galactic, which could headline anywhere it wants to, all but served for much of the Jazzfest set as Gray's backup while she performed some of her better-known songs, concluding the show with her international smash hit "I Try."

Gray may have been off the radar in recent years, but the Jazzfest crowd found her raspy approach "as striking as ever," according to Nola.com. However, something to keep in mind was this line: "Gray has a reputation of being something of a loose cannon. The content and tone of her between-song comments hinted that she could possibly go off the rails at any moment."

Count us in! Galactic and its space-funk-world jam, which has been rocking New Orleans and points beyond for two decades, will be worth it anyway, with longtime drummer Stanton Moore, sax man Ben Ellman, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Rich Vogel taking off on their own during the interludes in and around Gray. JH

CADILLACTICA: Big K.R.I.T. performs on the Bud Light Stage 8 p.m. Sunday image
  • CADILLACTICA: Big K.R.I.T. performs on the Bud Light Stage 8 p.m. Sunday.

Big K.R.I.T.
8 p.m. Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center Park)

Recently proclaiming himself "King of the South," Mississippi native, Big K.R.I.T. never fails at staying true to his Southern roots. He went so far as to remind us of that in "Cool 2 Be Southern" on his 2012 debut studio album, "Live from the Underground," as he laced the track with crazy metaphors: "Collard green pockets but I southern fried the flow/Candied yam drop with some cornbread to throw." K.R.I.T runs the gamut in his lyrical content. He can go from the laid-back, profanity-free joyriding track "Rotation" to a song of raunchy reflection in "Mind Fuck." If you're going to see Big K.R.I.T. at Riverfest, be prepared to sweat because the guy is dedicated to keeping his fans moving. No worries though; Big Sant, his frequent collaborator, will splash much needed water into the crowd. JM

Jake Owen
9:30 p.m. Miller Lite/Arkansas Federal Credit Union Stage
(First Security Amphitheater)

Everything I know about country star Jake Owen I learned from US Weekly: He hates mayonnaise. He's not a cat guy. He has a twin brother named Jarrod. He can draw Mickey Mouse "pretty darn good." He loves jazz. He loves to surprise people but hates it when people surprise him. He's a really fast runner; he's never lost a footrace. He doesn't really like wine. His mom was National Watermelon Queen. He lost part of his finger in a go-kart related accident. LM

Girl Talk
9:45 p.m. Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center Park)

Every music lover has had those moments, when you're listening to a great song and you hear that one riff, that one sequence that just sets you off, scratches an itch in a far corner of your brain that only this song can scratch, and you skip back and listen to it over and over again. Girl Talk is an artist who's built his entire career on finding those perfect little pieces, layering them on top of one another, and jamming eight or more songs into a single piece that's something close to hip-hop/dance music. He has a real knack for good transitions. He certainly wasn't the first to pioneer the mash-up genre, but he's been among its most prominent and consistent artists and has pushed it both forward and into the mainstream. His live DJ sets are sort of like going to church to worship the Pantheon of Music Gods (Jackson 5, Elton John, Notorious B.I.G., Pixies, etc.) by dancing until everyone collapses from exhaustion. Bring an extra jug of water with you in case your fellow dancers look dehydrated. JS

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