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Riverfest’s value can’t be oversold 

As a writer at the Arkansas Times and before that at the Arkansas Gazette, Kelley Bass was perhaps the biggest backer of local music. In those days as a writer and now in the corporate world, he’s admittedly been among the bigger cheerleaders for Riverfest, serving as a volunteer and Riverfest board member. Bass, in essence, wrote everybody’s lead paragraphs for their 2005 Riverfest announcement stories when he named off nine bands and the price you’d have to pay to see them in concerts elsewhere, and compared that total to seeing these same acts over the Memorial Day weekend at Riverfest. “The chance to see $405 worth of headliners at Riverfest for only $7.50 in advance or $15 at the gate … priceless,” he told a large gathering at Acxiom’s River Market building on Third Street Tuesday morning. Naturally, an ovation ensued. Even after needing to tack on $1.50 to last year’s advance ticket price to meet the entertainment budget, Riverfest is the best entertainment value going. With top-of-the-line acts that are also playing more expensive festivals such as this weekend’s Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis or New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Festival, it can’t be beat. The names in the Riverfest lineup have been trickling out for several weeks, from R.E.O. Speedwagon as this year’s classic rock band to B.B. King as Friday’s “legendary black musician” headliner, as I termed it on a recent Entertainment e-mail newsletter. The big news Tuesday was that the sensational bluesy, funky Robert Randolph and the Family Band, which opened impressively for Eric Clapton at Alltel Arena last June, has been added to the list, as well as the heavy rock group Trapt, which will fill in for the late scratch of Gavin DeGraw (he’s got a scheduling conflict then, but he’s played Russellville and is at Memphis this weekend anyway). Throw in country great Hank Williams Jr., blues rockers the Black Crowes, rockers the Wallflowers and country star Joe Nichols from Rogers, and your headlining lineup is solid as well as diverse. A year doesn’t go by without some stage tweaking, and this time the Triple S Miller Lite stage, which for years (under one name or another) has been east of the Main Street Bridge in Riverfront Park, will move west to the Broadway Bridge area. In its place, the Kid’s Stage will set up in the more kid-friendly, grassier area of the park (more of the park’s equipment geared to children is in that area, anyway). I’m disappointed, only in that it’s been my Sunday spot to set up, listen to a variety of acoustic bands or jam bands and then have the best view of the Osborne Family Fireworks. But that Broadway Bridge stage area, which used to be the site of Budweiser’s stage before it became too crowded and moved over to the North Little Rock side, was also a great place to park the fold-out chair on Sunday. With the acts scheduled there this year, expect large crowds again. The big question of late has been: What will Riverfest have to do about the trolley? The answer from executive director Deanna Shannon is: basically nothing. The trolley will operate as usual across the Main Street Bridge, and Riverfest will also offer its tractor rides for festival- goers to enjoy the activities on both sides of the river. The perimeter of the festival grounds on the Little Rock side will change, leaving all clubs and stores except for the Underground Pub on the outside of Riverfest this year. Security will allow the trolley through the gates at the bridge, she said, but automobiles won’t be allowed to follow the trolley in. Riverfest will be jazzier this year; the festival has partnered with the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation, which will provide music at the specialty beer tent all three days. Those acts are to be determined, but it’s a welcomed addition in my view to get Arkansas jazz greats on the stages somewhere at Riverfest. More Latino music will be found at smaller venues too, Shannon said, with the idea of growing that until it can command a large stage. Same with jazz, she said. Bigger stages in future years, though, will require more sponsorships. Those $7.50 three-day passes are available at Harvest Foods stores. Certainly, as Kelley Bass said, a typical stage lineup such as Friday’s in North Little Rock — Lookback Marys, the Odds (the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winner), Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and the Wallflowers — is well worth that. And to think it carries over for two more days.
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