Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Maybe it's just me, but once the daylight hours start to stretch out, the weather turns and the birds start chirping, I'm ready to roll my sleeves up and sweat it out to some live music. Opportunities abound this spring.
The pride of Detroit, the Dirtbombs (March 25, Revolution), features two drummers, two bassists and a guitarist. They do fiery, R&B-doused punk. Former child prodigy Joshua Bell (March 26, Robinson Auditorium) is the world's most famous violinist. He'll reunite with former classmate David Itkin, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's music director, for one performance. “California,” the debut single by Phantom Planet (March 31, Juanita's), was ubiquitous a couple years back, largely thanks to its time as the theme song for the teen soap “The O.C.” Now the band is poised to release its third album, “Raise the Dead.” Expect hook-heavy indie rock. Emmy-winning composer and original member of the Trans Siberian Orchestra Mark Wood created the Viper electric violin. He joins Central Arkansas music students to form a rock orchestra at “Electrify your strings!” (April 1, Robinson Center Music Hall). Rising country star Dierks Bentley (April 5, Summit Arena, Hot Springs) performs with Bucky Covington and Luke Bryan.
In a much welcomed move to utilize the Little Rock Zoo's Civitan amphitheater, Rock 'n' Roar (April 12) brings together the always winning combination of live music, authentic Mexican food (served from Mendoza's Taco Truck) and exotic animals. Chris Denny's high warble seems poised to earn him national fame. He performs with Kyoto Boom, a local new wave group who may have less grand ambitions, but share Denny's awe-inspiring stage presence.
Blues on the River (April 19, North Shore Riverwalk Park) features half a dozen performers who could only very loosely be called blues acts. These are, for the most part, musicians who do “grown folks” music, a genre that's usually pretty ribald and usually involves synthesizers. Big Robb, who often sings through vocoders, headlines with Betty Padgett, Floyd Taylor, Omar Cunningham and Kenny Wayne.
Classical Mystery Tour (April 22) pairs original members of the Broadway hit “Beatlemania” with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra for a tribute to the Fab Four. After a long hiatus following the death of lead singer Shannon Hoon, popular '90s alt-rockers Blind Melon (April 25, Juanita's) started performing with a new singer, Travis Warren, late last year.
For the crowd that likes to throw up devil horns: Edgefest (April 26, North Shore Riverwalk Park) features Kid Rock, a rap-rock hedonist who always draws a huge crowd in Central Arkansas. Also on the bill, three bands with names that don't make you feel all warm inside: Disturbed, Sevendust and Saliva. Plus, Black Stone Cherry, a group with a member related to some in the Kentucky Headhunters, who're following a similar musical path with more angst.
Country starlet Carrie Underwood's (May 11, Alltel Arena) debut album has outsold all “American Idol” winners. She comes to town behind her sophomore release, “Carnival Ride.” North Carolina's the Avett Brothers (May 3, Revolution) channel rock and soul emotion in folk music. Josh Ritter (May 9, Revolution) commands a growing national fan base with his sturdy folk-rock. The legendary New Orleans group Preservation Hall Jazz Band (May 9-10, Robinson Center Music Hall) joins forces with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Rock 'n' Roar (May 10, Little Rock Zoo) returns with local favorites the American Princes and the Friendly Friends. The “AETN Foundation Doo Wop Celebration” (May 11, Robinson Center Music Hall) features Gene Chandler (“Duke of Earl”), Charlie Thomas of the Drifters, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs (“Stay”), Shirley Alston Reeves of the Shirelles and Larry Chance of the Earls (“Life is But a Dream”).
The crown jewel of the season is, of course, Riverfest (May 23-25, Riverfront Park and the North Shore Riverwalk Park), now in its 31st year. The schedule is still filling out — last year Robert Randolph and Gym Class Heroes were 11th hour additions — but already it offers a diverse and formidable line-up, with Huey Lewis and the News, Paul Thorn, Merle Haggard and Arrested Development headlining on Friday, Miranda Lambert and Jonny Lang performing on Saturday and Chaka Khan, ZZ Top and Robert Earl Keen drawing the plum spots on Sunday. Hopefully, the remaining headliner spots will go to a few more acts that don't rely on nostalgia to draw crowds. In the earlier time slots, expect more local music than ever before. No contracts have been signed, but the rumored line-up is a collection of the finest acts in the state, especially with the addition, this year, of the Arkansas tent, a smaller, enclosed stage that aims to highlight the best in local entertainment (it's near the specialty beer stand, too).
Into the summer, the Timberwood Amphitheater concert series at Magic Springs kicks off with Canadian classic rockers the Guess Who (May 31). Other highlights include R&B crooner Sean Kingston, alt-country rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed (Aug. 16) and funk-soul sensation Morris Day (Aug. 23).