Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
8 p.m. Verizon Arena. $39.50-$129.50.
The most interesting thing about Stevie Wonder isn't that he's a genius, it's that his genius intersected for so long with the realm of popular taste. Expanded it even, renegotiating its terms and widening its frame. Stevie Wonder: child prodigy, blind, vegan, a champion of civil rights and transcendental meditation. What did we do to deserve him?
For many listeners, the first sign of his unusual talent — unusual here meaning something beyond the pop sophistication of "My Cherie Amour" — was the 1971 album "Where I'm Coming From." He had more freedom than he'd ever had (for contractual reasons), and it showed. There were songs like the deeply weird "I Wanna Talk to You," on which Wonder imagined a conversation with an older white Southerner. "Give me a little room," he sang. "Do you have to take it all?" He was trying something. A month later, Marvin Gaye released "What's Going On?" and overshadowed Wonder's efforts (which Rolling Stone, in a review of both albums, found "undistinguished" in comparison).
Wonder responded by releasing three albums in the span of (roughly) a year: "Music of My Mind," "Talking Book" and "Innervisions." The cornerstone of his legacy, in a year. He played the electric organ, the bass, the drums, the T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer, the clavinet. He recorded his own hand claps. Again, he was trying something. The results were "Super Woman," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Superstition." Three days after the release of "Innervisions," Wonder's car collided with a logging truck in North Carolina; he was in a coma for a week, and temporarily lost his senses of smell and taste. (Imagine being without sight, smell or taste.) His friend brought a clavinet to the hospital, and for a long time Wonder wouldn't touch it. He told an interviewer, "Everything that ever happened to me is the way it is supposed to have been."
He began to write songs again; songs like "They Won't Go When I Go," an eerie dirge inspired by Chopin. He recorded the colossal "Songs in the Key of Life," one of the watershed American accomplishments (artistic, political, whatever) of the 1970s. If there are better pop albums, there aren't many. A 17-year-old Michael Jackson learned how to make records by sitting in, silently, on these sessions. But so what: Wonder followed the Grammy-winning, platinum-certified album with "Journey through the Secret Life of Plants," the soundtrack to an odd documentary about — among other things — plant sentience. He said it was about "challenging myself with all the things that entered my mind, from the Venus Flytrap to Earth's creation to coming back as a flower." Reactions were mixed. That was OK. He was trying something. WS
9 p.m. Vino's. $10.
The third in an ongoing series of parties and music showcases designed to highlight the youthful, reckless, imaginative vitality of the Little Rock rap scene, Fireroom 3 features performances by Young Gods of America, Lo Thraxx, Vile Pack, Taylor Moon, Solo Jaxon and Yung Kiri. Lo Thraxx, a Little Rock native born Marlo Griffin, is the elder statesmen here, having been releasing music for five or six years (his 2015 album "Sharkansas" is one of the year's best). Young Gods of America — a crew of wildly talented and unnervingly ambitious rappers, producers, designers and filmmakers — are the scene's visionaries. Many of us would count a Taylor Moon album among our most anticipated Little Rock releases. All of these artists have made great music and will continue to do so; to see them live is to support the future of a new, weird, energetic Little Rock — it's what we need most. WS
2015 ARKANSAS CORNBREAD FESTIVAL
11 a.m.-4 p.m. South Main, 13th to 16th streets. $3-$7 advance, $10 at gate
People who say you shouldn't put sugar in your cornbread because that's a Yankee thing to do just make me tired. I say, do whatever you want with your cornbread. Put sugar in it. Make it with blue corn meal. Add an extra egg. Put some corn in there. Cook it in bacon grease. Scramble it like eggs. It's a free country, so why not celebrate cornbread in all its incarnations! Choose the recipe you like the best as well at this annual SOMA-benefiting cornbread competition, spread out over three blocks with samples from professional cooks and amateurs alike. There will be music from Charlotte Taylor & Gypsy Rain, the Tonya Leeks Band and That Arkansas Weather, vendors to buy your holiday gifts from and more feasting at the food trucks at the Bernice Garden. Cash prizes will go to amateur winners selected by public vote. Find a link to buy tickets at the festival's Facebook page. LNP
JIMMY WEBB: THE GLEN CAMPBELL YEARS
7 p.m. Ron Robinson Theater. $35.
Jimmy Webb has always been a songwriter's songwriter — he wrote "Up, Up and Away" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman" and "MacArthur Park." His songs have been hits for The 5th Dimension, The Supremes, The Temptations, Donna Summer, Johnny Cash, Tom Jones; it seems absurd to list them — it can't be done. For many, though, his most productive collaboration was with Glen Campbell, the singer from Delight (Pike County). A country legend, TV personality, onetime member of The Beach Boys and The Wrecking Crew, actor in not one but two Charles Portis film adaptations ("True Grit" and "Norwood"). Now 79, Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011 and recent media coverage — of his family squabbles, his medical care — has been grim. Saturday night, Webb will present a tribute to his greatest collaborator. He'll share stories and play songs that the two made famous, accompanied by rare, "archival video" of Campbell. WS
SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHOR AND SMALL PRESS BOOK FAIR
2:30 p.m., Darragh Center, Main Library
In the old days, people pretty much sneered at self-published books. One of my first jobs was to copyedit a book of essays in which each entry ended, "Get a Permit, You Nitwit!" Perhaps it was a polemic against city hall. At any rate, that was before The People gained access to publishing, when the web of the press became the World Wide Web, and when self-publishing became respectable. The Central Arkansas Library System, where Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House and other mainstream publishers reign, is now recognizing the small press and online world that authors like Adjoa Ayietoro, Daniel Berleant, Darcy Pattison, Richard DeLaurell and others inhabit with this book fair. Also participating will be representatives from Butler Center Books, Plum Street Publishing, the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow and Writing Our World Publishing. LNP
9:30 p.m. White Water Tavern.
Richmond, Va.'s Windhand has produced one of the year's most acclaimed metal albums in "Grief's Infernal Flower," an absorbing testament to bass and gloom that also includes gorgeously airy folk songs like "Sparrow," on which front-woman Dorthia Cottrell sounds like Linda Ronstadt in hell. "When I sleep," she sings, "I dream of death." NPR calls it "gargantuan doom-metal smoked in moody grunge," and Rolling Stone wrote that it "seethes and crawls like magma ... blazing the way through a craggy, psychedelic wasteland." See them live Sunday night alongside Danava, Monolord and — most excitingly — Iron Faucett, a rare and dangerous Frankenstein hybrid featuring Little Rock singer Adam Faucett backed by Iron Tongue. WS