Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
THE ROMANY RYE
9 p.m., Union Station. $10.
When Chris Denny ditched The Natives — Jesse Bates, Ryan Hitt, Judson Spillyards and Joshua Spillyards — a few months after he and the band cut what was supposed to be their debut on a national indie with juice, the local consensus had the backing unit returning to Little Rock and joining the legions of local musicians who've glimpsed national success only to become the victim of unfortunate circumstance. Through members of Dawes, who toured with Denny and the Natives, the guys met Luke MacMaster, once the leader of a buzz-y California band called The Colour, who now records as The Romany Rye, and they hit if off (and brought their buddy Whitman Bransford, of Mammoth Orange and Silverton, into the fold). Now, they're soon to hit the road for a two-month North American tour opening for The Delta Spirit. Thursday, this incarnation of the group plays its first official concert. The first 50 people get a copy of Romany Rye's debut, “Hello Good Bye” (recorded before the local guys joined). It's open to all ages. There'll be food and, according to Judson Spillyards, “cheap drinks.” Catch the band again at Riverfest at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday on the Triple-S Alarm Stage and then not again until July 13 at Juanita's. LM.
SALINE SUMMER DAZE WITH KRIS ALLEN
3 p.m., Watts Field, Benton. $15-$50.
Eddie Black, director of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce, is quick to play down any suggestion Saline Summer Daze is in competition with Riverfest. The new event, he says, is merely an expansion of the Wally Hall Tournament of Champions, a softball tourney entering its third year that's expected to draw between 8,000 and 10,000. Add concessions and a carnival and some music and — boom — you've got a nice little family festival. But when you snag Kris Allen to perform his first solo concert in Arkansas since winning “American Idol” last year, your little family festival becomes a whole 'nother thing. To that end, Black says he's sold advance tickets to the concert in eight states and all across Arkansas. The advance VIP tickets, which run $50 and get you a seat near the front of the stage, should sell out pre-event, according to Black. But Watts Field (AKA the old Saline County airport) can accommodate thousands of folks, and Black anticipates there being plenty of tickets available at the door. Local acts Crash Meadows, Dry County (fitting since Saline County is dry; no alcohol is allowed in the festival) and Riverbilly open for Allen, who'll likely hit the stage around 8 p.m. Saturday. The carnival, which will be staged adjacent to the ticketed concert area and to Bernard Holland Field (where the softball tournament happens) and Saline County Park, kicks off on Friday at 3 p.m. and opens Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. Admission is free. LM.
9 p.m., Juanita's. $12 adv., $15 d.o.s.
n He's the Steve Vai of the YouTube generation. Or maybe the Internet's update on Dick Van Dyke's one-man orchestra act as Bert in Mary Poppins. Regardless, it's an impressive sight to see Andy McKee poke metal harmonics out of his guitar while simultaneously weaving classical melodies with whatever free fingers he has left and thumping his chest as a backing beat. So impressive, in fact, that the homemade videos on YouTube that propelled him to overnight celebrity have been viewed over 53 million times — and that's just the tally for his three most popular ones. His ability to walk the fine line between “technically marvelous” and, well, “listenable” sets him apart from other instrumental braggarts; his covers, from Toto's “Africa” to Bjork's “Venus as a Boy” are terrific interpretations of familiar tracks, but his originals (especially “Drifting” and “Art of Motion,” two that popularized him) are able to stand alone as the deftly scored, expansive tracks they are. Yet what's really fascinating about this guy is that the bulk of his fans are surprisingly young; you'd expect them to scoff at the music as Weather Channel noise. But judging from the number of Andy McKee cover videos uploaded to the web by anxious young classicists tackling his multi-tasking, polyrhythmic sounds, there may be real hope yet for real life Guitar Heroes like this guy. JT.
8 p.m., Timberwood Amphitheater, Magic Springs. $5-$10.
Impressive, Currington. Of the 10 singles you've released in your seven-year career as a country crooner, you've yet to have one not chart in Billboard's country singles charts. And you won a CMA for “Hottest Video” for “Must Be Doing Something Right,” so you're a bona fide, acknowledged country sex symbol. That's cool. After all, you might as well do country stardom right if you're going to do it, right? Sure, your songs tend to rely on some thin nostalgia every once in a while and, more often than not, sit in the stickiest of bubblegum camps, but, honestly, I can't hate on that for a second. Your songs and videos are about living the life with your boys and harems of gorgeous Southern peaches; you're a CMT superstar and you're doing it well, so props from this music writer. And to boot, just four hours ago you Tweeted that you finished recording vocal tracks for your new album while in an island music studio. Then you offered to buy airfare for whoever can guess which island. It doesn't matter how you cut it, that's a pretty cool move, Currington. Live the life, take it to Magic Springs this week and take it easy, y'hear? JT.
HOT SPRINGS MUSIC FESTIVAL
6:45 p.m., Arlington Hotel Terrace. Free-$125.
As Riverfest winds down, another long-tenured Arkansas festival starts up. Here's betting there won't be huge crossover. The Hot Springs Music Festival, now in its 15th year, is a two-week camp of sorts for 250 international musicians who specialize in orchestral and choral music. The festival pairs mentor musicians from major chamber ensembles, conservatories and orchestras with promising pre-professional apprentices, who receive scholarships and free housing to attend. The two groups play side-by-side throughout the festival, presenting 20 concerts and more than 25 open rehearsals for attendees to see and hear. Performances take place all over Hot Springs — art galleries, churches, the Hot Springs Farmers' Market. Find a full schedule at hotmusic.org. Most festival days include a free performance; otherwise, concerts run $10 to $15 per event; a $125 festival pass affords access to everything and preferred seating. LM.
LITTLE ROCK FILM FESTIVAL OPENING NIGHT
5:30 p.m., various locations.
For the last three years, the Little Rock Film Festival organizers have proven they know well that parties make for a festival's success just as much as the films themselves. They're always a high time and yet another reason to support the local festival by investing in a V.I.P. pass. Opening night sees Cajun's Wharf opening up at 5:30 p.m. for pre-screening food and drinks before the crowds shuffle it down the street to Riverdale Cinema at 7 p.m. for “Winter's Bone,” the much-anticipated film that opens the festival after winning the Grand Jury and Screenwriting awards at Sundance. The festival then teams up with Oxford American in the Terry House Mansion for the opening night after-party at 9 p.m. with music by a terrific array of locals in pop craftsman Bryan Frazier, bluegrass outfit Runaway Planet, throwback country trio Mandy McBryde & The Chosen Few and DJ extraordinaire g-force. One part homecoming for the festival, one part pep rally for the remaining three days, festival organizers expect this to be the best opening night yet. JT.