Collins to work toward increasing visitation to Arkansas by groups and promoting the state's appeal
Twice a year since 2003, folk traditionalists and bluegrass sticklers the region over have taken to the Ozark Folk Center for a three-day pick 'n' grin of pure bluegrass. Place an emphasis on that "pure." Case in point: In 2007, the festival saw its own "Dylan goes electric" debacle that saw progressive, Death Cab for Cutie-covering act Blue Cadillac dwindle a crowd of 600 into the double digits and ended with the act getting booted from the festival after the first of five scheduled sets. But fear not: This year's celebration stays faithful to authentic hill music. Thursday, as always, kicks off the festival with an all-gospel night, this year featuring The Link Family, a nine-piece family affair, as well as Paul Williams, the venerable, mandolin-strumming elder who, for years, played with the "king of bluegrass" Jimmy Martin in the Sunny Mountain Boys. Friday features the father-and-daughters trio of Posey Hill, bayou-grass outfit Louisiana Grass and decades-long veterans of the bluegrass circuit Lost and Found, while Saturday highlights the Grammy-nominated Blue Highway as well as Hickory Hill, which recently celebrated its 30th year of pickin' and singin'. In addition to the round robin inside the auditorium, you can count on a flood of jam sessions outside, under what's shaping up to be a gorgeous — dare we say harmonious — weekend in the Ozarks. Concerts begin on Friday and Saturday at noon. Tickets are $20 per day or $55 for the weekend.
There's a great scene in "Wonder Boys" — the novel and its movie adaptation — that leaves me shrill with envy every time. It's the setting that gets me: a dingy, yellowing club in a crumbling pocket of Philadelphia where watered-down Dickel whiskey is the usual and the speakers are full of deep cuts from the house's collection of soul 45s, requests dialed into a payphone off of the dance floor and cued up by an operator behind plate glass. As far as we know, there's nothing like it in Central Arkansas, but twice a year, White Water Tavern does the trick with its Soul Nite dance parties. This time around, the dance floor turns into a battleground when the beat-heavy sounds of Southern soul, provided by local soul music brainiac DJ Seth Baldy, face off against the melodic "stonking" tunes of Northern soul, manned by, well, me, in my first time DJ'ing the party. But self-advertisement this ain't; I'm an old, evangelical devotee of the bar's dance nights whether I'm behind the DJ booth or not. So come shimmy. Or tell me I suck. Also, all proceeds go towards a prostate cancer fund.
"Wub wub wub wub wuub wuub bwub wubwuub." Dubstep: It sounds like Super Mario time warping on whippets. It's all the craze for the dance kids, and AC Slater, the jet-setting Brooklynite, is watching his DJ stock rise thanks to his special, electro-heavy wub wub bwuub wubbery. The knob-twiddler is racking up the lion's share of blog love as well as flooding the Internet with remixes and releasing a string of ready-to-party DJ sets on his website. This weekend brings him to the stage in The Village before taking off on a weeks-long tour of European clubs.
In the world of outlaw country, Johnny Cash is revered as the village elder; Willie Nelson, the wide-eyed neighborhood hippie; Kris Kristofferson, the cool uncle; and David Allan Coe? He's the grizzled, raw-mouthed sociopath in the woods with a thousand ways to tell you to eat shit and die. All tattoos and nasty attitude with a death-row pedigree to match, Coe is heading into his 71st year with just as many releases under his name. He has a reputation as a hell-raising, songwriting machine that's made him a bona fide country music icon and living legend for 'necks. The outlaw behind "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" (and a few notorious songs liable to get you stabbed if you dare say them out loud) plays the new Hog's Breath Grill off I-30 on the southern tip of Little Rock — on the opening day of modern gun deer season, no less.
Around the 0:35 mark of "Hey Hey Revolver," a wobbly, melancholic dirge off The Felice Brothers' third album, the song goes silent for a split second before cueing back up with the sound of thunder in the left channel. As it happened, Mother Nature was so pleased with what she heard in the roots revivalists' new sessions that she high-fived the decrepit studio with a bolt of lightning. And that's just the type of organic alchemy that's churned out by The Felice Brothers, made up of the three brothers Felice and a 22-year-old former traveling dice thrower. Through the band's thread of seven albums (released in five years!), the four-piece has become one of the most-vaulted creators of whiskey and pain pills country, earning legions of fans in America and embraced by the Brits and their insatiable appetite for everything rustic and rural. The upstate New Yorkers are joined by Adam Haworth Stephens, the folk/blues melody maker best known for his time as one half of Saddle Creek Records duo Two Gallants.
"The Thunderbolt Kid" certainly did well for himself, didn't he? Little Billy Bryson, the over-imaginative kid from Des Moines who relied on his own creative willpower to force through rugged terrains and exotic places, grew up to be the inquisitive, ever-curious Bill Bryson, the world's most beloved, accessible travel writer, linguist and lovably ultra-amateur scientist. He's the face of the liberal arts and, as The Guardian so succinctly described, "the Frank Capra of American letters." All cherubic and humble in spite of his super-powered brain, Bryson has a way turning questions about, say, "why men have a row of useless buttons on their suit jacket sleeves" into a loose-fitting, belly-laughing trip through time.
As Werner Trieschmann pointed out in this week's issue (page 25), Little Rock is currently jam-packed with amazing theater with "Hamlet" at The Rep and "Wicked" at Robinson. Admittedly, these are two plays that will probably never be brought to life on the Murry's Dinner Playhouse stage, but isn't that one of the reasons why the low-lit, tucked-away building that houses Murry's is such an endearing Little Rock institution? This week, Murry's debuts its latest play, "Boeing Boeing," the classic farce about a successful architect juggling three fiancees, all international flight attendants. It's been adapted into a number of films (including a Jerry Lewis/Tony Curtis classic), was recently revived on Broadway and, for decades, has been considered France's largest contribution to comedic theater. The play runs through New Year's Eve.
It's not something I'm proud of: I never got Star Wars. Sure, I saw the re-releases and I bought the VHS box set as a kid. I watched them with the understanding of "I should like this, so I'll keep trying," but it just never clicked. So I can't differentiate between "One Man Star Wars" being "the most annoying thing ever" as opposed to "something that annoys the hell out of me, especially." Here's what I see: a grown man aping Robin Williams' exhausted ADHD schtick, over-acting every character between Tattooine and the Death Star, whistling the score and ignoring the time-tested number one rule of comic acting: Never, ever act like you're funny. Then again, I'm missing out on some pretty vital pre-reqs to appreciate this whole one-man carnival. I do know this though: "Star Wars" fans, don't miss this. And if "One Man Inglourious Basterds" ever happens, please call me.