Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
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.