A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
By John Tarpley
Adam Hambrick's no stranger to Central Arkansas, taking his melodic, driving brand of sincere, radio-ready pop from venue to venue for years. Now he's ready to release his newest, "Fighting from the Ground," an album born out of, as he says, a frustration that eventually led to a reinvention of his sound. And the sound? It's anything but frustrated. The 10 tracks are airy, optimistic pieces of Southern-tinged, blue-eyed acoustic soul. And "God Save Johnny Ballgame" could just be the season's best song title. He's supported by fellow acoustic rockers Benjamin's Army and Ten Cent Hat.
Ted Leo is just one of those guys who was born with the touch. The man has hooks in his genetic makeup, effortlessly managing to write songs that, at worst, are still better than most everything else floating around and, at best, perfect, three-minute bursts of ecstatic, amplified rock. The Specials-referencing, falsetto-hooked "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" is a micro-course in how to write a seamless rock song; "Me and Mia" is one of the most thrilling youth anthems released in the digital age (even if "me and Mia, Ann and Ana" is about — yikes — bulimia and anorexia) and "Parallel or Together?" can be either a call to arms for young axe-slingers to get to work or a disillusioning wake-up call, saying, "Hey, you'll probably never write anything nearly as great as this, bucko." (All of these songs are available on YouTube, by the way.) Simply, he's American indie-rock's Elvis Costello, a reedy charmer of a punk in button-ups with a knack for hookcraft unlike anyone since, well, maybe since Mr. MacManus himself. Leo and Pharmacists are set to be supported by The Moving Front, whose new album, "Everyday Dissonance," has been the talk of the town since its release two weeks ago. And on a bittersweet note, the night marks the final live outing for The Reds, the essential Little Rock power-pop trio that's bowing out after more than five years on the local circuit.
That staple of blues heritage, the King Biscuit Blues Fest, now known as the "Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival," is celebrating its 25th year this weekend. And the world-famous, three-day celebration of everything blues is set to offer its biggest year yet. Working with a half-million dollar budget — the largest by far in its history — the festival is guaranteed to pack Helena-West Helena to unprecedented levels. But for good reason. This year's lineup is one for the history books. On the main stage, Thursday night offers up B.B. King, the American icon and one of the last living blues greats; Friday is headlined by Dr. John, the authoritative torch holder of the gravelly New Orleans sound, and Saturday brings Taj Mahal, the towering figure of the genre, by and large responsible for the revival of acoustic blues. Elsewhere, you're bound to run into Bobby Rush, the Pine Bluff-raised dirty bluesman and showman extraordinaire; Pinetop Perkins, whose piano blues warranted him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the legendary Charlie Musselwhite. For more information on the 50 other acts featured on four stages over three days, visit bluesandheritagefest.com.