Joo Won Kang at Wildwood 

Also, Esme Patterson, Little Rock Vegan Festival, Crystal Mercer, Ben Lee, Opera in the Ozarks, Sammy Kershaw and more

click to enlarge TEACHING MOMENT: Baritone Joo Won Kang gives a concert at Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theater as part of Wildwood Park for the Arts' summer music academy. - KEN BENSON ARTISTS
  • Ken Benson Artists
  • TEACHING MOMENT: Baritone Joo Won Kang gives a concert at Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theater as part of Wildwood Park for the Arts' summer music academy.



7:30 p.m. Wildwood Park for the Arts. $15.

Baritone Joo Won Kang sang the role of Sharpless in Wolf Trap Opera's 2015 production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," a performance praised by The Washington Post as "wonderfully expressive." The South Korean singer's made a name for himself as a recitalist and as a perfect fit for the role of Corrado in Donizetti's tragic opera "Maria de Rudenz," but Sharpless is a role Kang was able to see a little differently from his American and European peers. "Since I am not an American, I have a chance to offer a new interpretation. If Sharpless were an American of Japanese descent, I think he would have more sympathy for Butterfly since they would share an ethnic heritage. I am really thrilled to sing this role." Kang's wife and two children were on stage for that performance, too, as supernumeraries (opera-speak for "extras") for the production. The last few years have been exciting ones for Kang, as he's inched steadily and certainly toward a career as a Verdi baritone — "Rigoletto" is his dream role, he says — and he'll bring that experience to bear during his concert for the students at Wildwood Park for the Arts' summer music academy, Wildwood Academy of Music & The Arts (WAMA). WAMA concerts are open to the public, so if you're into hearing a world-class baritone in a setting as intimate as the Lucy Lockett Cabe Theatre, accompanied by a sensitive and accomplished pianist (Kyung-Eun Na), this isn't a bad way to spend a Thursday night.

click to enlarge 'WOMAN TO WOMAN': Esme Patterson returns to Little Rock for a show at the White Water Tavern on Thursday night, 9 p.m., $12. - TEDX MILE HIGH
  • TedX Mile High
  • 'WOMAN TO WOMAN': Esme Patterson returns to Little Rock for a show at the White Water Tavern on Thursday night, 9 p.m., $12.



9 p.m. White Water Tavern. $12.

Here are a few helpful things to know about Esme Patterson: She can do a lot of rope-skipping tricks. She and her sister Genevieve used to be in this band called Paper Bird, a Colorado sextet that spun cotton-candy folk music from banjo, three-part harmony and some well-timed boot stomps and handclaps. (Think: Wildflower Revue, if they'd grown up in Denver or Portland instead of in the South. And had a trombone player.) Patterson left that band in 2014 and, despite being pretty new to the guitar, put out a couple of solo albums. One of them, "Woman to Woman," was a set of answer songs: responses from women who had themselves been subjects of prominent songs written by men, like "Alison," "Evangeline," "Eleanor Rigby." Annoyed by the lyrics to Townes Van Zandt's "Loretta," she began crafting the other side of the story, imagining what The Kinks' "Lola" might say to the "little boy" with her at the bar in North Soho: "You like the way I walk and I like how shy you are/If you press in closer I'll tell you my name." Patterson was in a video with Shakey Graves in 2014, singing a song they wrote together called "Dearly Departed" and, while it didn't necessarily capture her badass-with-an-electric guitar capabilities, the clip went gangbusters and introduced a lot of people to her music through a side door. You can go right through the front entrance, though: Check out her latest, "We Were Wild," and then go catch some of that fierceness Thursday night. Speaking of fierceness, Adam Faucett opens the show.

click to enlarge FUSING ARTS AND ACTIVISM: Poet, designer and actor Crystal Mercer presents an evening of performance art at the White Water Tavern as part of her project, Columbus Creative. - JOSHUA ASANTE
  • Joshua Asante
  • FUSING ARTS AND ACTIVISM: Poet, designer and actor Crystal Mercer presents an evening of performance art at the White Water Tavern as part of her project, Columbus Creative.



9 p.m. White Water Tavern. $10.

When Crystal C. Mercer emceed the Women's March for Arkansas at the state Capitol on Jan. 21, she asked the crowd to join her in pledging the same oath the president-elect had pledged a day earlier. "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute my role as an American, and I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," adding, "We are here, and we are here to stay." She's known as a poet, designer (check out the cool custom-print pieces she does for her fabric market, SAFI) and an actor, but Mercer's not one to compartmentalize her art from her activism, which she comes by honestly. Mercer's father was the legendary civil rights lawyer Christopher C. Mercer, who advised the families of the Little Rock Nine and others as the NAACP field secretary during the 1957 integration of Central High School. Echoing that legacy, she starred in "One Ninth," Spirit Trickey's play about Minnijean Brown-Trickey, and through Mercer's production company, Columbus Creative Arts + Activism, she's offering her own installment in a series she calls "An Evening With ... ." It allows artists like trumpeter Rodney Block, mezzo soprano Nisheedah Golden and guitarist/songwriter Joshua Asante to perform in small, intimate spaces — in Mercer's living space for productions past; this time, at the White Water Tavern.

click to enlarge OPERA IN THE OZARKS
  • Opera in the Ozarks



7:30 p.m. Inspiration Point Fine Arts Center, Eureka Springs. $10-$30.

Carroll County is an unlikely place for an opera training ground, sure, but what started as a summer music camp atop Eureka Springs' scenic Inspiration Point in 1950 has been churning out pre-professional singers of note for most of its 66 seasons. Its 67th year is bringing the program's women to the forefront: Offered alongside the slogan "three strong women, three powerful operas," the company's season presents Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," Bizet's "Carmen" and Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah," opening with Mozart this Friday and closing with "Carmen" on July 21. See the full schedule or grab tickets at opera.org, and lest the eminent heat dissuade you, the outdoor amphitheater is equipped with heavy panels on the perimeter to cool its audience, orchestra and performers.

click to enlarge VIVA VEGAN
  • Viva Vegan



Noon. Station 801, 801 S. Chester St. Free.

Look, vegan or no, we could all use a break from the ubiquitous invasion of bacon and bacon-adjacent jokes and merchandise (Gumballs. Dental floss. Toothpaste. Perfume.). Furthermore, people who have devoted their lives to studying food say that a plant-based diet is not only good for you, but a simple, meaningful way to impact the world around you: Since plants require a whole lot less energy to produce than most meat products we eat, we're not likely taking the kind of toll on the environment when we grill a butternut squash that we do, say, when we throw on a New York strip. (And, over time, that means contributing less to the bankroll that holds up the meat industry's often-troublesome CAFOS — Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. For some evocative background on the subject, see the documentary "Food Inc." or read the slightly less sensationalistic book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by "Food Inc." narrator Michael Pollan.) To celebrate the benefits of vegan eating — and maybe to create a space for debating the merits and demerits of soy-based meat substitutes — Viva Vegan and Vegan Dinner Club are throwing a festival for all things plant-based, featuring A Lively Brew, Hoodveganchic, Katmandu MOMO, Live Love Pure Natural, Philly Phresh Water Ice, Shambala Mobile Vegan Kitchen, Sprout Urban Farms Co., The Freckled Frog, The Veg and more. Festivities last until 4:30 p.m.

click to enlarge f95f0473-f80f-c4c4-b10709ebc0c0ca5c_2_.jpg



8:30 p.m. Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack. $15.

If you've ever watched an episode of "King of the Hill," or if you were anywhere near a radio in 1996, you've heard Roger Clyne. Clyne's former band, The Refreshments, was responsible for "Yahoos and Triangles," the opening theme for Mike Judge's animated series, as they were for that infectious late-'90s hook "Banditos," praised by the likes of Alice Cooper. "I heard it on the radio and I remember, there are certain songs that you turn up," Cooper told USA Today. "The first time I heard 'My Sharona.' You know, the first time you hear the Nirvana stuff. It was the same thing with this." Everybody else turned it up, too, and when Clyne and drummer Paul "P.H." Naffah reformed as The Peacemakers, they added members from the Gin Blossoms, Railbenders and from fellow Tempe, Ariz., band Dead Hot Workshop, forming a sort of Southwest supergroup. A documentary telling that story, "Here's To Life: The Story of the Refreshments," dropped in March (and, appropriately, contains a seal of approval from "120 Minutes" host Matt Pinfield on its film poster: "Fun!"). So, from the ashes of the scene characterized by bands like Stabbing Westward, Superdrag and Primitive Radio Gods comes Clyne's growing tequila venture ("Mexican Moonshine," it's called) and "Native Heart," Clyne and The Peacemakers' June 9 release. The first single, "Flowerin'," is an exercise in pop optimism, replacing some of Clyne's tendencies toward mariachi and norteña music with sunny whistling, a sing-along chorus and a brief reference to Wings' "Silly Love Songs."

click to enlarge 'AWAKE IS THE NEW SLEEP': Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee performs at Capitol View Studio Saturday, 9 p.m., $28. - ERIK LANG
  • Erik Lang
  • 'AWAKE IS THE NEW SLEEP': Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee performs at Capitol View Studio Saturday, 9 p.m., $28.



9 p.m. Capitol View Studio. $28.

Ben Lee's website welcomes you to his portfolio with the words of a true ayahuasca convert: "Thanks for stopping by to check out what I do. While all of the diverse things I am involved in might not seem connected at first, I assure you they are. In fact they are drawn together through a common purpose: to awaken myself and others to infinite possibility!" He sells essential oils with his wife, Ione Skye (remember her from "Say Anything?"); volunteers as a "death midwife" at a hospice center; and gives public lectures titled "Songwriting Towards Virtue" and "What Could the Future of Culture Look Like?" And now, the former Noise Addict frontman is taking a stand against President Trump's it's-not-a-travel-ban travel ban. Sales from his latest, "Ben Lee Sings: Songs About Islam for the Whole Family," benefit the ACLU, and he says cheerful tunes like "La Ilaha Il Allah" were influenced by his desire to find commonality among religious backgrounds. "As a Jewish person," he told The Guardian newspaper in March, "I never was drawn to the cultural bonding. My interest is the mysticism of each culture and a practical application of consciousness that each of the religions lay out. Even if we don't use the word God, there are different places in our psyches we can act from. If you look at the U.S. administration, it's acting out [of] fear, aggression and intolerance — there is a decision we make about which part of ourselves to voice." For this all-ages show, Capitol View Studio teamed up with Travis McElroy at Thick Syrup Records to bring Lee to Little Rock for a one-night-only show (read as: not part of a tour). His performance will be preceded by a set from Tiffany Lee, a Maumelle native whose polished debut EP, "Jailbird," showcases Lee's alternately haunting and sultry voice, somewhere in the territory between Cocteau Twins and Joss Stone.

click to enlarge DESIGN SENSORY
  • Design Sensory



8 p.m. The Delta School, Wilson. $75.

Country superstar Sammy Kershaw released an album in 1996 called "Politics, Religion and Her." The chorus goes like this: "Let's talk about NASCARs/Old Hollywood movie stars/Let's talk about anything/Anything in this world/But politics, religion and her/Politics can start a fight/Religion's hard to know who's right/And one more topic I won't touch/That one's her — it hurts too much." I guess he changed his mind, at least about the politics part; Kershaw later declared himself as "pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-gun and proud of it," and ran as a Republican for lieutenant governor of Louisiana in 2007, losing to Democratic incumbent Mitch Landrieu (now the mayor of New Orleans). Later, he'd combine his music with his political ambitions, stopping at Piggly Wigglys all over Louisiana on his "Real People of Louisiana Hayride" tour. Kershaw's stop in the newly resurrected Delta town of Wilson will almost assuredly be a little more laid back, given the names of some of his latest tunes — "Grillin' and Chillin'," "I Can't Wait to Waste a Little Time" and "Let's Lay Here Forever" – but who knows? The new album is, after all, called "I Won't Back Down."

click to enlarge BARRELHOUSE PUNK: New Orleans transplant Stephanie Nilles brings her raucous and often R-rated piano tunes to Hot Springs for a free Sunday show at Maxine's. - SATCHMO ENTERTAINMENT
  • Satchmo Entertainment
  • BARRELHOUSE PUNK: New Orleans transplant Stephanie Nilles brings her raucous and often R-rated piano tunes to Hot Springs for a free Sunday show at Maxine's.



8 p.m. Maxine's, Hot Springs. Free.

Sabbath show or no, I don't suspect Stephanie Nilles will do much toning down of her cover of Jelly Roll Morton's "Dirty Dozen," which is probably the foulest thing written in the year 1907. More likely, she'll do with it what she's been doing in bars and at jazz festivals the world over: giving it the barrelhouse boogie treatment, fingers flying. The Chicago native and New Orleans resident has self-released five albums — including one titled "Uncle Stephanie's Murder Ballads For Kids!" — and, as her bio notes, has "sung with Bobby McFerrin in Carnegie Hall, directed the musical program of a Brooklyn burlesque series" and "covered Busta Rhymes' 'Break Ya Neck' in the skeletal remains of a bombed-out cathedral in Nuremberg." Pianos aren't known for being good travelers, so unless they wheel a baby grand up the steps at Maxine's, Nilles will perform on keyboard, but she'll undoubtedly still bang out diminished fifths on it like she's Albert Ammons on a rickety old Wegman.


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