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Ready for Riverfest 

Good times start rolling Friday.

By the time this is published, the stages will be going up, streets will be blocked off, vendors will be arranging their wares, PA systems will be going live and the River Market district will be a buzzing hive of activity, all in preparation for the 36th annual Riverfest and the thousands of people it will bring downtown.

As with most events of its age, Riverfest has changed over the years, growing from an event with mostly classical music into a three-day affair with multiple stages, food and clothing vendors, carnival rides and games, wiener dog races, a Baggo tournament and a bunch of other activities.

The music is still the central component of the festival, though. Lineup kvetching has become something of an annual tradition, with a seeming bevy of Facebook detractors bemoaning the headlining acts. Most complaints run along the lines of "Worst lineup ever. Gawd. Why didn't they get Daft Punk and Kanye West? Wah."

But, as has been pointed out many a time, booking a couple of the biggest of big-name acts would take up most if not all of the music budget. The organization this year spent about what it did last year on entertainment, said DeAnna Korte, executive director. That was $650,000-$700,000.

Obviously, Riverfest isn't aiming to be a Coachella or Austin City Limits Festival. It's run by a nonprofit organization that is supposed to put on an event with broad appeal and something for most everyone in a small-ish Southern state, while maintaining an affordable ticket price. Yes, Hangout Music Fest had a great lineup this year. It was also $230 for a three-day pass. That said, tickets to Riverfest have been purchased in 35 states total, so the appeal is not strictly local or even regional.

Early discounted tickets for Riverfest started at $10 for a three-day pass and went up to $17.50. If there are even one or two bands you'd like to see, that is indisputably a bargain. Even the full gate price of $35 is a deal. And there are also plenty of free activities for families in the KidZone and Family Zone areas.

But have the organizers ever considered doubling or tripling the ticket price, and therefore the music budget?

"We reevaluate every year and those conversations have come up," Korte said. "I think at some point what it comes back to is, we want to offer something for everybody. I think once you raise that ticket price, you become strictly a music festival." And Riverfest is more than just music.

For instance, if you haven't checked out the Super Retriever Series, you are missing out. It's like a long-jump for dogs but with a huge tank of water instead of sand, and it's awesome. The Baggo tournament should be a good time as well. There are teams from as far away as Sacramento, Calif., coming in to compete.

New this year: The Museum of Discovery will be open during Riverfest for the first time in years, with discounted admission. Also, The Stickyz Music Tent is now the Stickyz Music Stage (read more about it on page 26).

"It is going to be located between the amphitheater stage and the Bud Light stage down in what I call the grassy knolls at the Clinton Center, close to the Bill Clark wetlands," Korte said. "It'll be a really nice atmosphere; you can throw a blanket down. We've got some really great music on that stage."

The full music lineup is available on page 20. The schedule for other activities is available at riverfestarkansas.com.

FRIDAY 5/24

DAUGHTRY
9:45 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

Arkansas loves us some Chris Daughtry. The former "American Idol" contestant has played here in The Natural State several times in the last couple of years. And while he's not drawing quite the crowds he was a few years ago (Verizon Arena in 2009, Robinson Center in 2012), Daughtry seems to have settled into a comfortable space in the contemporary rock landscape: not as popular as whatever the flavor-of-the-month might be, but with an enduring fan base that very much digs his earnest brand of stadium-ready alt-rock bombast. So take that, Taylor Hicks. Daughtry and crew have been on a multi-leg tour this year with Mississippi bubble-grunge stalwarts 3 Doors Down.

RODNEY ATKINS
8 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
(First Security Amphitheatre)

Rodney Atkins has paid his music biz dues and then some. The Tennessee native signed his first record deal in 1997, but only really broke through seven years later in 2004, with "Honesty (Write Me a List)," which hit No. 4 on the country singles chart. The title track from his 2011 album, "Take a Back Road," went to No. 1. The singer mined familiar country music territory for "Back Road": relationships ("She's a Girl," "She'd Rather Fight"), small-town living (the title track, "Growing Up Like That"), family ("Family," "He's Mine") and so forth. Atkins' tunes are mostly of the pop/Southern rock hybrid that's more or less dominated Nashville for the last several years.

DARIUS RUCKER
9:30 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
(First Security Amphitheatre)

Talk about your unlikely careers: Darius Rucker fronted '90s alt-rock lite megastars Hootie & The Blowfish, whose biggest record, "Cracked Rear View," sold 16 million copies, then he went solo with a mostly well-received R&B album, then he was like, "I'm going country," and that caused some head-scratching on the part of nearly everyone. But then lo and behold, Rucker's like a bona fide big-name country artist now. He signed to Capitol Nashville. His song "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" hit No. 1, and in October, Rucker joined the Grand Ole Opry. Rucker's newest record, "True Believers," is out this week. Expect to hear some fresh tunes off the new album.

SATURDAY 5/25

SUGAR RAY
6 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

As far as the award for "Band Most Likely to Have Throngs of Riverfest-ers Waving Their Hands in the Air and Singing Along to the Chorus" goes, the smart money is on reggae/funk/pop veterans Sugar Ray performing their breezy 1997 hit "Fly." It's the sort of indelible, powerfully mindless pop tune that has soundtracked millions of laid-back frat boy bro-downs and Smirnoff Ice-fueled girls-nights-out over the years. Not that one should expect a huge degree of sophistication from a band whose first album was called "Lemonade and Brownies" and whose most recent collection bears the title "Music for Cougars." Singer Mark McGrath is, of course, ultracharming and hunky in a bleached-blonde So-Cal kind of way. He's also probably logged more hours on VH-1's "I Love the Whatevers" than anyone short of Michael Musto.

BLACK STONE CHERRY
7:45 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

Kentucky's Black Stone Cherry proves that some sounds will never, ever, ever die, namely, classic rock. That's the framework to which the band adds Pantera-esque groove, post-grunge yowling, Skynyrd-style swagger, a bit of hair-metal balladry and just a touch of mainstream country. The band's latest album, "Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea" (2011), embodies the Black Stone Cherry ethos. You've got your strutting riff-monster opening track ("White Trash Millionaire"), your breakup anthem ("In My Blood"), your baby-please-don't-go ballad ("Stay"), your small-town family tribute ("Like I Roll"). And you've got two tracks ("Blame it on the Boom Boom" and "Let Me See You Shake") that, without question, should absolutely be on the playlist of any self-respecting Southern strip-club DJ.

BUSH
9:30 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

Bush is the rare British band that was enormously popular in the U.S., but only moderately successful in the U.K. It also provided a cautionary example of the often profound differences that exist between U.S. and U.K. slang, but everybody over here pretty much got over that. The group was often derided as one of the many "Nirvanabes" that sprouted up in the wake of the grunge titan's success. And for sure, the similarities between the two bands were hard to ignore, but Bush soldiered on longer — and sold many more albums — than most of its contemporaries. Its debut, "Sixteen Stone," sold more than 6 million copies on the strength of hits like "Glycerine" and "Comedown." Heck, remix album "Deconstructed" (1997) went gold. The band called it quits back in aught-two, but studly frontman (and husband of Gwen Stefani) Gavin Rossdale reformed the band with mostly new members in 2010, releasing the Bob Rock-produced "The Sea of Memories" in 2011.

KELLY ROWLAND
8:30 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
(First Security Amphitheatre)

How awesome was Kelly Rowland's speech last week inducting the great Donna Summer into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Rowland positively gushed, exuding adoration for the late disco queen and for the abiding power of music in general. It was clear from her speech that Summer was an enormous influence on the former Destiny's Child member. That inspiration is also apparent from listening to Rowland's 2011 album, "Here I Am," which boasts several of the type of dance-floor-diva tracks Summer pioneered. Rowland recently released a single from her forthcoming album "Talk a Good Game," out June 18. The sparse, spare "Dirty Laundry" dishes candidly on Rowland's feelings of envy over her own solo career not reaching the stratospheric heights of Beyonce. If this song is any indication of how good the new album will be, Rowland might not have any reason to lament being in her friend and bandmate's shadow anymore. She's also just signed a deal to become a judge on the U.S. version of "The X Factor," a role she handled in the U.K. series in 2011.

LUPE FIASCO
10 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
(First Security Amphitheatre)

Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco broke out back in 2006 with "Lupe Fiasco's Food and Liquor," getting props from heavyweights such as Jay Z, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. The record was a hit with critics, who praised its expansive style and piercing rhymes, and in terms of sales, reaching No. 2 on the R&B Albums chart and netting three Grammy nods. Fiasco's follow-up, "The Cool," went gold and earned four Grammy nominations. Despite label wrangling over its supposed lack of commercial tracks (its release was delayed more than two years), 2011's "Lasers" hit No. 1 on several charts, including R&B albums and the Billboard 200 and the single "The Show Goes On" hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. It took a fan-driven petition to Atlantic Records to get that record released, and in the interim, Fiasco had recorded another album, last year's "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1."

SUNDAY 5/26

FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE
7:45 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

Florida Georgia Line — a twosome made up of a dude from Florida (Brian Kelley) and another from Georgia (Tyler Hubbard) — plays the sort of goodtime pop-country that was engineered specifically for going muddin', swimming in the crik with a 30-pack of Keystone Light on the tailgate, driving over to pick up your gal for a date (and hoping she wears them real short cutoffs), doing shots with your best buds at The Electric Cowboy and so forth. It might be light on substance, but it's heavy on rural-type party vibes and even has a bit of rapping ("It'z Just What We Do") and autotune ("Dayum Baby").

DIERKS BENTLEY
9:45 p.m., Bud Light Stage
(Clinton Presidential Center)

Dierks Bentley is no stranger to these shores, having performed in Arkansas a couple-three times in recent years. The Arizona native's career caught on in 2003 with bluegrass-tinged country-rocker "What Was I Thinkin'," which went to No. 1 on the country chart and had enough crossover appeal to reach No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bentley embodies the comfy, pop-savvy middle ground of contemporary country music. He's not as rock-informed as Jason Aldean nor as self-consciously "outlaw" as Eric Church, but he's nowhere near as milquetoast-pop as Rascal Flatts. Bentley is to country in 2013 what Bon Jovi was to hard rock in 1987.

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
7:30 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
(First Security Amphitheatre)

There are probably more than a few people who'll come to Riverfest solely on account of the fact that Drive-By Truckers are playing. That could be said of other acts on the lineup as well. But the Truckers have earned what's got to be one of the more dedicated followings of any currently operational rock outfit, on the strength and consistent high quality of their huge back catalog. "Literate" is one of those descriptors that gets applied to the Truckers pretty regularly, which seems like a bit of a lazy way of saying that the band writes songs that are rich with a storyteller's detail and inhabited by a mid-size city's worth of fully formed characters who experience the full spectrum of emotions. Another great thing about the band: The guitars sound purely awesome. One thing is for sure: The Truckers' audience will be one of the most raucous and singing-along-with-every-word-est crowds of the whole festival.

PETER FRAMPTON
9:30 p.m., Miller Lite Stage
(First Security Amphitheatre)

For music lovers of a certain vintage, Peter Frampton's "Frampton Comes Alive" was simply inescapable. Though he'd been playing for some time (notably with Humble Pie), Frampton hadn't quite hit the bigtime until that 1976 double LP sold 6 million copies in the U.S. alone and became the biggest-selling live album of all time, a distinction it held for a decade, until it was eclipsed by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band's live box set "Live/1975-85." Shortly after his Riverfest concert, Frampton will depart on "Frampton's Guitar Circus Tour," a two-month excursion in which the classic rocker will share the stage with a ton of other guitar greats, including Robert Cray, Steve Cropper, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the Chairman of the Board himself, B.B. King.

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