Happy Labor Day!

September 7th, 2015 at 9:51 am

We’re taking today off.

Hope you get to do the same.

P.S. Dolly Parton is amazing. Here’s “9 to 5.”

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Pedro Fernandez comes to the Walmart AMP

September 4th, 2015 at 11:09 am

Pedro Fernandez performs as people pay homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe during an event in her honor at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, in Los Angeles. Thousands of Catholics filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe in what is believed to be the largest celebration of Mexico's most beloved saint outside of that country in 75 years.    (AP Photo/David McNew)

Pedro Fernandez

Popular actor, songwriter and performer Pedro Fernandez visits the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion on Saturday (Sept. 5) for a show with special guest Ninel Conde.

Jose Lopez from our Spanish-language sister paper La Prensa Libre wrote today in What’s Up! about the upcoming concert.

You can see his story online or in print via the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and its What’s Up! arts and entertainment guide.

Tickets range from $31-$71. Music starts at 7:30 p.m.

The weekend in live music, with Yarn and more

September 4th, 2015 at 5:03 am

Yarn photo by Todd Chalfant

Yarn photo by Todd Chalfant

It may not feel like it now, but the crowds are coming.

It’s a Arkansas Razorback game weekend, and thousands will invade this town. I know some out-of-towners were here already, because someone passed me in the city of Johnson on Thursday afternoon. Everyone who lives here knows not to speed in Johnson.

So know that this town is about to get busy, capture some of the energy floating around and take it to a live music event. Please?

There are several things happening. Let’s get started, shall we?

Brooklyn-based Americana quartet Yarn formed in 2007 and has earned accolades such as features on CMT and a Grammy nomination. The band claims inspiration from Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia and “Exile on Main Street”-era Rolling Stones. The band’s tour is passing through Arkansas right now with a gig yesterday in Little Rock and tonight (Sept. 4) in Bentonville. The group performs as part of the First Friday celebration. Cindy Woolf & Mark Bilyeu take the stage at 5 p.m., and Yarn follows at 6:45 p.m. The event is free to attend.

If you’re feeling pop country instead, try Backroad Anthem.

Country pop band Backroad Anthem continues its quest for radio domination with the release of a new EP. The album “Torn” will debut at a party tonight at George’s Majestic Lounge. Admission is $10, and the event starts at 10 p.m. The band also plays at 8 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 10) as part of the Party on the Patio series at Powerhouse Seafood and Grille in Fayetteville.

Other shows include Pedro Fernandez at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion on Saturday (Sept. 5). More on that in a minute.

Other shows include those found on the blog.

What’s on your schedule this weekend?

On the way: Michael McDonald, Dec. 1 at WAC

September 2nd, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

It’s too early to think about Christmas. (Please don’t be thinking about Christmas!)

But it’s not too early to think about Christmas concerts, apparently.

Michael McDonald will being his “This Christmas — An Evening of Holiday and Hits” tour to the Walton Arts Center on Dec. 1. Those “hits” he mentions likely come from his tenure with two classic rock bands — The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.

Tickets are on sale now and are $42-$72 through tickets.waltonartscenter.org.

Phases of the Moon Festival has been canceled

September 2nd, 2015 at 12:12 pm

The Phases of the Moon Festival has been canceled before it ever got started.

The event, which announced a move to Mulberry Mountain in Arkansas after one year in Illinois, was scheduled to take place in mid-October, the same weekend as Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival, which it was to replace. The newly combined festival was to be partnership between Pipeline Productions of Lawrence, Kansas, which produced Harvest Fest for many years, and Terrapin Ridge Production, which started Phases of the Moon.

On the Facebook page for the event, organizers cited “a significant number of unforeseen circumstances” as the reason for the cancelation. The post specifically cited the continued closure of a section of Arkansas 23, which provides access to the festival grounds from the north. Curiously, the twice-as-large Wakarusa festival, also organized by Pipeline Productions, continued on the same event grounds despite the closure.

Just Saturday, Phases of the Moon had a booth at George’s Majestic Lounge selling tickets to attendees of the Fayetteville Roots Festival.

This is the second festival Pipeline Productions has canceled this year. Thunder on the Mountain, scheduled for late June at the same Mulberry Mountain site, was canceled just weeks before its date. A lawsuit filed in Kansas indicates payment disputes between interested parties of that event.

Refund information will be sent to Phases of the Moon ticket purchasers, the Facebook post says.

A publicist who previously worked for Pipeline Productions did not respond to an email request for more information.

The Fayetteville Roots Festival in photos

September 1st, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Look — I know I promised a comprehensive review of the Fayetteville Roots Festival today. And I promise it’s coming, but later than expected.

I’m instead writing it for the print edition, which means it shall run Friday (Sept. 4) in What’s Up! and then we’ll have a look.

Until then, how about looking at a gallery of photos I captured during the festival’s four-day run in Fayetteville?

Included in the gallery are images of John Moreland, Punch Brothers, Fiona Apple, Sara Watkins and more.

Friends and family: The final night of the 2015 Roots Festival

August 31st, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Fiona Apple singing with the Watkins Family Hour during their Aug. 30 performance at the Fayetteville Roots Festival.

Fiona Apple singing with the Watkins Family Hour during their Aug. 30 performance at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

If a theme could be found during the closing day of the 2015 edition of the Fayetteville Roots Festival, it would be this: Honor those you admire.

John Elliott admires Raina Rose and Anthony da Costa. He performs with them regularly. Elliott had a solo set to kick off the Sunday (Aug. 30) activities on the Roots Fest Main Stage shows at the Fayetteville Town Center. He invited out his friends for a song to close his set.

Lots of people admire da Costa. He sat in with Elliott, then with both Devon Sproule and Jimmy LaFave, also on the mainstage.

Closing act Watkins Family Hour played homage to several of the acts they love, such as John Hartford and Bob Dylan. Helmed by siblings Sara and Sean Watkins, the duo brought out players they loved to both fill the band and join as guests.

There was a lot of love and admiration in the air. And moments of weirdness, too.

Here’s what I watched on Sunday during the final day of the Fayetteville Roots Festival:

3:30 p.m. — John Elliott, Main Stage

For a festival that encompasses the many various of folk music, I’d yet to see one classic form – political discourse folk, or activist folk, or protest songs or whatever you’d want to call it. John Elliott isn’t purely political. But he did offer a take on the upcoming civil rights ordinance election in Fayetteville. And he discussed the natural gas industry and fracking through song as well. Then he lightened it up, closing with a cover of Don Henley’s “Forgiveness.”

Dana Louise

Dana Louise

4:30 p.m. — Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds, Main Stage

Many local and regional acts perform on the side stages. It was good to see locals Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds on the main stage. Fronted by Dana Louise, and backed by multi-instrumentalist Adams Collins and Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet, the duo that make up Trout Fishing in America, Louise bounced through several songs. Especially with Collins on vibraphone, it’s a jazzy sound. But it also borders on pop — her song “Come on Down to the River” sounds a lot like Vance Joy’s pop hit “Riptide.”

5:30 p.m. — Devon Sproule, Main Stage

Devon Sproule, a Canadian songwriter now living in the wilds of Virginia, delivered a 60-minute set of introspective folk. Heavy on allegory, her songs often spoke of the golden thread that runs through everyone and connects us. The references bounced all over, from chapstick to gym shorts to an assortment of other items. This is very literal storytelling.

7:15 p.m. — Jimmy LaFave, Main Stage

Jimmy LaFave

Jimmy LaFave

Jimmy LaFave has existed just below the surface for years, creating Red Dirt music and winning awards for it. On Sunday, he twice covered Bob Dylan — with “Queen Jane, Approximately” and “Just Like a Woman” — and also Woody Guthrie, telling the audience a folk festival isn’t a folk festival until Guthrie is played (and indeed his take was the first I’d heard). He too utilized the talents of Anthony da Costa, and he turned the kid loose, with da Costa ripping off several reverb-heavy solos.

8:15 p.m. — Watkins Family Hour, Main Stage

Sara Watkins and her brother Sean Watkins of the Watkins Family Hour.

Sara Watkins and her brother Sean Watkins of the Watkins Family Hour.

Siblings — and band namesakes — Sean and Sara Watkins started the Watkins Family Hour set with a simple duet. Things were never as calm during the rest of the band’s wild and thoroughly entertaining main stage closing set. Fiona Apple, a famed songwriter in her own right, burst onto the stage for the second song, and her intensity was so great she brushed aside harmless questions from Sean Watkins about a song’s origins with a curt “I’m not going to waste time.” She wanted to sing. When she wasn’t singing and others had a moment to shine, Apple sat on the stage, waiting her turn. This wasn’t the Fiona Apple show, however, even if she did deliver two of the biggest highlights of the night — a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues” and one of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Those were chill-inducing, amazing cuts.

The artists gathered closely together on stage, no doubt duplicating the stage setup at the Largo in Los Angeles, the theater where this come-and-go arrangement of musicians started performing more than a decade ago. Sara Watkins brought along friends for this show, too, including Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, who join her on tour as the trio I’m With Her. Watkins Family Hour only this year recorded an album — all covers — and launched a tour. Fayetteville is lucky to have watched this collection of talent before almost anyone else.

The Roots Festival concludes, but my writing has not. Come back tomorrow for some final, overall thoughts on the Roots Festival.

In their own class: The third day of the Fayetteville Roots Fest

August 30th, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Chris Thile of the Punch Brothers at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

Chris Thile of the Punch Brothers at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

As J.D. McPherson played the final notes of his Friday (Aug. 28) night headlining set at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, he did so to a half-full venue. It was late, and there were several delays while he was onstage, too. Later that same evening and into the next morning, the Shook Twins played to a house of 75 or so at George’s Majestic Lounge.

As the Punch Brothers played the final notes of their Saturday (Aug. 29) night headlining set on the same main stage at the Fayetteville Town Center, they did so to a packed house. At the turn of midnight, Pokey LaFarge was playing to a packed house at George’s.

The differences between the two nights are subtle, but perhaps important.

For starters, I don’t want to take anything away from McPherson and his able band. They played well, and they gracefully played through some technical difficulties.

But like sporting events or personal fitness goals, there a critical element of momentum. The Punch Brothers got on stage less than 23 minutes after the excellent set by I’m With Her concluded. They blasted into “My Oh My” and after a jam-heavy lull early in the set, started ascending and stubbornly refused to peak by getting better with each note.

I’m not sure there was a direct correlation between the energy maintained there and the one that permeated the rest of the evening, but I encountered a line of people waiting to get into George’s for the late night shows there. Fayetteville Roots Festival activity was bubbling about town, from The Chancellor to Kingfish to George’s.

I watched a lot of music on Saturday. Here’s a bit about each show that I saw:

3 p.m. — Cory Branan, Main Stage

Cory Branan

Cory Branan

If Friday’s mainstage events started with sad folk music, Saturday kicked off with folk rock. Cory Branan told the crowd he would be playing his electric guitar because he was tired of his acoustic. He lived in Fayetteville for a while, and he played one of the songs he wrote (at least in part) while living here — “The Wreck of the Sultana,” about the steamboat disaster. He threw out some guitar and vocal acrobatics.

4 p.m. — Ben Miller Band, Main Stage

Ben MillerWEB

Ben Miller Band made some fans on Saturday. Those who have lived in Fayetteville have watched the band grow up a bit — I actually watched them perform at a friend’s wedding not so long ago. They’ve since inked a record deal and have toured the world. They’ve also shifted away from cover songs and now focus on originals. I watched them twice in a 12-hour span, with the second time coming about 12:30 a.m. this morning at George’s. They played nearly identical sets to start, which meant they were rowdy during their afternoon set at the Town Center.

5 p.m. — Smokey and the Mirror, Main Stage

We’ve watched Smokey and the Mirror grow up some, too. Bryan and Bernice Hembree have performed in several Fayetteville bands, including Three Penny Acre. They also organize the Fayetteville Roots Festival. And they annually reserve a spot for their project at the festival. They perform often as a two-piece outfit, but even that arrangement is shifting.

Smokey and the Mirror

Smokey and the Mirror


They brought drummer Ryan Pickop and electric guitarist Terry Buffalo Ware on stage with them, as they do whenever that arrangement makes sense. Sometimes there’s a lingering sweetness to their songs, but as soon as they lull me into that thinking, they change it up and perform a song about the Tulsa Race Riots. Like Branan before them, they gave me things to think about.

7 p.m. Shook Twins, Main Stage

I like how the festival provides main stage and late-night sets for many acts. It’s also a fascinating social experiment in catering to crowds. The crowds at the main stage and late night shows are very different. On Friday night, the Shook Twins got a little rowdy, beatboxing and playing rough-and-tumble songs. Saturday’s short gig on the main stage was a quieter, simpler affair. Not a better or worse affair. Just a different one.

8 p.m. — I’m With Her, Main Stage

Sara Watkins (left) and Aoife O'Donovan of I'm With Her

Sara Watkins (left) and Aoife O’Donovan of I’m With Her

Each of the three members of I’m With Her have individual talents. Sara Watkins plays fiddle so well, and she’s got exceptional energy. Sarah Jarosz plays everything. And Aoife O’Donovan’s voice might have been the strongest of the three. But I thought their interplay was solid, too. They played a blend of songs they had jointly or individually written and also dropped a few covers, such as John Hiatt’s “Crossing Muddy Water” and Gillian Welch’s “A Hundred Miles.” Even their hand claps were precise – it sounded like one clap.

9:30 p.m. — Punch Brothers, Main Stage

The Punch Brothers started slowly, actually. They traded licks back and forth and soloed often, coming off as only mildly self-important in the process. But when they got rolling, particularly in the second half of a 100-minute set, they were breathtaking. The nimbleness of fingers and the creativity to turn classic composer Claude Debussy’s piano suite “Passepied” into a piece for a bluegrass quintet was something I have a hard time describing. Trust me – it’s there. They also offer beautiful works of their own, such as “Movement and Location” and “Rye Whiskey.”

11:45 p.m. — Pokey LaFarge, George’s Majestic Lounge

Pokey LaFarge gingerly chided the main stage crowd for not being rowdy enough on Friday evening. He seemed to be much more in his element on Saturday in a small club in front of sweaty people. The Roots Festival brought him here several years ago, then brought him back, and you can tell he’s developed a following in Fayetteville.

So has the Fayetteville Roots Festival, of course.

Today’s events include sets by Devon Sproule and the Watkins Family Hour, which includes members such as Sara Watkins and Fiona Apple.

See you there.

A time for music: The second day of the Fayetteville Roots Festival

August 29th, 2015 at 11:02 am


Pokey LaFarge at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

Pokey LaFarge at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

With events already an hour behind schedule, it took J.D. McPherson and his band a full 40 minutes to get on stage at the Fayetteville Roots Festival after the preceding set by John Fullbright came to an end.

Suddenly, a promised 9 p.m. start time became a 10:22 start time.

It took McPherson and his band a few more minutes to find their footing, too. McPherson complained about a frog in his throat, taking a bit of hot honey water to attempt to soothe it. And the microphones for both McPherson and his piano/keyboard player cut out early into his set. The band jammed for a while as sound techs worked on and finally solved the problem. It stole some momentum from the band, at least temporarily.

Until he got rolling, that is.

John Moreland

John Moreland

He played his big number “Let The Good Times Roll” and several other big numbers in short succession. It served as a microcosm of the second day at the Roots Festival — high highs, coupled with moments of logistical frustration.

Here’s a little about all of the acts I watched on Friday (Aug. 28), the second of four days for the annual event.

3 p.m. — John Moreland, Main Stage

Well, 3:30 p.m., actually. John Moreland, the first act on the main stage, started a full 30 minutes late, and patrons expecting everything to start on time had to wait in the lobby of the host venue Fayetteville Town Center. I don’t get to ask questions a lot of questions at music festivals — there’s no way to walk up to someone like Moreland and ask why he was late. Any number of things could have happened, such as a long sound check from another band or a late arrival by the artist himself or technical difficulties or who knows.

Moreland is sad. Or at least sad in songs. The kind of sad that makes you want to wrap your arms around someone and tell them it’s going to be okay. He knows this, too — one of his best introduction lines came before the song “You Don’t Care Enough to Cry” when he said he just found out it’s “a song too sad for Dallas morning television.” He sings thoughtful songs, often about unrequited love, or about people in Oklahoma Walmarts. It’s tough to be entertaining on a big stage when you’re all alone and not moving around, but Moreland manages.

4 p.m. — Martha Scanlan, Main Stage

Martha Scanlan

Martha Scanlan

Martha Scanlan, with her ethereal voice and thoughtful songs, also kept the pacing slow and the mood heavy. She pulled heavily from her latest album “The Shape of Things Gone Missing, The Shape of Things to Come” She picked up the pace a little bit at the end, and we all needed that boost.

5 p.m. — The Steel Wheels, Main Stage

The Steel Wheels

The Steel Wheels

A good band knows its strengths. An excellent band knows how to maximize those strengths, and Virginia’s The Steel Wheels is an excellent band. Their best element is their stunning — or breathtaking, or powerful or whatever superlative you want to use here — vocal harmonies. They started and ended their sets with gospel-inspired numbers emphasizing those talents. This is a practiced unit, and they knew exactly how to grab for heartstrings. Their sometimes somber set was balanced nicely by the force of their voices and playing, a pick-me-up after a few slower sets before them.

7 p.m. — Pokey LaFarge, Main Stage

Everything was almost on track again by the time the dinner break concluded, even though the dinner break was a bit chaotic itself. It’s hard to turn 800 people loose in a narrow hall and tell them to come back 45 minutes later having already eaten. We were due back at 6:45, if you believed the printed schedule in the official program, which also advertised beer, wine and cocktails for a dollar less than was realized at the beverage station.

John Fullbright

John Fullbright

Pokey LaFarge has visited Fayetteville several times, the first coming at a Roots Festival several years back. His first appearance came as part of a quartet. His show on Friday night was a far cry from that experience — his backing band of six players alternated between instruments such clarinet, harmonica, banjo, drums, trumpet and washboard. I think LaFarge and company can best be described as speakeasy meets the Grand Ole Opry. LaFarge played one slower song as he accused the audience of not being excited enough. I don’t suspect his late night set tonight (Aug. 29) at George’s Majestic Lounge will have anything subdued. I’ll be there. You should be, too.

John Fullbright — 8:30 p.m., Main Stage

I wrote on Twitter (you’re following me, right?) last night that John Fullbright is “effortlessly talented.” He played keyboard (quite well, too) while playing harmonica, for goodness sake. He played a similar set to the one he offered Thursday (Aug. 27) at the Garner Farm. Friday’s performance, in front of a crowd of about a 1,000, offered a little bit more rawness, a little bit more angst and a good deal more stories. Like so many of the artists on the Friday night main stage, Fullbright writes amazing songs. His youth and his ability to play beyond those years sets him apart. Fullbright played the 75 minutes the schedule indicated he would, but by this time, his set ended 45 minutes after McPherson was scheduled to begin. I didn’t mind, but some did, and the evening started pushing into “long night” territory.

J.D. McPherson — 10:22 p.m., Main Stage

J.D. McPherson (left) and his band.

J.D. McPherson (left) and his band.

When he found his groove, the Oklahoma native and his crew really rocked. They played a string of rockabilly meets blues meets country songs such as “Head Over Heels,” “Let The Good Times Roll” and “North Side Gal.” You weren’t cool/hipster enough at the Roots Fest on Friday night, by the way, unless you called your significant other (or the girl you wished would be your significant other) ‘gal’ instead of ‘girl.’ McPherson, on the schedule for 90 minutes, played for 60. He and his band had found such a stride it was worth sticking around for, even if half the venue had emptied due to the late hour and the other music choices starting on other stages.

The Shook Twins — Midnight, George’s Majestic Lounge

The Shook Twins described their music as “futuristic, apocalyptic gospel swing” while on stage at George’s Majestic Lounge sometime early Saturday morning and I’m not sure I’ve got a better description. They played songs such as The Beatles’ “Come Together” and a string of their own songs, augmented by beatboxed loops and sisterly harmony. They perform on the Main Stage today, and I’m curious how their progressive, rowdy bluegrass will transfer to the sit-down environment found in the Town Center.

Today’s highlights include sets by I’m With Her and the Punch Brothers, to name a few.

Reviews and photos to follow.

Speaking of photo galleries, have you seen our Roots Festival collection? It’s online, and growing.

See you around today.

The stars align: A review of the first day of the Fayetteville Roots Festival

August 28th, 2015 at 10:20 am

John Fullbright at the VIP opening event of the Fayetteville Roots Festival. Photo by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

John Fullbright at the VIP opening event of the Fayetteville Roots Festival. Photo by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Democrat-Gazette.

Sometimes, things align.

John Fullbright had started his set at the VIP party that kicked off the ongoing Fayetteville Roots Festival.

I possessed a bellyful of carefully prepared food from local chefs and a beer made by a local brewer.

The Steel Wheels

The Steel Wheels

I had friends all around and my girlfriend by my side.

Fullbright started his set on a tear, starting with the rocker “Gawd Above” and just ripping through cut after cut.

Then — I swear I’m not making this up — he launched into the song “Happy” and a massive shooting star burst through the sky, causing an audible gasp as it streaked by.

There were other moments, too.

Earlier in the evening, The Steel Wheels started their song “We’ve Got a Fire” and the very instant they started, a man twirling fire sticks started his routine.

“Did he look at the setlist early?” a neighbor wondered out loud.

I’m not sure, but I am sure there was plenty of magic at the opening event, a treat reserved for VIP ticket holders and artists. Fullbright was great, and he’s more talented on three instruments (guitar, harmonica and piano) than all but the best players are on just one.

The Steel Wheels played somewhat of a somber set, but there’s real beauty in their voices. I did not get to watch any of Martha Scanlan — I was too busy filling my plate, and subsequently, my face, with dishes such as peach-roasted pork loin and succotash and nectarine pies.

Scanlan (4 p.m.), The Steel Wheels (5 p.m.) and John Fullbright (7:45 p.m.) all get a slot on the festival’s main stage at the Fayetteville Town Center today (Aug. 28).

The main stage events are sold out, but music continues all day both at the Town Center and nighttime venues such as George’s Majestic Lounge.

I’m excited to take in more music.

See you there.