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Little Rock Music Scene

Lauren Wells | April 28, 2014

The History

Heavily influenced by the Memphis, Tennessee’s music scene, Little Rock, Arkansas came into a humble music scene of its own, eventually churning out artists like rock band Evanescence.  During the 1950s, country rock and roll icon (and Arkansas native) Johnny Cash made a name for himself as a music legend with a career that spanned up until his death in 2003. 1950s Arkansas also churned out acts like Country Music Hall of Fame legend Conway Twitty and country singer-songwriter Charlie Rich.  Country rock musician Glen Campbell, a four-time Grammy Award winner also hailed from Arkansas, and even hosted his own variety show called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS.  During the 1960s, Grammy Award winning jazz saxophonist and bandleader Pharoah Sanders gained popularity as well, as his avant-garde sound made a positive impact on the national music scene and other musicians like John Coltrane.  During the late 1980s and 1990s, acts like Christian metal band Living Sacrifice, sludge metal band Rwake, and hip-hop soul singer-songwriter Ne-Yo also emerged from the Little Rock area.  The millennium introduced performers like indie rock band American Princes, Christian punk band The Wedding, and country singer-songwriter Justin Moore.

The Venues

The Verizon Arena opened in 1999 and is an 18,000-capacity venue that hosts sporting events and various entertainers throughout the year.  Serving as Little Rock’s main entertainment arena, the Verizon Arena hosts big name acts like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, George Strait, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Brantley Gilbert, and Bruno Mars.  With its 28,000-square-feet conference area, the venue also hosts conventions, exhibitions, banquets, and meetings catered by its in-house chef and catering staff, so whether you’re attending a corporate event or a sold out rock concert, the Verizon Arena will treat you to a world class entertainment experience.

The 7,875-capacity First Security Amphitheater is a go-to outdoor venue in Little Rock, featuring national touring acts and local performers under a beautiful night sky.  Located immediately next to the Arkansas River, the First Security Amphitheater allows unparalleled views of the city as concertgoers enjoy acts like Brantley Gilbert, REO Speedwagon, and Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.  Developed in the early 1990s, the venue is located in the city’s River Market District, where it hosts a farmer’s market and a variety of family-friendly entertainment.  The amphitheater also hosts the annual Riverfest, a popular music festival in the Arkansas area.

The Robinson Center Music Hall is a 2,609-seat proscenium arch hall that hosts corporate presentations, concerts, lectures, dance recitals, and award ceremonies, among other events.  Acts like REO Speedwagon and the Glenn Miller Orchestra come through the Robinson Center Music Hall, so keep an eye out for quality entertainment coming to town!

With fun decor, the intimate Rev Room is a three-in-one venue: a bar, music venue, and restaurant.  If you like dancing, the venue even offers weekly dance nights, where you can learn or teach others how to Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue, or Bachata!  If you’d rather sit/stand back and enjoy watching others, maybe a live show would be a better fit for you– and don’t worry because the Rev Room hosts bands like At War’s End, Paul Wall, Cheyenne Medders, Joseph LeMay, Zoogma, Rising Appalachia, of Montreal, the Wild Feathers, and the Casey Donahew Band to keep you thoroughly entertained. Between dancing, enjoying live music, and ordering some delicious food, you’ll never want for something to do at the Rev Room.

George’s Majestic Lounge hosts live music from performers like GRiZ, Scott H. Biram, Slightly Stoopid, Mountain Sprout, Kelly Road, Randy Rogers Band, Trampled by Turtles, Revolution Butterfly, Purp Loder, Tragikly White, Split Lip Rayfield, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Leftover Salmon, and Afroman.  Opened in 1927 by George Pappas, the venue is the oldest and longest-running club and live music venue in Arkansas.  Over the years, George’s has hosted acts like Robert Cray, Sam Bush, Tower of Power, Bernard Allison, Michael Burks, North Mississippi Allstars, Robert Randolph, Big Smith, and David Lindley, among many others.  Known for its willingness to welcome University of Arkansas students and alums, the venue often encourages guests to sign the University’s yearbooks that they have readily available.

If you want to check out eclectic acts like Randall Shreve and the Slideshow, Andrew Anderson, Ben Franks and the Bible Belt Boys, and Not in the Face, head over to Maxine’s.  The casual bar gives off a divey vibe while concert goers enjoy an intimate indie rock show.  A great venue to dance, relax, and bring your friends, Maxine’s offers massive calzones, not to mention it hosts a fun crowd to keep you company while you check out a show or televised sporting event.

The Joint is a coffee shop and bar with an adjacent 105-seat cabaret theater, where you can check out a sporting event on their big screen or a comedy show with friends.  The Joint also hosts concerts, and don’t forget to sip a reasonably priced beer while you enjoy the show!  The venue even hosts their own in-house trio of actors and musicians, collectively known as The Main Thing.  The Main Thing has had their work featured on Saturday Night Live, MTV, HBO, and Off-Broadway, among other outlets, so you know you’re getting quality talent when you stop by The Joint!

The Festivals

Held along the Arkansas River, Riverfest is Arkansas’ largest music festival.  Taking place over Memorial Day weekend, the festival brings in about 250,000 music lovers and brings millions of dollars to the Little Rock and North Little Rock communities.  Going strong for over 36 years, Riverfest has hosted Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean, Cheap Trick, Heart, Little Big Town, Collective Soul, The Black Crowes, Pat Benatar, Carrie Underwood, Train, REO Speedwagon, The Steve Miller Band, Barenaked Ladies, Nelly, Miranda Lambert, Joe Walsh, and Hootie & the Blowfish.

Wakarusa is a weekend-long festival held in Ozark, Arkansas every June.  Since its formation 11 years ago, Wakarusa takes place on Mulberry Mountain, where festival-goers camp and enjoy six stages worth of 150 musicians.  Headliners often include acts like Umphrey’s McGee, The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, The Flaming Lips, STS9, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, John Butler Trio, Michael Franti & Spearhead, O.A.R., Xavier Rudd, Walk Off the Earth, Vintage Trouble, Moon Taxi, and Dr. Dog.  Bring your tent and your love of nature, because this festival is a musical oasis in the mountains (plus, you’ll probably never want to leave!).