Best Local Bands You Won’t See at Riverfest Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
Pity the poor festival promoter. While he battles with schedules and budgets and shoehorns a small army of bands across a multitude of genres into a weekend of (hopefully) packed venues and corndog-and-beer-fueled revelry, some geek stands off to the side, arms folded, eyes rolling skyward and mumbles, “Boring.”
Forget that dude. We’re not complaining or peering down our noses. This is more of a “what if” kind of exercise concerning this year’s Arkansas Riverfest lineup on the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock.
This weekend, the lineup includes the typical mid-level touring acts suited to a festival the size of Riverfest; there’s Bush, Peter Frampton, Sugar Ray, Lupe Fiasco, Darius Rucker, Drive-By Truckers, etc. And there is also an impressive list of native musicians. Arkie bands like Swampbird, Laundry for the Apocalypse, Amasa Hines, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, singer/songwriter Adam Faucett are all over the various stages, and the reuniting of local alt-rock pioneers Ho-Hum should be a major highlight Saturday night at the Clinton Center’s Stickyz Music Stage. Check the whole line-up here.
But what if there were more Natural State bands involved? Who else could take the stage and rock the collective faces off a sunburned and woozy festival crowd? This is our list:
1. Whale Fire
This Little Rock-based alt-rock band has just released its full-length debut, “Before You Run,” which is filled with just the kind of driving, soaring, dreamy pop that would resonate quite well in an outdoor setting.
Glaciers in Norway talk amongst themselves about the sludge-paced heaviness of this doom metal quartet. Pallbearer has been touring relentlessly behind 2012’s masterful and complex “Sorrow And Extinction,” so you know they’ve become a tightly wound unit of foreboding and darkness blasted at ear-splitting levels. Oh, to hear “Foreigner” being offered up into the Arkansas heavens! The doom metal gods would indeed be pleased.
3. Mad Nomad
These Little Rock guys dropkick the jams through the freakin’ roof and still keep a handle on the melody, which is harder than you’d think. Mad Nomad has just put the finishing touches on their debut album, “Blacked Out,” which sounds like Lucero on a hard rock binge, with dashes of late-’80s metal and screamo thrown in for good measure. Seeing them bash out the anthemic “The Crowd” and then follow it up with a good ol’ power ballad (complete with piano!) like “Me Tarzan, You Jane” would have the skate punks and the Guns ‘n’ Roses crowds stoked. And while they aren’t playing Riverfest, they are doing a record release show at White Water Tavern in Little Rock on Friday night, so there’s that.
4. Bonnie Montgomery
Arkansas’ torch ‘n’ twang queen would make a perfect addition to any of the Riverfest stages. Montgomery’s raw but classy country/folk channels Hank Williams and Kitty Wells and her voice is all Arkansas cypress swamps, honky tonks and lonesome blues. Why, look, here’s her video for “Crop Dust Sky.”
5. The See
Specializing in sprawling alt-pop, it’s not hard envisioning this Little Rock group commanding huge crowds from a festival stage with its impossibly catchy, head-bobbing, impassioned fight songs. Pair them on a bill with the mighty Ho-Hum and watch the brilliance erupt before your starstruck, grateful eyeballs.
So they aren’t based here, but Gossip is two-thirds Arkie (Beth Ditto and Nathan Howdeshell both grew up in, and fled quickly from, White County), and how rad would it be to see them bring their dancy, punk-disco attack to the edge of the Arkansas River? Pretty damn rad, in case you were waiting for an answer. The band is no stranger to the European festival circuit, and seeing the vocalist Ditto in all her fabulous glory climb a lighting rig and sing “Heavy Cross” like the boss that she is would be a positively divine Riverfest moment.
Sean Clancy grew up in Helena, Arkansas, and lives with his wife, son and their dog in North Little Rock, where he spends most of his time watching old bicycle races and videos by The Cure on YouTube.