Three years ago, the Northwest Arkansas music scene slipped into
faint existence with hardly a whimper. Longtime venues like Chester’s
and Dave’s on Dickson had already shut their doors, depriving residents
of two of the only regional venues willing and able to house national
touring acts. Then local music stalwart JR’s Light Bulb Club closed
down. A couple places around town, George’s Majestic Lounge and the
Gypsy, picked up what slack they could, still booking big acts like
Steve Earle and Merle Haggard, but the vitality and variety of live
music waned considerably.

Still, a few hopeful players around
town think they can resuscitate the once-vibrant scene. So contends
Harold Wietes, one of a trio of promoters who make up Majestic Concerts
LLC, along with Dan Allen, a co-founder of Bikes, Blues, & BBQ, and
Brian Crowne, co-owner of George’s Majestic Lounge. The company is set
to unleash the first Dickson Street Music Festival April 25-26. The
eclectic festival will feature a broad range of acts, from fiddling
standby Charlie Daniels to the influential noise-rockers Sonic Youth.

Advertisement

Wietes, who also books shows for
George’s along with his partner Crowne, thinks people are over-reacting
to the recent dearth of live music. “Live music is not dead,” he
claimed. “It’s only changing and evolving.”

He hopes the Dickson Street Music
Festival will give both local businesses and area residents a reason to
believe. Held in conjunction with Springfest, a 26-year-old annual arts
and crafts festival on Dickson that had been floundering, the music
festival will cost $30 per day or $50 for both nights.

Advertisement

The combined event will be held in
association with Earth Day, and as a result will be assiduously
eco-friendly. Jason Sterling, formerly director of the Peg Brazelton
Environmental Center in Fort Smith, will head up the efforts. He’s
responsible for making sure the events “follow a sustainable model.”
Vendors will be given green guidelines about compostable waste, and
bands will help promote environmentally conscious behavior.

The actual show begins at 5 p.m. and
ends around 11 p.m., but Wietes hopes the crowd will come early to hear
free bands that will play in the street and afterwards “spill out into
into other businesses” to end the night. For their part, George’s
Majestic Lounge will be offering free shows following the event
featuring Blind Melon and Great American Taxi (featuring Vince Herman
of Leftover Salmon). He expects that some of the festival headliners,
including Fred Tackett of Little Feat, will find themselves jamming on
stage later that night.

Advertisement

“This is what Fayetteville is all about,” he said. “And it should be what Dickson Street is all about.”

But their big plans don’t end there. He
says that Crowne and Allen just bought the Arkansas Music Pavilion
(adjacent to the Northwest Arkansas Mall) and have big plans to turn
what has always been an essentially corporate venture into a great
place to see “shows that outgrow George’s.” Area residents should look
for news regarding the venue this summer.

While things seem to be on the upswing
at bigger venues, there are also rumblings underground. The closing of
JR’s Light Bulb Club seemed to nail the coffin shut on the independent
music scene. Eager patrons were left with nowhere to go. Without a
smaller venue friendly to local acts and touring indies, the local
music scene became something of a phantom.

Young Fayettevillians have retreated to
their living rooms, holding illicit “house shows” that feature all
manner of acts, from itinerant neo-troubadours like Super Famicom and
Real Live Tigers to bigger indies like Lightning Bolt and Catfish
Haven. Passing the bucket for gas money has become the new cover
charge, and bass players are paid in homemade breakfast.

Advertisement

One such venue, the departed Delicious,
busted up when a landlord caught wind of the enterprise. Others have
either been careful enough to keep from getting shut down or have come
to tacit agreements with landlords and neighbors. Later this month, the
heralded weirdos of Old Time Relijun will push aside some lucky kid’s
coffee table and fill the living room with their trademark rustic yelps.

Elsewhere and legally, a couple of
Fayetteville bars are vying for the once-coveted role of hippest haunt.
The Boom Boom Room under Ryleigh’s has overcome its awful name to house
some of the best bands around. And Shane Hall has been booking local
musicians successfully in the basement of the Urban Table (known
locally as the OPO, or Old Post Office). His philosophy on cover
charges appeals especially to struggling young local acts. “Whatever
they make at the door, they take home,” he said. As word spreads, he’ll
settle for the ever increasing bar profits.

Though the NWA music scene might have
been stagnant over the last three or four years, some rhythmic Lazarus
seems to be crawling from the ashes. Promoters have provided a pretty
enticing spring lineup. All audiences have to do is prove that they
still exist. What better season for rebirth?