It’s not a secret: The dog days of summer suck for entertainment. Who knows why? It’s really hot; people take vacations; school starts. Maybe entertainers need a summer break, too. Whatever the reason, we’re fully focused on the near future, particularly since it promises leaf-jumping, pullover weather and a dizzying slate of arts and culture to-dos.

In this annual edition of our Fall Arts Guide, we run down the best and the brightest of the bunch. Ambition figures prominently in our two feature stories. Contributor Shelle Stormoe surveys the upcoming season at the Rep, which kicks off this weekend with “Les Mis,” the theater’s biggest production ever. And contributor Gerard Matthews travels to Texarkana to a newly opened nightclub that’s almost certainly the state’s largest. Plus, we’ve got full previews on upcoming music, theater and art events and a near comprehensive fall arts calendar. Start making plans …


Music on the march

After a quiet summer, Alltel kicks the season off with a bang: The Eagles (Sept. 16). Extending a biblical metaphor it began with “Hell Freezes Over” in the mid-’90s, the band last year released the comeback album “Long Road out of Eden,” exclusively through Wal-Mart.


If lite-rock and big crowds aren’t your thing, Dan Penn (Sept. 16, Hendrix College, Conway) is perhaps the greatest soul songwriter of all time. He’ll perform his most famous songs, like “Do Right Woman” and “I’m Your Puppet,” in an intimate free concert (see “With sweet inspiration,” page 31). Or for those in Northwest Arkansas, femme-folk icon Ani Difranco (Sept. 16, George’s Majestic Lounge) brings her tour to Fayetteville in advance of her 18th studio album, “Red Letter Days,” which will be released later this month. A broad-minded music fan might stick around for a few days. Robert Cray (Sept. 18, Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville), who observant cinephiles remember as the bassist in the “Animal House” sequence with Otis Day and the Knights, is one of the foremost contemporary bluesmen. Cray’s latest album, “Live from Across the Pond,” should give potential concertgoers a sense of his soulful tenor, estimable guitar skills and sharp backing band.

Vino’s is now older than its most stalwart clientele. The ramshackle pizza joint cum boozy hangout cum teen-age refuge celebrates its 18th anniversary (Sept. 20) with a concert featuring a host of local oddballs, including King Don, the Reds, Loch Ness Monster and Underclaire. There’ll be food and beer specials, and there’s been talk of reverting to 18-year-old prices. To celebrate the grand opening of the Mosaic Templars museum of African-American history, a portion of Ninth street will be blocked off for a street fair (Sept. 20), featuring music from the Hope Drum Ballet, Billy Blues Jones, Afrodesia and the Count Basie Orchestra rhythm section (the band’s namesake once performed in the Templars’ Dreamland Ballroom).


The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra launches its season with Stravinksy’s “Firebird” (Sept. 20-21, Robinson Center Music Hall), a suite familiar to fans of ballet and “Fantasia” alike. In yet another kick-off, swamp rock standard-bearer Little Feat headlines the American Classics Festival (Sept. 20, Clinton Library) and helps mark the opening of the “American Chopper” exhibit at the library. With a day to spare, Pop in the Park! (Sept. 20, History Pavilion in Riverfront Park) wraps up its summer concert series with a free show featuring a quartet of local acts: shimmering pop-rock band Grand Serenade, mewing indie-rocker Chase Pagan, catchy rapper Epiphany and arguably the South’s strangest and most compelling MC, 607. The weekend concludes with “Pop Doo Wop” (Sept. 21-22, Trinity United Methodist Church), the River City Men’s Chorus’ tour through the last 90 years of pop music history, and Leon Russell (Revolution, Sept. 21), who at 62 and with a prodigious Santa Claus-esque beard continues to explore a mishmash of blues, rock and country. Russell is supported on tour by his two daughters, Tina Rose and Sugaree Noel.

He’s not likely to rap, but fans will still likely turn out in droves to hear Public Enemy leader and co-founder Chuck D (Robinson Center Music Hall, Sept. 25) speak on the future of music at a Clinton School-sponsored lecture. Perhaps another audience will flock to see Southern rock legends the Allman Brothers (Sept. 26, Randal Tyson Track Center, Fayetteville) headline the Bikes, Blues and BBQ motorcycle rally. Though the fashion portion, featuring clothes by “Project Runway” standout Korto Momolu, will undoubtedly be the big draw, Hillcrest’s HarvestFest (Sept. 27, Kavanaugh Boulevard) also features an impressive local music line-up, including honky-tonk heroes the Salty Dogs, pop-rock standouts the Boondogs and new-wave act Kyoto Boom.

Even at 69 and after a near-fatal abdominal hemorrhage in 2002, Canadian folk-rocker Gordon Lightfoot (Oct. 5, Robinson Center Music Hall) is still at it. Motown legends the Four Tops and the Temptations (Oct. 9, Reynolds Performance Hall, UCA, Conway) are too, though the original Four Tops are now down to three and none of the original Temptations remain. Expect polished, nostalgic soul music nonetheless. To fulfill the promise of its title, the Arkansas Chamber Singers’ “All Music Must Dance” (Oct. 10, St. James Church; Oct. 12, Clinton Library) enlists members of Ballet Arkansas. The performance includes selections by Schubert, Brahms and Copland. The name has changed, but the music remains the same. Pinetop Perkins and Bobby Rush highlight the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Fest (Oct. 9-11) in Helena.

That mass confrontation with humanity, otherwise known as the Arkansas State Fair, runs from Oct. 10-19. Musical acts perform every night and, like the slate of any good fair should, include country stars like Rodney Atkins (Oct. 10), “American Idol” alums like Bo Bice (Oct. 11) and nostalgia acts like Three Dog Night (Oct. 17).


If Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers are the Beatles and Stones of tween pop, the Cheetah Girls (Oct. 18, Alltel) might be the Kinks, a group with a fervent, but not hysterical, underage following. “Violin Pyrotechnics” (Oct. 18-19, Robinson Center Music Hall) includes pieces by Barber, Paganini and Schumann.

His recording pace may’ve slowed, but Junior Brown (Oct. 19, Revolution) continues to infuse Ventures-style fretwork into classic honky-tonk on the road. Brown’s guit-steel, a guitar joined by a steel guitar, remains his trademark. Outside the bounds of his Leno-era smooth jazz, famed saxophonist Branford Marsalis joins with the Filharmonia Brasileira to celebrate the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos in “Marsalis Brasilianos” (Oct. 20, Reynolds Performance Hall, UCA, Conway).

An alum of Miles Davis’ band, Joey DeFrancesco (Nov. 7, Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville) is regarded as the pre-eminent Hammond B-3 organ player. After dueting together on the unlikely hit “Because of You,” Kelly Clarkson and Reba McEntire (Nov. 15, Alltel) are touring together, with one band and each vocalist helping the other sing her hits. In a season marked by catchy titles, “Mozart to the Max” (Nov. 15-16, Robinson Center Music Hall) finds the ASO performing “Overture to Don Giovanni,” “Clarinet Concerto” and “Symphony 41: Jupiter.”

PBS regular Celtic Thunder (Nov. 17, Alltel) is an Irish, five-man ensemble that (you guessed it) sings traditional Celtic songs. An orchestra and dramatic lights and staging figure in, too. Known best as a regular collaborator with Dave Matthews, guitarist Tim Reynolds (Nov. 21, Revolution) also sings and leads a trio.

Though a recent documentary revealed its members at their group-therapy worst, Metallica (Nov. 22, Alltel) remains the measure by which all metal bands are judged. With the release of his third album, “Trouble in Mind,” Hendrix alum Hayes Carll (Nov. 29, Sticky Fingerz) has become an alt-country star.

An annual tradition, the River City Men’s Chorus takes on seasonal favorites in “Holiday 2008” (Dec. 7-8, 11, Trinity United Methodist Church). The Boys of Lough (Dec. 7, Reynolds Performance Hall, UCA, Conway) are yet another superstar Celtic act, but from Scotland. Another annual tradition, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Yuletide Spectacular, also features contributions from Sharon Douglas, Lark in the Morning, the Old School Bluegrass Band and the Parkview Magnet High School Drum Corps.