Jim Harris

A dozen years or so separated visits to the
Timberwood Amphitheater for me and my son. But one thought was the same, and at the same time reminded me that a dozen years of watching your kid grow up flies by like a flash. That thought: Man, I wish Little Rock had an outdoor music site like this.

Yes, Little Rock has had Riverfront Amphitheatre over those years and more. That venue, which originally was never intended for anything much more than a place for the Arkansas Symphony to play outdoors, somehow found a way into be a pretty great outdoor rock venue for a short time in the 1990s (remember the Soul Asylum, Screaming Trees and Spin Doctors show, for instance?). Then they built all kinds of crap in and around it, ruined some pretty nice sightlines, shrunk the workable seating areas down by several thousand, made parking for the masses a real pain and, well ….).

I’ll revisit this, but we know Little Rock is in pretty much in the same shape for outdoor music venues as it was 12 years ago, around when Magic Springs Theme and Water Park in Hot Springs was opening its outdoor amphitheater to add one more attractive feature that would boost season ticket sales. See, then as now, you buy a season ticket to Magic Springs for the summer for around $60 and you get access to a summer Saturday night lineup of shows, and something will suit your fancy – country, classic rock, Christian rock, modern and heavy rock, Disney pop. The plan appeals to more than just the swimsuit crowd hanging around the water park in high-90-degree weather all day, too; we encountered several folks from Little Rock and beyond last Saturday night who were eager to see ‘70s rock bands Foghat and Blue Oyster Cult and who drove over just for the show (when asked by the emcee, several hundred people raised their hands to indicate they were season-ticket holders to Magic Springs, but you can buy entrance just to one show).

My son, now 16, was enthused enough to mention more than a month ago that he wanted to go to last Saturday’s twin bill of classic rock. Flash back 12 years ago: As entertainment editor of the Times, I’d brought home a demo CD of a Boston-area band of Berklee College of Music seniors, the now defunct Click Five, talked by their manager into adopting sort of a Dave Clark Five look and a somewhat throwback sound of ‘60s influenced pop. Then 4-year-old Scott loved it (figures, right?). So, one of his first shows in his young life was seeing The Click Five with a few hundred other curious fans at Timberwood.

Now, 2018, we’re among several THOUSAND graying, wrinkling rock fans and their kids and grandkids to see two bands I grew up with. The place was packed, all reserved seats had been sold and the comfortable green lawn hill in back was filled with fans on blankets or in canvas folding chairs.

Scott plays the guitar and, while he hasn’t added Foghat’s “Slow Ride” to his playlist yet, he’s long gotten “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” down pat. Getting to see Buck Dharma of BOC play it live still probably meant less to him than it did to me. “Who’s Buck Dharma, dad?” he wondered, leading up to the show, when I expressed excitement about the prospects of not only seeing the band play, but getting to meet them backstage (one of the perks of some ticketholders as well as winners of a few contests at the park on Saturday was getting meet-and-greet passes – Foghat’s original drummer, Roger Earl, and his three newer mates seemed more genuinely interesting in the “greet” portion than Buck and BOC did, to be honest).

While each band had their three or so definitive hits that still get regular spins on the area’s classic rock radio, their musical approaches for hour-long sets vastly differed. Foghat boogied and rocked out on its bluesy, slide-guitar dominated song list. Charlie Huhn nailed all the vocals as the late Dave Peverett would have. Guitarist Bryan Bassett, an enormous guy compared with the other musicians, made his guitars look like something my son started out with at age 7 (Fender Mini Squier, that is), and he played them like a toy. He was spectacular. My son the occasional guitarist was wowed.

And this was before he got to see that Buck Dharma was more than just a guy who created one of the most famous arpeggio riffs in the rock era for “The Reaper.” Dharma and the band’s most virtuosic number was brilliant “The Vigil,” which conjured memories I was keeping to myself of what I might have been doing while kicking back to “deep album tracks” in the ’70s. The funniest moment to us was co-guitarist/co-vocalist Eric Bloom, Buck’s lone original bandmate remaining in BOC (though the “newer” others have been in the outfit for decades), pretending to bang the cowbell to the opening of “The Reaper.” Even the band seems to embrace the “more cowbell” irony of the Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell/”Saturday Night Live” skit about the band’s recording of the mega hit. Frankly, it didn’t need cowbell; the vocal harmonies on this and all of Blue Oyster Cult’s songs were impeccable.

“That was a great concert,” was the 16-year-old’s assessment on our way to a filled and quickly emptying parking lot. The old man concurred. A pretty good bonding moment was had, too. There aren’t a lot of drawbacks to Timberwood Amphitheater, unless you detest the idea of having to go into a theme and water park to watch a show there. Granted, if this were solely an amphitheater on its own surrounded by tall pines and carved out of a hillside and not surrounded by a theme park and next to the ever-present clickity-clack Arkansas Twister roller coaster, there would probably be easier access to bathrooms and even more concession areas than the ones in back and another on the right side of the grass area. There would probably be nicer reserved seating than the ballpark-like aluminum rows in the front. You might have something a little on the lines of the fabulous Walmart AMP in Rogers, which for the past several years has had some pretty fantastic shows covering all genres of music.

Which, naturally brings us back to here, Little Rock. We don’t know if we’ll even have another renewal of the second-generation RiverFest, or something else like it, in the future. We have the wonderfully modernized Robinson Center Performance Hall and the various incarnations of setups that Verizon Arena can manage for indoor concerts year-round, but the summer outdoor scene is terribly lacking here. You can’t tell me that for a season ticket of all-encompassing summer music shows, or for $20-$25 one-time admittance to one that suits a music fan’s fancy, a fairly easily accessed outdoor amphitheater in the woods of West Little Rock/Chenal/Roland/Crystal Hill et al. wouldn’t be just the ticket for an entertainment boost in the capital city. I guess it just takes money.

Until then, our choices are to drive elsewhere. We suggest taking in Timberwood Amphitheater at least once. Upcoming are such shows as Seether, followed by Skillet.