Start planning your cultural calendar with these 53 opportunities, our picks for the best the region has to offer this fall.
CONOR OBERST (+ Jonathan Wilson)
Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa
Best known as the front man of Bright Eyes and for his collaboration with Monsters of Folk, Conor Oberst is a versatile indie musician poised to promote his new solo album, Upside Down Mountain. A child of the Midwest (and a catalyst for establishing a much-acclaimed music scene in his native Omaha, Nebraska), Oberst’s songs are influenced by a combination of honky-tonk, folk, rock and punk genres, which explains his variance from album to album. This latest album has been described as a revival of the Laurel Canyon style—the 1960s sound of Neil Young or Crosby, Stills & Nash. (cainsballroom.com; (918) 584-2306)
While we can’t really tout her as the understated, singer-songwriter type, the hype around pop megastar Katy Perry isn’t withoutits fair share of merits. First of all, her Prismatic World Tour actually offers a Reflection Section, which allows concertgoers to get closer to Katy than ever before, thanks to state-of-the-art stage engineering. Secondly, let’s face it, baby—who doesn’t want to be a firework? Don’t miss the other half of this twofer; Tegan and Sara are indie pop heroines in their own right. (fedexforum.com; (901) 205-2525)
Rooted in a rich blues tradition dating as far back as the 1928 release of Cannon’s Jug Stompers’ “Minglewood Blues,” Minglewood Hall is a quintessentially Memphis performance venue that now plays host to the nation’s most promising indie rock musicians, such as The Head and the Heart. Having released chart-topping singles such as “Lost in My Mind” in 2011 and “Shake” in 2014, the band produces a folksy sound that ought to interest listeners who enjoy a lyrical style in the vein of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers or Bon Iver. (minglewoodhall.com; (901) 312-6058)
KING BISCUIT BLUES FESTIVAL
Historic Downtown Helena
Has an extended weekend along the Mississippi ever felt more like coming home? Doubtful. King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily American broadcast in radio history, has drawn listeners such as Muddy Waters and B.B. King for more than 73 years. Today, the show’s namesake festival keeps crowds returning annually. Catch live performances by blues legends Delbert McClinton, Jimmy Vivino & the Black Italians, Roy Rogers, Sonny Landreth and a bunch more. Steeped in Southern tradition, this festival coincides with a barbecue cook-off, a 5K/10K run and a blues symposium. (kingbiscuitfestival.com; (870) 572-5223)
TALK OF THE TOWN
North Little Rocker Nancy Steenburgen never misses that once-a-year opportunity to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in the blues: the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena. Introduced to the blues by her mother at an early age, Steenburgen has been immersed in the genre, or at least in something blues-inspired, for years—her sister, actress Mary Steenburgen, is a country singer-songwriter; Nancy’s daughter Audrey Dean Kelley is an Americana/blues musician in Brooklyn, New York; and daughter Amy Kelley Bell is co-owner of South on Main, which is quickly becoming one of the state’s premier music venues for blues and jazz.
The Delta is often seen as a less-than-ideal tourism destination. Why do you think Helena is the perfect host for the King Biscuit Blues Festival?
The Delta is the perfect place for the festival because it is so rich in musical history. There’s nothing like standing in the same spot where Sonny Boy Williamson, Levon Helm and so many other great artists have stood.
Who is your favorite performer, and why?
If I had to pick a favorite, I would choose Jim Cotton because of his gritty, bluesy sound. He’s a great harmonica player and a living legend of the Delta blues. I also love to discover rising, new talent who will form the next generation of blues artists. The Peterson Brothers are still in their teens, but they are certainly making a name for themselves in the blues genre.
Are there other must-see or must-visit places in Helena?
When you take a walk down Cherry Street, you can stop in at Bubba’s Blues Corner and meet some of the performers who inevitably end up there signing autographs. Then head down to the KFFA radio station and sit in while Sunshine Sonny Payne broadcasts his radio show—the longest-running blues show in U.S. history. If you are lucky enough to get a room, you should stay at The Edwardian Inn. It’s a great B&B within walking distance of the festival.
Why is blues music so important to you?
My mother was a music lover. She exposed me to lots of great music when I was growing up. When I hear the Delta blues, it’s like revisiting my childhood. There’s something about this music that relaxes me and energizes me at the same time. It tugs at your heart and makes you feel alive.
Elegant meets relaxed in this refreshing, mix-and-match approach to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks series. This year, Beethoven’s signature virtuoso style is balanced by John Corigliano’s more modern “Three Hallucinations” and “Troubadours,” performed by Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin. Conducted by the inimitable Philip Mann, this fifth installment of Beethoven & Blue Jeans is the best excuse to “cazh” it up since you exchanged your flip-flops for more season-appropriate boots. (arkansassymphony.org; (501) 666-1761)
Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Celebrating its 60th anniversary season, the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (its friends call it SoNA) is the second iteration of the North Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and is more vibrant than ever. Its fall performance of Masterworks I features Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Weber’s “Concerto No. 2 for Clarinet in E-flat Major” and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.” Moreover, SoNA’s music director, Paul Haas, has been dubbed an up-and-coming musical presence by The New York Times.(sonamusic.org; (479) 521-4166)
Few musicians open for themselves, but a jam-packed night of guitar genius is what you get from overachiever Joe Bonamassa. During the first set, he’ll play alongside a world-music band from his No. 1 live-from-Vienna acoustic release, which includes Gerry O’Connor, Mats Wester and Lenny Castro. Together, they’ll play an assortment of rare and vintage instruments. The second set will feature Bonamassa in his element with his regular tour band—“a gorgeously textured, ‘unplugged’ experience,” states the Verizon Arena website. (verizonarena.com; (501) 975-9000)
Your next concert will be nothing like your last concert—if your next concert is the Black Keys, that is. Get your howl on to the tunes of the blues/rock/alternative duo’s new album, Turn Blue. The album’s first single, “Fever,” already hit No. 1 on AAA radio and No. 2 on alternative radio. After concluding the European leg of their tour, which included an August appearance at the legendary Glastonbury Festival, the “garage rock” artists are scheduled to work their way west across the U.S., making it abundantly clear that the Black Keys are as popular worldwide as they are right here at home. (bokcenter.com; (918) 849-4200)
The place where Oxford American moves “from the page to the stage,” South on Main has brought new life to central Arkansas’ arts scene in its first year of existence with programs such as the upcoming jazz series, a four-concert cycle of performances designed to highlight the genre’s American Southern roots. A taste of what’s to come: a series kickoff with New York trio The Bad Plus on Oct. 2, followed by vibraphonist Warren Wolf & Wolfpack on Nov. 6. (southonmain.com; (501) 244-9660)
PIRANESI AND PERSPECTIVES OF ROME
UALR Gallery I, Little Rock
Aug. 18 – Oct. 5
Headlined by a Venetian printmaking great and supported by the expertise of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock art history department, this antiquity-inspired exhibition dons all the necessary trappings—complimentary course offerings, lectures from high-profile scholars—to fulfill its great expectations. The exhibition will feature Piranesi prints from local collectors, museums and UALR permanent collection’s Thompson/Cromwell Folio, which was discovered by Little Rock architect Edwin Cromwell around 1960 at the home of his father-in-law, Charles Thompson. (ualr.edu/art/galleries; (501) 569-8977)
Professor Floyd Martin is the real deal. If a 31-year career and a 2014 Faculty Excellence award were not enough to prove it, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock art history professor was recently honored with a $250,000 professorship in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences endowed by Ellen Gray, a retired Stephens Inc. executive. In addition to being an expert on European and early-modern art, there couldn’t be a more qualified authority than Martin to weigh in on the Piranesi collection set for exhibition in UALR’s Gallery I this fall.
How did the Piranesi exhibition come to be at UALR this fall? What was your part in making it happen?
About 15 years ago, Little Rock architect Edwin Cromwell brought in a bound portfolio of Piranesi prints that had belonged to his father-in-law, architect Charles Thompson, and asked if it would be of interest to the department. Later, Mr. Cromwell’s daughters donated the prints to the department, and we knew right then we wanted to plan an exhibition and a special course, which Dr. Jane Brown and I are co-teaching this fall.
What does it mean to the UALR art department to have the Piranesi prints in its permanent collection?
Piranesi is a major figure in the history of printmaking, in the history of 18th-century Romantic art and in establishing taste for the antique. Even though the impressions we have were made long after the artist’s death, they still are a connection to a person and a point of view of a past time.
What is the significance of architectural designer and printmaker Piranesi to our greater visual culture, and what is the artist’s importance to you as an art historian?
How we conceive of “ancient Rome” owes a great deal to Piranesi’s vision. He lived in a time when European artists were beginning to study more carefully ancient monuments, and when the personal vision and imagination of the artist was key. His works were also collected by many artists and connoisseurs during his life and continuing all the way through (as our portfolio’s history shows) the 20th century.
Going into your 32nd year of teaching, what are some things you’ve learned along the way regarding the the community’s firsthand access to original works of art, and related programming?
It’s great when exhibitions and programming all come together, since each part reinforces the others. It’s expensive to mount exhibitions of older art, time consuming to get all the parts organized and, therefore, wonderful when we are able to do something like this. I think it will be clear how excited Piranesi was about exploring the ruins of Rome and imagining what might have been. Some of that excitement about art and history will be passed on to students and visitors.
POET IN COPPER: ENGRAVINGS BY EVAN LINDQUIST
Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock
Sept. 5 – Oct. 26
Forget what you thought you knew about engraving—these are not your grandmother’s Currier and Ives prints, folks. While Evan Lindquist adopted the established tradition of master printmakers such as Albrecht Dürer and William Hogarth early in his career, the artist’s intaglio creations, described by critics as “metaphors of the mind,” are anything but common. A celebration of Arkansas’ first poet laureate by Arkansas’ current artist laureate, Poet in Copper is exhibited as part of the ACANSA Arts Festival and includes Lindquist’s lyrical explorations of abstract imagery, music, portraiture and satire, among other subjects. (arkansasartscenter.org; (501) 372-4000)
Crystal Bridges brings American visual culture to your doorstep. “The ultimate road trip,” this groundbreaking installation is the culmination of an entire curatorial team, a year’s work, 100,000 miles and over 1,000 artist visits across the country. In pursuit of artists whose work has not yet been recognized nationally, the museum’s curators narrow their scope to examine the many ways in which today’s artists are informed by the past, and yet deeply engaged with issues relevant to our time. (crystalbridges.org; (479) 418-5700)
UALR Gallery II, Little Rock
Oct. 6 – Nov. 10
Featuring the design of Mia Hall, head of the furniture design department at UALR, this installation is an investigation of viewer perception when encountering certain functional objects versus their physical reality. Hall’s objects are constructed which contradicts the objects’ leisurely appearance. A light and fluffy pillow, a table draped in soft, flowing fabric, or a tufted bench is, upon further investigation, hard and unyielding. The exhibition invites viewers to experience a tactile tour de force that brings stationary objects to life in the moment. (ualr.edu/art/galleries; (501) 569-8977)
When a traveling exhibition is inspired by a collector’s passion so intense it warrants the label of “obsession” and a full-length study, it might be worth stopping by to see the collection while it’s in town (or at least nearby). Not unlike his stylistic offspring William Beckman, realist sculptor Auguste Rodin is noted for his multifaceted portrayals of the human figure. Consider this accolade from Rodin’s arguably biggest fan, B. Gerald Cantor: “[Rodin is] a source of strength, power and sensuality. Truthfully, I can’t tell you more. Something just hit me.” Well said. (dixon.org; (901) 761-5250)
IMPACT: THE PHILBROOK INDIAN ANNUAL
Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa
Oct. 19 – Jan. 11
From 1946 to 1979, the Philbrook’s Indian Annual stood as a premier competition attracting artists, collectors and curators from across the United States, launching countless careers in the process. Impact is a celebration and retrospective of the competition, perhaps most noted for its contributions to the collections of the Philbrook, the Heard Museum and the Museum of the American Indian, which consistently purchased award-winning works during the event’s heyday. (philbrook.org; (918) 749-7941)
Somewhere between the colossal, photorealistic paintings of Chuck Close and the intimate, rural scenes of Andrew Wyeth is portraitist William Beckman. Praised for his emotional renderings of the human figure, Beckman is uniquely skilled in simultaneously evoking both gravity and amusement in his audience—never a bad thing if you’re looking for a thoroughly well-spent afternoon in an art museum. For the bookworms: Accompanying the exhibition is a 112-page, full-color catalogue of Beckman’s work, as well as archival photos from his childhood and college days. (arkansasartscenter.org; (501) 372-4000)
THE ART DEPARTMENT PRESENTS: JON SHANNON ROGERS
Thea Foundation, North Little Rock
Nov. 3 – 28
A different kind of event at a different kind of venue, The Art Department is an edgy, up-and-coming quarterly exhibition hosted at an arts education-focused nonprofit—plus, it’s easy on the pocket, making it perfect for young professionals. Ten dollars (only $7 with the event password revealed via Facebook and Twitter) earns you gourmet bites, drinks, live music and a front-row seat to works by native Little Rocker Jon Shannon Rogers. Well-traveled and completely infatuated with color and shapes in an urban context, Rogers is not your stereotypical landscapist. (theasartdepartment.com; (501) 379-9512)
IT’S NOT PRETTY, BUT IT’S BEAUTIFUL
Kresge Gallery at Lyon College, Batesville
Nov. 3 – Dec. 12
Nestled within the foothills of the Ozarks, Lyon’s Kresge Gallery annually stacks an impressive exhibition calendar featuring well-known artists with rich insight and solid resumes. It’s Not Pretty, but It’s Beautiful is the product of painter Cara Sullivan, who hails to us from Bangor, Maine, by way of Arkansas State University, the University of Ulster in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Rutgers University. Sullivan’s trademark: closely cropped, abstract imagery to engage her viewers in undercurrents of mystery, humor and darkness. (lyon.edu; (870) 307-7000)