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   Maybe you’re one of those people who sat outside Wal-Mart all night waiting for the Xbox360 to come off the shelves. Or perhaps your one of those who camped outside Best Buy for the chance to buy one of their laptops at the Christmas discount. If so, don’t read this article.

   The Christmas chaos arrived with a vengeance after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t enough to get ready by camping out – many people visited “Black Friday 2005” (http://bf2005.com/) to prepare for the event. (Retailers named the Friday following Thanksgiving as Black Friday to indicate that their finances would go in the black after being in the red all year.) Others pilfered their neighbor’s newspapers to get the advertisements – OK, this probably didn’t happen since so few people actually read newspapers anymore, but I like to think it did.

   It’s not like America even got a legitimate Thanksgiving season. Wal Mart and many grocery stores filled aisles with Christmas paraphernalia before anyone cooked a turkey. By the time my god-daughters reach puberty, I expect at least one (if not two) Wal Mart aisles will be dedicated to Christmas year-around. Perhaps they’ll put a golden ticket into the packaging so that you’ll win a Christmas shopping spree in the wee hours prior to Black Friday. Imagine – lines of people circle the building with some watching through the windows in awe because you get to handpick through the sales with nobody looking over your shoulder and no chance of getting trampled as you walk out the door! We can only dream.

   I’m not the kind of guy to fight a crowd now for something I can get on the cheap later. Instead of getting crunched at Christmas, I recommend getting things easy on the eye, ear, throat and pocketbook.

   Rent a cabin for a weekend at an Arkansas state park and see the state’s natural beauty. Hardly anyone’s around during this time of year, making for a romantic getaway for you and your sweetie. Many cabins offer fireplaces, too! Last year, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in a cabin – any noise you make gets blown away with the winter wind. While our spot’s not listed (http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/stay/cabins/), the list includes Lake Ouachita, Mount Nebo and Petit Jean among others. The park service offers $10 off cabin rentals during winter months, but requires reservations and advance deposits. While you can stay up to 14 days, reservation requests for one night only on a Friday or Saturday will not be considered more than one week in advance. With the incredible views, you may not want to come back until after the New Year.

   Buy a movie pass and take your sweetie to see “Walk the Line.” This movie chronicles the rise of an Arkansas-raised American icon. Maybe you don’t realize his influence. The Man in Black shocked Americans with the line, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” breaking the illusion of tranquility that everyone wanted to believe but no one actually lived. He toured with Elvis. Without even getting into his county connections, do you realize Cash sang with the likes of Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Fiona Apple, Nick Cave, Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis? Luminaries including Rev. Horton Heat, the Mekons, Elvis Costello, Keb Mo, Little Richard, Stevie Nicks, Wall of Voodoo, Linda Ronstadt, Rosie Flores, One Bad Pig, Social Distortion and Michelle Shocked covered Cash songs (and the Beastie Boys sampled “Folsom Prison Blues” for “Hello Brooklyn”). Cash covered songs by Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Bob Marley, Neil Young, U2, Ray Charles, Beck, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis, Depeche Mode, Peter La Farge, The Beatles and Neil Diamond. Yet you always knew Cash would make any cover of a song his own – no karaoke moments here. As W might say, “If you don’t like Johnny Cash, you ain’t American.”

hawk   Purchase Monticello poet red hawk’s “Wreckage with a Beating Heart.” If you don’t have the connections to get a CD of this UAM professor of English reading his poems, don’t worry – the poems stand on their own. My wife took my copy of the book on vacation, at first ribbing me about the many turned-down pages marking poems that spoke to me. On returning, I ribbed her about the tuft of markers rising above the spine, indicating her favorites. She took to quoting passages to unsuspecting family members, much to their surprise and my amusement. I’m not an avid poetry reader, but pass on this prize to your own demise. For more information on red hawk or to hear him read his poetry, go to http://www.hohmpress.com/Newfiles/authorbrowse/redhawk.html. You can order his book from Hohm Press for $16.95 plus $2.50 postage at P.O. Box 2501, Prescott, Arizona 86302, or online athttp://www.hohmpress.com/Newfiles/books/wrecking-beating.html.

diy   Support Little Rock’s music scene by picking up the “D.I.Y.” compilation from Hithchiker Entertainment, featuring The Frail Division (formerly Singleminded), Mourningside (Evanescence’s John LeCompt and Rocky Gray’s side project), Kingsdown, Sugar and The Raw, Grand Serenade and Adam Hambrick. I’m generally not a fan of compilation discs unless a) it’s bluegrass or b) it’s from a friend. However, this disc deserves recognition for featuring six local, professional bands moving in different areas:

o   The Frail Division lays down new modern rock with “Sara” and “Judas”

o   Kingsdown satisfies the screamo crowd with “Dearest Nameless”

o   Grand Serenade provides indie rock with “Not Now Not Ever” and “Secret Beaches”

o   Mourningside blazes metal with “Burden of Truth” and “This Goodbye”

o   Adam Hambrick lightens things with acoustic pieces “A Song for Anna” and “Hard Time”

o   Sugar and the Raw rock ‘n’ rolls with “In My Hair” and the sing-a-long “Hope You Don’t Mind”

   The Frail Division, Grand Serenade and Hambrick intentionally recorded new cuts for the compilation, while the other bands provide former studio cuts. Overall the disc takes a snapshot of some of Little Rock’s best from last year. Grab this for only $8 at Juanita’s.

losty   Take an experiment with Ho-Hum (http://www.playadel.com/) through their latest, “Losty.” Though I admire the band for spurning the major labels to shape their own sound and the Little Rock independent music scene, and I admire Rod for taking the independent route in running for governor (http://www.rodbryan.com), the Bradley brothers surprised me as I hadn’t taken an honest listen in a while. I first encountered Ho-Hum through former roommate “Big” Ron Hollis and while working at Smitty’s in the early and mid-1990s. Their album “Local” didn’t do it for me, and I quit listening — seems I made a mistake. Where I expected pop rock from “Losty,” I found dissonance reminiscent of music that made former girlfriends run from the room. Just to make sure I wasn’t deceiving myself, I took “Losty” for the commute test. I drive an ahour and a half to Monticello to teach — if a disc is good, I’ll listen more than once (Garage-a-Trois’ “Emphasizer” provides the extreme example of this, as it repeated in the disc player at least four times between Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn.). “Losty” passes the commute test as it’s infectious enough to repeat in the disc player while you wrap your head around the tunes. Not only did I not change the disc between Little Rock and Monticello, I got it out of the car and listened again while preparing for classes. Granted, some of this ear candy makes you stretch: I’m impressed with Lenny’s range on “Badman,” but I’m not sure I appreciate the yodeling effect. Perhaps with a few more listens. “A Heart of Stone” rolls into an upbeat stomp echoing the words “Look what happens when you are beside me/ Look what happens to my worried mind.” With my one-year anniversary coming up, I appreciate the lyrics to the poppy “Senator Meet Kid”: “Live is different for me now/I’ve been here for a long time/I know my wrong from right/You can’t decide for me.” And yes, Lenny does sound like Daryl Hall on “St. Street,” which says something about the soul in his voice. Since I only have this disc on loan, I’ve got to buy it for myself for Christmas, if not for others, too. Come to think of it, I need to grab more of their recent releases to see what I’ve been missing.

lucero2   Grab Lucero’s “Nobody’s Darlings,” the newest from the Memphis-based band featuring Little Rock’s Ben Nichols (http://www.luceromusic.com/). Jim Dickinson (father of the North Mississippi All Stars duo) produced this jewel, which features the band moving slightly away from country-influenced punk rock and squarely into the realm of southern rock. I personally enjoy the songs of resignation including “Sixteen,” “Nobody’s Darlings” and “And We Fell.” My biggest complaint with the album comes from the 11th track, “All the Same to Me,” which sounds like Dickinson wanted Lucero to provide a follow-up to North Mississippi All-Stars’ “Storm.” While I appreciate the song “Bikeriders” due to its inspiration from the book “The Bikeriders,” I think I think Lucero should stick with its personal lyrical content and the references to the Mid-South region (including Arkansas). I love hearing good stories, especially when depicting tragedy such as war without trying to glorify or villify it. The new song “The War” and “Joining the Army,” from the album “That Much Further West,” depict war in a familiar manner, as though your brother’s telling you what happened and why. On a side note, Lucero released a DVD/CD collection entitled “Dreaming in America” in October, featuring a look at the band’s history and a bonus CD containing live tracks spanning their career.

   Take a day-trip to Arkansas’ wine country. Altus features a bed & breakfast, wineries, unique restaurants, antique and collectible shops, and the memory of “The Simple Life” when Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton invaded the hills. If you’re not in the mood to stop in, you can always order wine and/or grapes online through the Post Familie Vineyards (http://www.postfamilie.com/), Wiederkehr Wine Cellars (http://www.wiederkehrwines.com/), Mount Bethel Winery (http://www.mountbethel.com/), Cowie Wine Cellars (http://www.cowiewinecellars.com/) and Chateau aux Arc (http://www.chateauauxarc.com/). Post and Wiederkehr produce more wine than any other wineries in the United States. Maybe Paris and Nicole tried the wine and thought, “If Arkansas wine tastes this good, the simple life there can’t be that bad.” Of course, Paris didn’t even know Wal-Mart existed before coming to Arkansas. Guess that’s not “hot” in her circles. If wine is too “upscale” for your tastes, try an Arkansas brewery. While the state cannot seem to support more than four breweries, at least we’ve got four! Vino’s Brewpub (http://www.vinosbrewpub.com), the old man of the bunch and Little Rock’s original brewery, provides a mean Quapaw Quarter Porter that goes great with a calzone. Diamond Bear Brewing Company (http://www.diamondbear.com) claimed a gold medal at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival Competition for its Diamond Bear Irish Red. The brewery offers public tours every Saturday at 2 and 4 p.m., just three blocks from the state capitol. Little Rock’s newbie brewery, Bosco’s (http://www.boscosbeer.com/), rests in the River Market, accessible by the trolley so you might not even need to drive. The Tennessee-based Bosco’s claimed a silver medal at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival Competition for its Famous Flaming Stone Beer. Fayetteville celebrated when Common Grounds owners Kari Larson and Julie Sill reopened the brewery formerly housed by Ozark Brewing Co. under the name HogHaus Brewing (http://www.hoghaus.com/). Northwest Arkansas’ only microbrewery offers tours and beer tastings Saturdays starting at 1 p.m. Don’t forget to take some home!

   You may notice my list contains an Arkansas twist. I figure Christmas is the season of giving – why not give back to those who keep giving in this state? Stay warm and keep kickin’ through the holi-daze. Questions, comments, observations, rantings, ravings and general bitchin’s expected and accepted at sitron45 at hotmail dot com.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1-31, 2005 issue of the Little Rock Free Press.

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