This coming April was curated by KABF DJ RJ Looney.
As a child, he developed a love for what we now call “classic” country and western songs; at the age of six, he started playing guitar, learning Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee”, running out the grooves of his 45.
Eventually, he left his hometown of Oil Trough, Ark., to attend Arkansas State University, at the same time graduating from country and western to the rhythm and blues and blues-rock of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. He eventually settled in Little Rock which has been his home base for the last decade.
A songwriter and performer in his own right, Looney is well-known on the scene and has played with local and national fixtures like Bonnie Montgomery and Sonny Burgess and has also graced the South on Main stage for the Oxford American’s Local Live series. Currently, he plays harmonica in the duo Fret & Worry (with Joe Meazle on guitar, though they won’t be playing South on Main Sessions this go-round…) and still manages to find the time to broadcast his radio show “Under The Influence” Monday nights from 5 – 7 p.m.
This crop of artists hold fast to Arkansas’ Americana tradition, and as per usual, there is something for everyone: iconoclastic poetry in the southern gothic tradition, country songs about salt-of-the-earth types tilling the land, and of course there’s some rip-roarin’ blues riffs. Take a look at the list and mark your calendars, folks.
April 6 – Trey Johnson & Jason Willmon – If Fret & Worry “are regular Pringles, than [Trey and Jason] are loaded baked potato Pringles,” is how Looney describes this harmonica/guitar duo. Fresh off their recent appearance at the semi-finals of the International Blues Challenge, Trey Johnson’s haunting harp is the perfect compliment to Jason Willmon’s high-energy guitar—posibbly the most accomplished player in Central Arkansas, according to Looney—and it’s fitting that they get to set the tone for the rest of the Sessions shows.April 13 – Doug Strahan and The Good Neighbors – Looney found out about this Austin, Texas, blues band from Bonnie Montgomery and boy do they ever deliver. Strahan’s rock songs are informed by country music, much like the best stuff from the Seventies, and may come off as simple. That is, until you key in on their complex, layered, nigh cerebral arrangements. As soon as they get you in a trance, a scorching Les Paul is liable to rock your head off.
April 20 – Jim Mize – A one-time insurance adjuster by day and singer-songwriter by night, Conway native Jim Mize writes songs that straddle the line between the light and the darkness. “[He’s] probably the best songwriter in Arkansas,” Looney explains. “I think his songs are just like novels.” Look for Mize to move you with songs about everyday life.
April 27 – Nick Brumley – Front-man of The Mansion Family—no, they don’t still live in a mansion, and, yes, it must be a roundabout reference to Charlie and his gang—Brumley hails from Marshall, Texas. He just turned thirty but according to Looney, “his songs are way beyond his years, his insight, for sure. Folks that like Guy Clark [and] Townes Van Zandt will certainly enjoy this show.” Brumley’s high tenor is reminiscent of Neil Young, and I have to agree with Looney that it pairs especially well with the music.
The Sessions concerts are all at a price point of between five and 10 dollars but outside of that, South on Main’s Amy Bell is encouraging curators to invite higher-priced acts they might not otherwise bring in for late night shows.
April 29 – For his extracurricular late-night concert, Looney asked music industry veteran Keith Sykes to perform. Hailing from Memphis, Tenn., Sykes has been writing songs since the ‘60s that have been recorded by a whole slew of artists, from Rosanne Cash to George Thorogood, and he was even part of Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band during the Seventies. For a cover charge of $20, concert-goers can see the legend in his element, something that is sure to be a special treat for everyone in attendance.
All the Sessions shows are all-ages and begin at 8:30 p.m. with a cover charge of $5. The late-night show featuring Keith Sykes is all-ages and begins at 10 p.m. with a cover charge of $20. Get involved in the convo on social media by using the hashtag #SessionsAtSOM.