I was lucky enough to see several dozen concerts in Northwest Arkansas this year. I watched some outside of this area, too, and many of those were excellent as well. But for the purposes of this list, the Best Concerts of 2012, only those in this newspaper’s 12-county readership area made the cut.
Here’s what I enjoyed this year. What’s on your list?
10) Wynonna’s Rockin’ Christmas, Dec. 16 at Walton Arts Center — Christmas concerts can be stuffy, dramatic affairs, but Wynonna never let that happen during her show on Dec. 16. Sure, there were moments of high emotion — none bigger than when her husband, recently injured in a motorcycle accident, walked out to the front of the stage — but she kept things moving with amped-up versions of Christmas standards. She also captured hearts with a mostly a cappella version of “Silent Night” that turned the crowd into a chorale.
9) Andy Frasco, April 23 at Tanglewood Branch Beer Co. — Sometimes people talk about a show so wild that people are dancing on the tables. Then there are shows where people are quite literally dancing on the tables. Andy Frasco would play in the area several times this year, and he’s always a party-inducing machine. But none of those shows rivaled this one. He was rowdy, and the crowd responded. I don’t have a good explanation for why, other than the stars aligned on this night.
8) The Lumineers, June 2 at Wakarusa — Long before The Lumineers’ megahit “Ho Hey” was clogging radio airwaves and was featured on every other television commercial, they played for a crowd of about 50 at the Wakarusa festival. Already, the magic was starting to build — even though their debut record was only a few weeks old at the time, those gathered to watch them already knew all the words. The set was brief, and they don’t have much material beyond their only recording. Even then, my friends and I knew we were on to something.
7) Kiss tribute show by Godz of Thunder, July 28 at The Lightbulb Club —
Sometimes, a concert is fun because a band is having fun. That was certainly the experience during a one-off tribute show offered by a group of talented local musicians. Their garish Kiss costumes (complete with makeup) were a talking point, and they would only play eight songs. But it was one of the best 45 minutes I spent at a concert all year.
6) Pokey LaFarge and Cletus Got Shot, Aug. 26 at George’s Majestic Lounge — In the hours after John Prine’s headlining set at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, Pokey LaFarge offered an enthusiastic, old-timey set for those who weren’t finished after the more formal part of the evening. Then, as they wrapped up, locals Cletus Got Shot seized the crowd and wouldn’t let them go, causing the majority of those packed into the front stage area at the club to dance wildly. I enjoyed John Prine. But I loved the after hours sets, a testament to energy and the power of songs.
5) Don Williams, Oct. 9 at Walton Arts Center — Voices fade over time. And while many of his country music contemporaries are inevitably on that path, Don Williams’ show on Oct. 9 proved he still has many wonderful concerts ahead of him. Loaded with hits such as “Amanda,” “Tulsa Time” and “You’re My Best Friend,” the night was warm and congenial. Williams had a good time, and the audience had an excellent time as a result.
4) Glen Campbell, April 27 at the Walton Arts Center — As Glen Campbell prepared to say goodbye courtesy of a long tour, many worried if the Alzheimer’s disease that prompted the tour would get in the way of his show. I can gladly report it was a magical night of music. He performed well, even as he stumbled through the interludes between songs. It was part joyous, part sad, and it was all wonderfully moving.
3) The Avett Brothers, Oct. 16 at the Arkansas Music Pavilion — The Avett Brothers actually passed through this area twice this year, once for the Wakarusa festival and another time for this show at the Arkansas Music Pavilion. On the second of those nights, they had a full evening to fill (instead of a condensed festival setlist) and used it wisely. Playing a mix of old and new material, the high-energy set alternately dazzled and caused dancing. The closing number, a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea” was also a treat.
2) Delta Rae, Oct. 11 at Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival — If I hadn’t caught just a passing moment of uncertainty on the collective faces of Delta Rae, I would have thought they planned it this way. That’s how perfect their transition from stage to mingling with the crowd was. When a power outage took away their amplification, the band, with barely a batting of an eye, switched to acoustic instruments, hopped off stage and continued their set in the middle of a crowd. There, they played their hit “Bottom of the River” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Power came back on, and they eventually found their way back to the stage. But an already stellar show had just been taking to an intimate, front-porch-like affair. It was a beautiful moment, executed by a band talented beyond their years.
1) Punch Brothers, Oct. 11 at Harvest Music Festival — A good setlist goes a long way toward making or breaking a show, and in my personal opinion, the Punch Brothers’ flawless collection (including covers of The Band and Radiohead and heavy doses of their new album) this night guaranteed a good experience. But coupled with exceptional musicianship, an appreciative crowd and a beautiful venue, the combination was unbeatable.