Magic in Dreamland

Business owner, friends giving new life to ballroom in historic 95-year-old building

BY LINDA CAILLOUET – Democrat Gazette

Dreamland BallroomLITTLE ROCK — At Ninth and State streets in downtown Little Rock, the historic brick building wedged against Interstate 630 survived long after all of its neighbors fell to make way for newer buildings, parking space, or simply empty lots.

But 20 years ago, the regal building — marred by a gaping hole in its roof — appeared doomed to the same fate.

Kerry McCoy, owner of Arkansas Flag and Banner, fell in love with the threestory building at 800 W. Ninth and wanted to move her business, then in a house on North Little Rock’s Main Street, there. She bought the building in 1990.

At the time, many wondered if she’d lost her mind.

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Night at the Speakeasy Will Help Stock the Bar at Dreamland Ballroom by Karen Martin, inArkansas.com

Night at the Speakeasy is an evening of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, music, dancing and more from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 12) at Dreamland Ballroom, 800 W. Ninth St., Little Rock.

To increase the clandestine feeling of an illegal drinking establishment during Prohibition, participants are encouraged to dress in 1920s-era attire (fedoras, flapper dresses), climb the stairs to the Dreamland Ballroom, and whisper the password to get in.

Cover charge is a bottle of wine valued at $25 or greater or a $25 eTicket (to purchase click here). Tax donation forms will be available.

RSVP to friends@dreamlandballroom.org or (501) 255-5700 to get the password.

Dreamland Ballroom is located in Taborian Hall, the only remaining historic building on West Ninth Street, which showcased legendary musicians of the 1930s. Proceeds from Night at the Speakeasy will benefit its restoration.

For more information visit www.DreamlandBallroom.org and click on Events.

Hillbilly band goes ‘retro’ – by Shea Stewart, Sync.ArkansasOnline.com

The last time Big Smith brought their rambunctious, Ozarks-inspired music to Little Rock there was a promise of a new album. The outfit — brothers Mark Bilyeu on guitar and Jody Bilyeu on mandolin; brothers Rik Thomas on ukulele, mandolin and banjo, and Bill Thomas on upright bass; cousin Jay Williamson on washboard and trap set; and friend (and only non-relative) Molly Healey on fiddle and cello — is no stranger to central Arkansas. The band plays here often.

A couple of turns of the seasons later, that album is here, and the Springfield, Mo., band is on the road promoting it. The 15-track recording is titled Kin, which is an apt name because of the relationships of the members of the band and that the album kicks off with “Uncle Bud.” The tune is a surging, bluegrass number that rides a rhythm created by Healey’s fiddle, with Big Smith singing about the man who “taught us how to pick and bow/He taught us what to sing/Come to think he taught us all a bit of everything.”

Kin is the follow-up to Roots, Shoots, and Wings, a February 2010 release, and the first studio album to feature Big Smith’s current lineup. (Bill Thomas joined in 2007 and Healey in 2008.) Kin is also a return to the band’s earlier sound after Mark Bilyeu formed the band in the fall of 1996 around his weekly gig as a solo performer. And the new album more closely resembles Big Smith’s 1998 self-titled debut and the 2000 release Big Rock. (Beyond two live albums and a children’s album, Kin is the band’s fourth, studio album. Ten years passed between the release of Big Rock and Roots, Shoots, and Wings.)

Often known as a “bluegrass” band with rock beats (let’s call it “hillbilly” roots rock), Kin finds Big Smith returning to its acoustic roots. The album was also recorded at The Studio, a downtown Springfield studio where Lou Whitney has worked with clients such as Wilco, The Bottle Rockets and Sweetwater Abilene. It’s also the place where Big Smith recorded its first two studio albums.

The album — 12 originals, two covers and one traditional — was mostly recorded live, with the band members recording each tune as the tapes rolled. There’s a slight amount of overdubbing, but what one hears from Big Smith on Kin is the sound of a veteran, self-assured band tearing through a collection of stripped-down, acoustic tunes that still stomp and holler.

As band member Jody Bilyeu promised earlier this year — “We’re ready to hit the ground running and keep the creative output up.” — Kin is a collection of intellectually stamped, neo-hillbilly music, tunes filled with the band’s high-spirited roots music that incorporates old-time mountain, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, country and blues. The music might be raucous at times, on tunes such as “Whippoorwill” and “Grandmother Mabel,” but Kin is also delicate, especially on the tracks “Like You Do,” “I Thought It Was Over” and “Ghost,” with special guest Honeybear on lead vocals. And one of the covers is Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” which, in a testimony to the tune’s strong DNA, works as a recast hillbilly rocker.

So Kin is a bit of a nostalgic nod over the shoulder, but the album is also the sound of a band moving confidently into the future. And it’s a joyous future.

SEE THE MUSIC:

Big Smith returns to the Dreamland Ballroom for a Saturday show which will serve as the local CD release party for the new album Kin. The doors open at 7 p.m. with the music starting at 8 p.m. with Cindy Woolf, an Arkansas native known for her Ozarks-flavored folk rock who now lives in the southwest corner of Missouri. Big Smith will take the stage at 9 p.m., delivering stomping, good-timing, Ozarks-inspired roots music. Tickets are $10 in advance and $14 at the door. The Dreamland Ballroom is located at 800 W. Ninth St. in downtown Little Rock.