Sleepy LaBeef and the Arkansas Sounds Festival

By Colin Woodward

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Arkansas Sounds Festival. This two-day concert of all-Arkansas musicians was sponsored by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, which is part of the Central Arkansas Library System, and is housed in the Arkansas Studies Institute in downtown Little Rock. The event was put together by musician “Big” John Miller and featured such acts as Sleepy LaBeef (shown here), Sonny Burgess, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, Velvet Kente, and a Levon Helm/Michael Burks tribute put on by Jeff Coleman, Jess Hoggard, and others.

The only act I was able to see much of (I have a book manuscript to complete, darn it!) was Sleep LaBeef, who played on Friday night. Sleepy was in good form. He was a human jukebox, tearing through song after song with a medley of classic blues, rock, and country tunes ranging from Johnny Cash to Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Not bad for a guy in his late 70s.

Unfortunately, the weather, while cool, was not ideal. The lack of sunshine no doubt hurt the festival’s beer sales. However, the promoters could count the weekend as a success. I walked past the Levon Helm tribute late Friday night and the place was packed. Another festival is planned for next year. Let’s hope Arkansas Sounds becomes a staple in the local music scene.

Colin Woodward is a historian and archivist. He is the author of Marching Masters, Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014). He is writing a second book on Johnny Cash.

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