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a musical mecca
by Mike Overall, photo by Lisa Turner

The revitalization of Downtown Jonesboro into a Main Street Community hinges in large part on the transition it is rapidly undergoing into an arts and entertainment mecca. Numerous art galleries display a vast array of artwork from local artists, and thanks to the recent addition of several new restaurants and venues, the live music scene in Downtown Jonesboro is thriving, too.

“When we reformed the DJA, it was a no-brainer to focus on arts and entertainment to imbue downtown with a singular and unique sense of identity,” said Shelli Wood, the president of the Downtown Jonesboro Association (DJA) Board. “Downtown already has the look and feel – the ambiance, if you will – of an arts and entertainment epicenter. It is a very unique and centralized place whose status as a destination, not just a mere place, is a tribute.”

She credits the multiplicity of talented musicians, sculptors, painters and artists of all stripes, as well as visionaries and entrepreneurs, who are transforming the city’s historic district into a unique area that will attract not just Jonesboro residents, but visitors from afar.

One of the main attractions for the visitors is the quality of music that numerous venues feature on a regular basis, as well as special holiday events and other celebrations offered downtown. Legendary rocker Rick Springfield performed to an at-capacity outdoor crowd last October and, .38-Special will take the stage this fall.

Several downtown venues feature music on a regular or periodic basis; among them is Dan Johnson’s Brickhouse Grill at 218 South Main, with nightly performances by soloists and groups who play virtually every contemporary and traditional genre of music imaginable. Recently, local group Zach Williams and The Reformation, a popular Southern rock ensemble, played at Brickhouse Grill before embarking on a tour of Japan.

James Best’s Skinny J’s, located at 205 South Main Street, is an upscale restaurant that opened in 2010. The restaurant presents live music every Tuesday through Saturday.

“The live music at Skinny J’s has definitely expanded my business and clientele,” said Best. “We have several bands that play on a regular basis and bring in quite a crowd. Many of the acts ... include locals who have a large following of family and friends who enjoy their music.

“If a good restaurant has quality food, people will come regardless, but live music keeps them around a little longer, for sure.”

Best said it has been interesting and exciting to watch the historic district grow.
“I’m just flattered to be a part of it,” he said. “We are giving the community a very unique and diverse place to enjoy.”

Dr. Carl J. Abraham’s venue, TheArts@311, opened last October at 311 S. Church Street. At the self-described musician and artist collective, performers regularly jam several times each month. Abraham, himself a multitalented drummer and percussionist, encourages his performers to develop a sense of empathy on the bandstand, which emboldens the musicians’ creativity and their desire to stretch in the realm of improvisation.

The downtown location of Don Jose’s features twice-weekly karaoke sessions with Dave Ellis Grim, as well as some live music.

Godsey’s Grill, 226 South Main, has expanded to accommodate more diners and has featured live music.

VOX 306 on S. Church Street features karaoke every Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. and occasional live entertainment, too.

There are several reasons why Jonesboro is rife with extremely talented musicians, among them Arkansas State University’s highly regarded College of Music and Jonesboro’s geographic location on the northernmost edge of the Mississippi Delta. The latter was and remains a fertile breeding ground for the blues, jazz, African-American gospel, rockabilly and rock and roll.

Among the musicians who perform regularly in the historic district are 3-Minute Genius, Terry Carter, The Brewers, Tumbledown Shack, Philip Jackson, Paul Richardson, The Jazz Alliance, PF Flyers, Plain Meanness, Tony Spinner, Ashley McBride, The Steepwater Band, Vagabond Swing, Vikki McGee and Sonny, Copper Possum, Starroy, The Arkansas Brothers, Dillan Cate and many others.