Good Times: A History of Night Spots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas

In 2019, Fayetteville, Arkansas found itself named among the top three American cities for live music, placing third after Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana. In this history of Fayetteville’s nightspots and musicians, we celebrate the ancient human tradition of music and dance. These were – and still are – the places where live music finds its most enthusiastic audience, where musicians practice a craft as old as time, where the drumbeat and lyrical voice travel straight to the heart.

Among the hundreds of start-up bands pursuing their moment in the spotlight, some of Fayetteville’s bands and musicians have gone on to national, even international fame. Standing behind these musicians are the promoters, nightclubs, and rehearsal spaces that supported and encouraged them.

Perhaps more importantly, a steady stream of new talent, new sounds, new ideas attract passionate new audiences to join in the good times. How can this be? What strange cocktail of talent and public appreciation come together here to produce such a rich legacy of irresistible music and the places and professionals who enable its existence? Only a historical view of this Ozark city, its musical artists, and its creative commons can begin to illustrate the full picture.

Multiple 5-star reviews!

Paperback $26.95 Amazon Washington County Historical Society

Owen Mitchell and Fayetteville’s Jazz Men

Mitchell’s jazz band circa 1930,
the Arkansas Travelers

Owen Mitchell started teaching music when he was seven years old. A neighborhood boy wanted to learn to play so Owen shared what he knew. That was 1892. He would go on to become the first jazz band leader in Fayetteville. … In increasing demand, the Owen Mitchell Orchestra performed for dances across the region to audiences eager to break out of the war years’ gloom and embrace the new styles of music and dance. The band was among the first to be heard on the new University radio station, KFMQ, in 1924. By January 1925, Mitchell’s radio programming split fifty-fifty between fox trots and waltzes.

… In a lengthy 1949 article in the Northwest Arkansas Times, reporter Doug Jones provided an overview of the local music scene.

“…What I’m talking about are the guys that have and are still living in and around Fayetteville that plenty of local citizens have heard about. All in all, there has been a lot of pretty good music produced in this area, homegrown and home-consumed.

“To those who have followed music, there have been trends in this town reflecting the jazz of the whole country. There might be a few raised eyebrows when I say jazz, but that’s what it was and still is. Jazz music is the basic foundation for all native American popular music. Even more important, to those who haven’t heard, jazz is the only original art form this country has produced. Everything else, Europe or China did first. But jazz is ours, and more and more it is becoming recognized by critics as a true art form.”

From Chapter 3, The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville, available in paperback at Amazon. $19.95

Henry Tovey, A Renaissance Man

Henry Doughty Tovey will always be best known as the composer of the music for the University of Arkansas Alma Mater. For everyone who ever attended school there or came to University events like football games, the melodic strains and rich harmonies of that song evoke deeply-felt memories. Without question, Tovey had tremendous musical talent. But that was only a hint at what this man would give to the university, the town of Fayetteville and yes, even the State of Arkansas over the twenty-seven years of his life here.

…Tovey spent the summer of 1909 with friends in Chicago where he discovered the latest version of the Victor gramophone. He immediately purchased one along with a large number of recordings of standard operas including performances by world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso… The gramophone came to serve a key role in Tovey’s grand scheme to offer music education throughout the entire state. Ultimately, his concept caught fire across the nation and even in other places around the world. … Tovey’s growing reputation regarding this teaching method resulted in an article about him published in The Musician, the national journal of music instructors… “The address by Henry Doughty Tovey of the University of Arkansas, which we give in this issue in part, is highly interesting in the demonstration it makes of the wonderful educational power of the talking machine and because it presents such a practical way of working out results. In his plan there is suggestion for every music teacher, for he can use the talking machine in the home and suggest selection of records, and this will have splendid educational results both on the pupil and the entire home.”

…In April 1917, Tovey received notice from Schirmer’s of New York City that their new book, “Energy of American Crowd Music,” would include a chapter about Tovey and his work. No record of this book has been found, but an article thus entitled stated in the preface that “everything we see hear, feel, experience in any way becomes subject matter for music, poetry, painting and sculpture. The things seen and heard in Kentucky or New England or the Ozarks become material for us…”

Much more about this trailblazer in The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville. Available in paperback, $19.95.

Frank Barr, Bandman

Barr in 1897

The question of when and how Frank Barr picked up a cornet and learned to play remains unanswered in the mists of time. Yet at the age of eighteen as a student at the University of Arkansas in 1892, this young man not only played but would soon become the bandleader for the University Cadet Band. He would go on to direct the University band for twenty years as well as recruiting youth for “Barr’s Boys Band” through the 1930s. But these were not Frank Barr’s only contribution to the community of Fayetteville and the surrounding region…

…[In 1921] The Elks Club, of which he was a member, agreed to start raising sufficient funds to pay a director and “give Fayetteville boys and men an opportunity to learn to play as well as to have a band ready for the many celebrations and events which a band is needed.” A month later, the Elks announced subscriptions of over $100 per month to finance the band. Barr’s salary would be $75 per month. The Knights of Pythias agreed that they and other lodges about town would be contributors. Barr offered several band instruments he owned which could be used, and County Judge Ernest Dowell consented to the use of the basement of the courthouse for evening rehearsals.

…[In a letter to the editor, 1928] “First, if you will excuse me, I’ll say most of my life has been spent in the entertainment business. At the age of fourteen years, I started teaching bands, and almost continuously since that time, I have been taking bands to picnics, reunions, playing for fairs here, and years ago I played for several fairs held at Rogers and Berryville. For three seasons I managed a Chautauqua here. For 11 years I ran a picture show in Fayetteville and during that time had shows in 14 different towns in Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. I merely give this to show that if anyone is in a position to know what the public as a whole want in the line of entertainment, I am.”

From The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville. Available in paperback, $19.95. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BGNCCZ46

New Release! The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, the world of entertainment experienced a massive shift. The invention of electronic media—radio, recordings, movies—brought music to remote homes and new audiences. Sweeping Fayetteville, Arkansas, and its outlying areas before its new wave, the familiar sounds of minstrels and brass bands soon made room for opera, jazz, and the Roaring Twenties.

Key to these transformations were three men and an innovation in the Black community, each taken singly in these chapters. Frank Barr spanned the days of military brass bands to the innovation of his boys’ band that performed soundtracks for silent movies. Henry Tovey, an import from the conservatories of Illinois, took the University of Arkansas fine arts program to unexpected fame. Owen Mitchell, a musician of unusual talent, embraced jazz and led one of the area’s most popular swing bands. Finally, the Black Diamond Orchestra rose from the heart of Fayetteville’s Black community to popular acclaim across the region.

The world of entertainment enjoyed by so many today grew from these roots, from the talented few who generously shared their knowledge and passion and gave music a future of unexpected and thrilling potential.

Paperback, $19.95. Available at Amazon

Second Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past

Bawd, tart, hussy, jade, libertine, sport, soiled dove – familiar terms among many for women who sell the use of their bodies. Shockingly enough, Fayetteville had them. But no one talked about it, probably because the town fathers and university powers feared that parents across the state might not send their sons and daughters to school here if this particular element was known to exist. But it did exist, and finally in 1935 the news exploded onto the front pages of the newspaper.

“Fayetteville’s Immoral Houses” is just one of nine articles exploring local history collected in the new release, Second Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past.

Chapter 1 – New! Daguerreotype was the first form of photography, and Washington County had several daguerreotype professionals in the years before the Civil War. The story follows Anderson Frieze and documents others in this image-making profession circa 1850-1880.

Chapter 2 – The Yoes family was one of the first to settle in Washington County. The story follows them from the time of their immigration from Germany through three generations. Some of this information was previously in various parts in The West Fork Valley: The West Fork of White River, Arkansas, Its Environs & Settlement before 1900.

Chapter 3 – This award-winning article about Jesse Gilstrap tracks his travel to the gold fields of 1850 California, his inventions and millwright operations in south Washington County, and his efforts on behalf of the Union during the Civil War. Published in 2018, Flashback.

Chapter 4 –  This article delves into the murder of a prominent businessman on a downtown Fayetteville sidewalk. Why did these two men — brothers in law — come to such a crisis? A greatly abbreviated version of this story appeared in Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West.

Chapter 5 – New! “The Final Abuse of Ann Jarvis” recounts the horrific murder of a wife and mother in a case of extreme domestic violence and mental illness.

Chapter 6 – New! “Fayetteville’s Immoral Houses” uncovers the previously hidden world of prostitution in Fayetteville.

Chapter 7 – This exposé of an auto theft ring operating in Fayetteville in the 1930s portrays a man’s attempt to entangle the city attorney and the police chief in his foil. Previously appeared in Flashback.

Chapter 8 – New! Circuses drew enormous crowds through the 19th and early 20th centuries, even to locations like Fayetteville whose population at the time of the first circus was less than 1,000 people.

Chapter 9 – The story of the Brumfields and their fated dream to build Fayetteville’s Downtown Motor Lodge tracks the rise and fall of that dream to the vacant lot that scars Fayetteville’s downtown today.  Appeared previously in Flashback.

Great reading for cold winter days ahead! Also makes a good gift for any of your history-lovin’ friends. Order now! Amazon

Ardent Spirits in Washington County: An examination of laws governing intoxicating drink

Pioneers who settled Washington County and other areas of the state in the early 1800s would have been shocked and highly annoyed with laws passed before the end of the century which regulated and ultimately prohibited the production and use of alcoholic drink. Personal freedoms taken for granted by men who forged the frontier slowly eroded as reform elements in society attempted to change the nation’s drinking habits. Instead of men guiding their own ‘manifest destiny,’ those who considered themselves “God’s defenders” presumed to know what was best for every man. Along with such moral regulations, however, came an onerous cost to the young nation as commonly accepted behavior became criminalized. Inevitably, the rule of morality would be replaced by the rule of outlaws.

…Washington County’s county seat Fayetteville hosted a well-established temperance movement by 1841, at which time the local chapter was humiliated by the discovery that its vice president had fled to Texas after embezzling over $20,000 through his job at the bank. Stirred to greater vigilance by this event, the society publicly excoriated a member who confessed to drinking wine. In another “outing,” the society issued a summons against such noteworthy local citizens as Joseph J. Wood, John J. Stirman, and H. J. Sanderson for “the violation of their pledge to said Society.” According to an account of the Fayetteville Temperance Society 1841-1844, published in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, “Sanderson arose and publicly confessed that he frequently drank Ardent spirits and sometimes to excess.”  The Society approved a motion to report him as a person unworthy of membership.

Reflecting the increasing regulation and growing public hysteria about alcohol use under the incitement of temperance activists, the issuance of licenses in Washington County dropped off dramatically by the mid-1850s. In 1855, the Arkansas legislature passed a law allowing local townships to vote whether to allow alcohol sales within their boundaries. Fayetteville’s newspaper the South-West Independent carried frequent comment on this state of affairs, the tenor of which insinuates the editor’s low regard for such efforts, such as this February 10, 1855, piece:

“Bear it in mind, that the law now in force, in regard to retailing ardent spirits, requires the individual wishing to set up a dram shop to present to the county court a petition signed by a majority of the voters of the township in which the grocery is to be located, before he can obtain license to retail drams!

“Some of these petitions are already before the people, and it will soon be tested whether a majority of voters of Washington county are in favor of retail liquor shops or not. We believe, however, that there is, at present, only one licensed grocery in the county, and it may be that the hundred dollar tax will prevent the test from being applied to all but Prairie township; if so, the present law will affect only the people in and about Fayetteville. Practically, the passage of this law can affect Washington county but little. Still, for its moral effect, the public mind ought to be wide awake upon the subject, and act from principle.

“How would it do to hold public meetings and have a little free discussion upon the subject? We make the suggestion and hope to see it acted upon; in this way both sides of the question may be freely and fairly presented to the public. We want the test to be a fair one.”

A local establishment selling alcohol had its own ideas about the call for stricter regulation, as noted in this advertisement published in the Fayetteville newspaper.

Don’t miss these fascinating stories of early Fayetteville available in Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past. Available at Amazon.com

From 1835 to the present day, the City of Fayetteville in Washington County, Arkansas, has enjoyed a vibrant and colorful history. Its reputation as a regional center for arts, culture, and education began early in its history. Frequently named one of the nation’s Top 10 cities, Fayetteville hosts the University of Arkansas and its famous Razorback athletic teams.

The five articles contained in “Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past” focus on under-reported aspects of that history. Published initially by the county’s historical society, these intensively-researched works have been revised and expanded with illustrations, photographs, and maps.

“The History of Fayette Junction and Washington County’s Timber Boom” now include not only an in-depth review of its first major industry but also three appendices which examine wagon production in Fayetteville, the name and tradition of Sligo, and the Fulbright mill.

“Quicktown” delves into the story behind this quirky short-lived suburb in south Fayetteville.

“546 West Center” tracks the development of a landmark Fayetteville property from its earliest use as a site for an ice factory in the 1880s.

“The Rise and Fall of Alcohol Prohibition” documents the use, production, and regulation of alcoholic drink in Washington County from before statehood through the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, and features indictment and other crime data.

“175 Years of Groceries” follows the transition from country store to supermarkets to big box stores and includes newspaper advertisements showing price changes over those decades.

Ooh, the 70s!

As chronicled in the massive history of Fayetteville’s music scene, the 1970s overflowed with great music that echoed down the length of Dickson Street. The Charles Tuberville Band was among them.


Back: Singleton, Smith, Billy Osteen
Front: Ellis, Tuberville, Womack
Photo courtesy Joe Phelps

Charles Tuberville Band

Charles Tuberville became hooked on the guitar after watching an older cousin plug his “machine” into an amp and began playing a song by The Ventures. Then when The Beatles took rock n’ roll by storm, that changed everything. Charles got his first guitar, an electric Harmony Bobcat, for Christmas in the 7th grade. “‘At the time, I was playing trumpet in the school band. The day I got my electric guitar, that trumpet never again came out of the case,’’ he recalled in an interview for Blues News.[1]

His Fayetteville band formed in the early 1970s and played popular clubs like Notchy’s and The Library. In 1976 when the Brass Monkey took over the former Gaslight space in the basement of the Mountain Inn Annex, the Charles Tuberville Band served as the house band. Members of this powerhouse group were Charles Tuberville and Billy Osteen (Cal Jackson still in Memphis) on guitar; Albert Singleton then later Cherry Brooks, vocals; Lance Womack, drums; Jimmy Smith, keyboards; Jim Sweeney (Tulsa), Joe Ellis, bass. Members of this band later appeared in other groups. Charles Tuberville moved to Tulsa in 1979 and went on to ply his guitar craft in multiple formats, performing on an album with Tulsa musician Jimmy Markham including Get Ya’ Head Right (2018) and producing his own album, Somethin’ in the Water in 2019.

Don’t miss these great stories of creativity, ambition, and craziness that permeates the 550+ pages of GOOD TIMES: A History of Nightspots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas — available at Amazon.com and the local Washington County Historical Society offices.


[1] Bill Martin, “Charles Tuberville,” Blues News, Sept/Oct 2019, p. 3

NO! to a 5-Story Hotel in the Heart of Dickson Street

Residents and visitors of Fayetteville might want to pay close attention to the issue currently facing the city council, that of a proposed ‘arts corridor’ and parking deck at Dickson and West. Several aspects of this project don’t quite pass the smell test and once it’s done, it’s done.

No one seems to know how the idea of an arts corridor got started. According to one council member I consulted, “The story I’m being told is that one of our planners, Leif Olsen, who has no expertise in arts and culture, drafted the grant proposal to the Walton Foundation. I can’t discern who directed him to do that, if anyone with appropriate expertise consulted with him, or if he worked with any stakeholder group.” So far the biggest champion of the art corridor is the Walton Arts Center CEO and president, Peter Lane. Hm.

In order to gain the coveted arts corridor, the city must convert the WAC parking lot into a park with a civic forum space, which in turn requires the construction of a parking garage to offset the loss of parking for the WAC. The mayor has determined that such a parking facility must be no more than 1000 ft. from the WAC, no doubt after consultation with the WAC.

The project has progressed to the point that only three possible locations will be considered. One is the place now known as the Nadine Baum Center, which would be torn down and replaced with a garage and some liner buildings that would supposedly offset the loss of current art studios in the Nadine Baum Center. Another is a city-owned space on School Avenue, immediately east of the current Spring Street garage. The third, and current favorite of Peter Lane, the mayor, and certain other development-happy folks, is a space smack in front of Arsaga’s Depot along West Avenue. About half of that land is privately owned by developer Greg House.[1]

A fascinating bit about the preferred lot is that House plans to build a 5-story hotel immediately adjacent to the parking garage. The hotel would take pride of place at a landmark corner of Dickson and West, removing the train bank and looming over the 1882 depot building. We must ask whether any study has discovered the remaining number of parking spaces for the WAC once the hotel’s employees and guests have parked there. Hm.

Also fascinating is that in April 2019 when voters were asked to approve a $31.5 million bond issue for a cultural arts corridor, the bond issue included a parking deck for $10 million to replace the 290 spaces lost when the Walton Arts Center parking lot becomes a green space. (One must ask why one of the most trafficked spots in town must suddenly become green space, when most people patronize parks near their homes. Oh, yeah, the arts corridor…) What the bond issue also covered was a group of improvements for streets, police, the fire department, and other civic concerns which might be more appropriately labeled ‘bait’ to assure the approval of the arts corridor.[2]

But hey, just asking questions here.

Apparently the clock is ticking on how long this issue can be batted around before the money time frame runs out. That is, the time frame for the $1.7 million Walton Foundation grant to help fund the arts corridor. Thus the hurry-up among council members as well as interested parties in the refusal to take a step back and think about the big picture before rushing into an irreversible decision.

So to get the $1.7 million, we’re going to spend somewhere near $30 million. Fast, before we have time to really think about it.

Big picture considerations include the historic tradition of Dickson Street. As I’ve ranted before, once Dickson Street’s charm is pockmarked with big shiny boxes, the charm leaks away. At that point, the only reason to go there would be the WAC. With structures built as early as 1882, the street has been a treasure to alumni, residents, and visitors not to mention entrepreneurs who find small individual buildings more affordable housing for their dream enterprises. Slick new buildings such as The Legacy and The Dickson cost a lot more per square foot and offer ZERO charm. But hey, they’re new and shiny.

Some people don’t care about historical. Remember when they wanted to tear down Old Main?

If the city has determined on its own aside from Walton influence that an arts corridor is truly going to be an asset, something the city needs, then why not take half the current WAC lot and make it a park/arts corridor and use the other (west) half to build a parking garage. Simple. Just because this wasn’t considered in the original conceptualization of the project doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Currently, the reason it ‘can’t’ be done is: “We spent about $350,000 on a schematic design,” [the city’s director of sustainability and parking] Nierengarten said. “A schematic design that does not show a parking deck on the civic plaza is what the citizens of Fayetteville voted on as part of the bond last April.” So let’s rush right out and spend $10 million building a deck that will primarily benefit a private developer and add one more nail in the coffin of one of only two historical areas left in Fayetteville.

Who first had the idea of a cultural arts corridor? Or a ‘civic plaza’? Why was the ‘study’ funded by a Walton Foundation grant? Why was a study of the area’s arts community, also initiated by unknown parties, contracted out to a Minnesota company named Artspace that developed a “Creative Economy Map” for the NWA region, also funded by a Walton Foundation grant? In this map, significant portions of the Fayetteville creative community fails to appear. (The map is heavy with Bentonville locations.)[3]

I agree that NWA and Fayetteville in particular is home to a large contingent of richly creative people. In the 1960s, Dickson Street became the town’s entertainment district because there was affordable commercial space where creative people built popular music venues that hosted talented musicians plus art studios and art galleries (now mostly priced out), and pursued skills as varied as tie-dye, jewelry, poetry readings, one-act plays, sculpture, metal work, and even outdoor gear that later became famous (Borealis). The result was a vibrant part of Fayetteville that attracted the Walton Arts Center.

In the tradition of The Little Shop of Horrors, the benefit of Walton money for the arts center (and so much more) is countered by the need to please the Waltons. As we’ve seen on multiple occasions, the money comes only when Fayetteville does what they want. For example, the outdoor concerts that started at the Fayetteville mall parking lot grew in popularity but now operate at the Arkansas Music Pavilion, otherwise known as the Walmart AMP, in Rogers, moved under Walton threat of withdrawing funding if they didn’t get their way.

No question that an arts corridor across from the WAC would primarily benefit the WAC but arguably, also the city. But the corridor will also infect the city’s trail system from Lafayette Street down to Center and then south to Prairie with a ‘cleanup’ of unsightly undergrowth and removal of wild aspects of those surroundings including partly channelizing the stream. Okay, the stream has been channelized for at least 100 years, rising from a big spring currently hidden under the WAC parking lot. That spring originally served as a water source and cooled produce and meat in the earliest industrial area of the town. From the WAC lot, the stream flows through underground ditches to Center St. and then comes into view for the distance to Prairie.

The rushing stream and the wildness of that stretch of the Frisco Trail has been a primary attraction to hikers and bikers. Now, as part of the arts corridor, that section of trail will suffer the imposition of installations of ‘art,’ as decided by various persons. Why, in the midst of our downtown, can we not have some unadulterated natural areas?

By the way, the rationale behind this concept is the same as the rationale allowing the natural woodland of Markham Hill to come under bulldozers, concrete, and x-number of persons per square foot in order to satisfy the bottom line of out-of-town developers. But that’s another story of greed, insider capitalization, and lack of spine/vision by the city government. The excuse is that there are only a handful of reasons city government can refuse a developer, none of which are impassioned pleas by neighbors, preservation of natural areas, or historical importance.

There’s still time to save what’s left of Dickson Street from any additional high rise buildings. (Too bad there wasn’t any protection of Dickson before The Legacy and The Dickson were built. And yes, big bucks can buy anything and do what they want in private ownership, but there can be city codes requiring that anything built in a historical area must meet historical design standards.)

A greater understanding of what voters want remains to be seen because the city didn’t fully inform voters of what the arts corridor et al would entail. No one is going to die if this project comes to a full stop right now and renewed efforts are made to educate the public about the ripple effects of the project – including the destruction of Dickson Street’s unique historical flavor.

Notice that only the depot out of the surrounding historical structures is shown to scale. If they were, viewers could more fully appreciate how the development would overpower its surroundings.

~~~

[1] https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/jan/23/fayetteville-downtown-parking-deck-nego/?news-arkansas-nwa

[2] https://www.fayetteville-ar.gov/3539/2019-Bond-Information

[3] https://www.artspace.org/presentation-findings-northwest-arkansas