[Update: We’ve added another night! Check out the full lineup and schedule here, and visit the Arkansas Times YouTube channel to watch each evening, 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.]
Even among its devotees, the answer to the question “What is Holiday Hangout?” will vary depending on who you ask. It’s a multi-night set of concerts that’s been going on in Little Rock for ten years now — at the venerable White Water Tavern, primarily, with some offshoots at Lost Forty Brewing and Arkansas CD & Record Exchange. It’s a giant merch sale. It’s a Sunday book sale from Mary Chamberlin’s Tree of Knowledge. It’s a ticket that routinely sells out, year after year. It’s a network in and of itself, made up of musicians and music lovers from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and well beyond. For its 2013 ticketholders, it was reason enough to pile in the car and head to Arkansas despite a formidable ice storm.
For Travis Hill, owner of Last Chance Records and founding father of Holiday Hangout, it’s an act of cross-pollination — at the onset of winter, no less. “There was a small group of Lucero diehards who supported Last Chance,” Hill said, “and bought the records I put out, and I tried to cross-program so that somebody who’s a fan of Lucero but has never seen, back in the day, American Aquarium, it was like ‘I’m gonna put them together. I’m gonna get a metal band, and then follow that up with a quiet singer-songwriter. They’re all bands and musicians that I love and that I think other people should know about, and I think people after a couple years, even though there were weird pairings, they got it. People started telling me, ‘Well, we just trust you. If you’re booking somebody, we’re gonna check it out.’ So it’s a cross-pollination of audiences, and trust. And of course, everybody at the White Water has just been so great, and we’ve had great support from Bill [Eginton] at [Arkansas CD & Record Exchange] and from the Lost Forty crew. It’s been more of a family vibe over the years. I think people who come for the first year are overwhelmed sometimes, after they’ve been there once, they’re always trying to come back.”
What’s now HHO started in 2008-2009, about a year after Hill had launched the record label, as a set of shows timed around Hill’s December birthday. In 2010, Hill decided he’d wrap up the annual birthday shows with one last big blowout, “and go crazy with it,” he said. “And then that’ll be it.” That wasn’t it — not by a long shot. The idea stuck, and Holiday Hangout celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.
The 2020 Hangout, of course, will be different. “Everybody’s had a rough year,” Hill said, “and for me, most of my friends are musicians or bar people, and not able to work.” Under a slightly revised title — “Holiday Hang In There” — Hill has put together a lineup of beloved Holiday Hangout musicians performing virtual sets, to be screened on the Arkansas Times YouTube channel Friday, Dec. 11 and Saturday, Dec. 12:
Aaron Lee Tasjan
BJ Barham (American Aquarium)
Ben Nichols (Lucero)
Brent Best (Slobberbone)
Cary Hudson (Blue Mountain)
Dazz & Brie
Joey Kneiser (Glossary)
John Calvin Abney
Jon Snodgrass (Drag the River)
John Paul Keith
Micah Schnabel (Two Cow Garage)
Paige Anderson (Anderson Family Bluegrass Band)
Shane Sweeney (Two Cow Garage)
Todd Beene (Glossary)
William Elliott Whitmore
It’s free to watch and there will be no tickets, with the suggestion that viewers instead support the performers and donate to the White Water Tavern, which has remained closed since March, and to tip the performing bands. “We’re gonna have Paypal and Venmo information on the screen for the artists,” Hill said, “and then a link where people can click and donate to the White Water.” T-shirts with a design by Isaac Alexander will be up for sale, as well as a poster by comic book artist John Lucas. Stay tuned here for more details.