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Billy Bragg surprises Little Rock with an impromptu show at White Water Tavern

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English folk-punk singer Billy Bragg surprised Little Rock, Arkansas with a stop at the White Water Tavern on Thursday, August 21, 2014. Bragg showed up with Arkansas folk singer Joe Purdy, and the two performed for a little over an hour to a packed house full of folks who found out about the show just hours before it happened, mainly via social media.

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Billy Bragg was in Little Rock this week because he’s been tracing the route of the Rock Island Railroad, from Rock Island, Illinois to the Arkansas capital. The trip was made as a part of a documentary for Aperture magazine celebrating the life and photography of Robert Frank. The set was heavy on train songs, including “Rock Island Line” and “Midnight Special.” It also included some of Bragg’s staples like “Sexuality,” “There is Power in a Union” and “New England.” A few times during the set, Bragg stepped back and let Purdy show his strength as a folk singer-songwriter, and the Arkansan delivered quite well.

Bragg talked a lot to the appreciative crowd, mainly about some of the places he’s played in the past week. Two nights before this show, the singer played an impromptu benefit for Ferguson, Missouri, where he collected canned food for the folks in the town. He also mentioned stopping at a teacher’s union strike and playing for the people striking. Bragg and Purdy have shown up everywhere from prisons to sandwich shops, playing for whoever was there to hear.

The White Water Tavern pulled off a big one, getting Billy Bragg in on such short notice. This will be a show that Little Rock will be talking about for years.

To find out more about Billy Bragg and his work, go to


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