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Showcase showdown 

Round one of the annual Times showcase kicks off Thursday

2012 marks the 20th year of what became the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase. It was started in 1993 by the now defunct Spectrum Weekly, and the Times took it over a long about 1997. The winner of that first showcase? That'd be Substance, the Towncraft-era melodic hardcore band. The other winners, chronologically, were: Ho-Hum, Pokerface, Ashtray Babyhead, Big Cats, Big John Miller & The Direction, Brenda & Ellis, Big Silver, Mojo Depot, Runaway Planet, Salty Dogs, Grandpa's Goodtime Fandango, The Odds, Hannah Blaylock & Eden's Edge, Cooper's Orbit, 607, Velvet Kente, Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth and Tyrannosaurus Chicken.

So which band will be the 20th? Over the next six weeks, we'll find out.

Starting Thursday at Stickyz, four acts will square off each night for five judges, who will award points based on originality, song quality, musicianship and showmanship. The winner of each semifinal round will go on to the finals, March 2 at Revolution. The grand prize winner will net a bevy of great prizes and will be immortalized with a drink named in his, her or their honor at Stickyz.

Shining Rae

Shining Rae is the stage name for Shannin Watkins, a Magnolia native who graduated with honors from Louisiana Tech University in 2006 and moved to Baltimore for a job as a clinical lab scientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Last summer, Watkins' melodic kiss-off "Dreaming" won the monthly Artists Access competition on OurStage.com. The prize was a mentoring session with industry vet and former Sony Music EVP Bruce Tyler, who has advised John Legend, Beyonce, The Fray among many others. Now based in Little Rock, Watkins has released a digital EP and two singles of catchy, soulful pop. Her songs range from sultry ballads to ear candy of the sweetest sort. Her single "Sugar" will get stuck in your head for days.

The Coasts

This Arkansas-Ohio duo — Ike Peters of Little Rock and Eric Mount of Lebanon — make a warm, reverb-heavy sound that will tickle the ears of anybody who dug Dr. Dog's "Easybeat," from a few years back. Check out "I Only Want You" from the band's self-titled album. The tune is spacious sounding, with a laid-back, ever-so-slightly wistful vibe, all jangly guitar strum and a simple beat, punctuated with a trumpet peeking out like a ray of sunshine through a cloud. The album was produced and mixed and mastered by, respectively, Isaac Alexander and Jason Weinheimer, whose track records are purt-dang near unimpeachable. Peters and Mount are wasting no time, though, and are already at work on a follow-up.

The Holy Shakes

The Holy Shakes hearken back to the heyday of Dischord-ant, rocking '90s hardcore. The Hot Springs quartet includes Bobby Missile on guitar, Brian Lee on bass, Justin Castleberry on drums and Bill Solleder — of Low Key Arts and Valley of the Vapors music festival — on vocals. Though the band hasn't yet recorded an album, you can check out some raw, pummeling demos (recorded last May by the eminent Will Boyd) on the band's Soundcloud page. The punishing, Drive Like Jehu-esque "Spray Paint Saint" will rock your ratty argyle socks off, while "One of These Days" and "Look into the Light" recall Fugazi at their leanest and meanest.

Vore

Fayetteville's Vore has mastered — and remained true to — mid-tempo death metal like no other band in the state, or arguably, in the country. Since 1994, the band (Page Townsley on guitar and vocals, Jeremy Partin on bass and Remy Cameron on drums) has released three full-lengths of chugging, classic death metal in the vein of Morbid Angel, Death, Bolt Thrower and Obituary. Vore has shared stages with many of death metal's leading lights over the years, including Deicide, Nile, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass and the mighty Manowar. The band's latest, 2011's "Gravehammer," has gotten glowing reviews from critics, including Metalreview.com's Jordan Campbell, who wrote that the album "further cements Vore as a death metal fan's death metal band."

The judges

Epiphany: Excellent local MC, whose new album is set to be released soon. You know him from his countless live shows and as the host of The Peabody Hotel's RiverTop parties.

Clay Fitzpatrick and Cheyenne Matthews: Hosts of the indispensable local program Shoog Radio, which broadcasts two hours of recorded and live-in-the-studio Arkansas music, as well as updates on all the live music happenings of Central Arkansas. The show airs every Monday from 1-3 p.m. on KABF Community Radio 88.3.

Sammy Williams: Singer and guitarist of Midwest Caravan; pithy blog commentator par excellence; possessor of categorical knowledge of musical arcana and auditory obscurities of all flavors.

Guest judge Mary Chamberlin: A fixture on the Little Rock scene since forever, she has operated lefty literature distributor Tree of Knowledge since the late '90s and spends a good deal of time on the road selling merch for Lucero.

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