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There is so much I want to opine about this week, and only so much room. In the past chilly week, the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase had a monster semifinal night before a packed house at Sticky Fingerz and the Ozark Foothills Filmfest revealed a wonderful schedule in which part of the event will “Celebrate Mexico.” Coming up, Central Arkansas has yet another grand opportunity to show it’s not just a Razorback town but an all-around sports town when the Southeastern Conference Women’s Tournament comes to Alltel Arena March 2-5.
Let’s start with the Showcase. I don’t know where Chris King and Suzon Awbrey are going to put everybody for the March 3 finals. There will be five bands, with the fifth one being chosen this Thursday (Feb. 23) from among Liquid Groove Mojo, Chris Henry, PM Today and Gringos. King and Awbrey just signed a lease on the space at 300 President Clinton Ave. (where Club Coconuts was), but they won’t open that venture (a themed restaurant and large bar/music venue) until April at the earliest. When they do open, it will mean a music spot that could hold in the neighborhood of 600-700 people, just what downtown Little Rock has needed. It may be the type of space the Showcase needs on March 3.
Last week’s semifinal was unbelievably terrific, beginning with a band that probably nobody in Central Arkansas has heard of but will soon: Chris Loggins and Brass Tacks of El Dorado. At least 30 folks from South Arkansas followed them up to Sticky’s. They were so different, it’s impossible to place a tag of “Americana” or “modern rock” on them. Somebody noted perhaps some Grateful Dead-like influence in their music. I suppose you can put the “eclectic” label on it, but as everyone’s iTunes radio indicates, “eclectic” can cover just about anything. You’re just going to have to pick up a CD by Loggins and figure it out for yourself. I just know every musician in the room had Loggins pegged as the winner after his set finished.
Then John Neal, who had assembled a band in the last second to accompany his rocking songs, gave a splendid performance. This is a more relaxed Neal than his his Poeboy Society days, though he did climb the riser with guitar in hand for his last song in a short set. We’re looking for more great things from him in the coming months.
Another group that area music fans may not have heard yet but need to hear is Brighter Later. The Fayetteville band played third and wowed everyone with its ready-to-be-recorded-now sound. The music was catchy in perhaps a Darkness sort of way, not at all like the usual rock sound.
Then came absolutely the most stage-ready rock-jam group I’ve seen in a long time, Jonesboro’s Starroy. Charismatic frontman Adam Barnard led in the showmanship area as well as with strong vocals, while his three bandmates –- Barry Fowler on guitar, Justin Henry on bass and Heath Finch on drums — offered outstanding musicianship. A broken second string on his acoustic guitar early on didn’t even slow Barnard.
Ultimately, Starroy ruled the night, but from top to bottom it was the closest night yet among the judging, and you’re going to be seeing all four bands around here again soon. Starroy, of course, joins Hannah Blaylock and Eden’s Edge, the Munks and Riverbilly in the March 3 finals.
The Ozark Foothills Filmfest is using “reverse outreach,” as organizer Bob Pest put it, in expanding into Little Rock this year. The festival started in Batesville and has found a nice satellite home in Heber Springs and the Gem Theater the past couple of years. Now, both Market Street Cinema and UALR will have a portion of the festival along with Batesville and Heber, beginning March 24.
One of the non-film highlights will be an appearance by Los Cenzontles (the Mockingbirds), an ensemble embracing the innovation and imagination of traditional Mexican dance and music. The show, also featuring mariachi master Julian Gonzalez, will be at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville on March 25.
Market Street will have an indie film showcase and a showing of “The Lost Reels of Pancho Villa.” Though Mexico is the main theme, the festival will explore the economics of wine making with the film “Mondovino” at Market Street and a wine tasting at Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some. All this takes place on April 1.
The festival is held over three weekends. Check out the new festival website at www.ozarkfoothillsfilmfest.org.
Three years ago, the SEC Women’s Tournament drew 43,000 to Alltel Arena, helped somewhat by the upstart University of Arkansas Lady ’Backs, who won once and gave LSU a tussle in the quarterfinals before losing. Fans of Tennessee and LSU, who both reached the NCAA Women’s Final Four last year, travel well no matter where the tourney is.
This year, the Lady ’Backs appear to be non-factors. After starting out the SEC schedule strong, Arkansas’s women have plummeted in the standings and may be lucky to last one night.
But that shouldn’t deter basketball fans from coming out to see quality basketball among the league’s top teams, including Florida and Georgia. It’s likely again that two SEC teams (at least) could make the Final Four. While the lower half of the league struggles to keep up, the top half is loaded with talent.
See for yourself. As fans who saw the tourney three years ago can attest, it’s exciting basketball. A general admission ticket book for the entire tournament is available for $45, and a reserved ticket is $75 for all four days, through all Ticketmaster outlets or the arena box office. That’s a fraction of what it costs to see the SEC men’s tournament in Nashville, but ask anybody who’s more fun to watch this year: SEC men or SEC women. The answer will be playing at Alltel Arena.