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Well into Friday’s Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase final at Sticky Fingerz, I couldn’t help recalling Billy Joel’s lines from “Piano Man”: “And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar, And say, man, what are you doin’ here?”
Lucky us that the five acts who made the Showcase finals all still make their homes in Arkansas and grace us with their music, though they should be eyeing a future in Nashville or New York or Los Angeles, if they haven’t already.
Hannah Blaylock, with the great looks and great voice, and her bluegrass band Eden’s Edge from Russellville led off Friday’s show and put up a score that proved insurmountable, though guitarist and singer Chris Henry of Little Rock, the third act on the bill, came awfully close.
Blaylock and Eden’s Edge won the Showcase by a mere two points over Henry, who wowed the crowd for the second time in two weeks with his guitar virtuosity and his rock-style singing. Out of eight judges grading on a 60-point maximum scale, and with the lowest score tossed, Blaylock’s group totaled 386 points to Henry’s 384 (even with the lowest score counted, Eden’s Edge would have won). Blaylock and Eden’s Edge scored a 50 or higher on every judge’s card; Henry had six scores out of eight in the 50s.
Trailing the top two were The Munks, Riverbilly and Starroy, but they too gave solid performances in the opinion not only of the judges, but of the massive crowd that swarmed Sticky Fingerz on Friday.
Blaylock and Eden’s Edge had an inauspicious start in the vocal department during their first song, so we handed her a cordless microphone and from there she dominated. Blending harmonies with mandolin player Cherrill Green, and guitarist/songwriter Steve Smith, Blaylock was totally in control after that. Just 20, she’s come quite a ways from the young girl who so impressed with her dad, mom and Smith as Lost and Found in 2003, winning the Arkansas Acoustic Showdown at Conway and getting an opening slot for Nickel Creek. In 2004 Lost and Found was a finalist in the Musicians Showcase, just being edged out by the winning Grandpa’s Goodtime Fandango.
Smith still writes the songs for this new incarnation, and the CMT.com website is featuring Eden’s Edge’s “Songbird” as one of the highlighted songs in a songwriting poll.
Eden’s Edge also features Hannah’s daddy, Mel, on bass, veteran Lonnie Eason on harmonica and guitar, Dean Berner on dobro and Wes Saunders on drums. Each of the players got their moments to shine instrumentally Friday.
Maybe it was the presence of a full band that made the difference, albeit slight, over Henry. He has “big time” written all over him as well, in a pop-rock way a la John Mayer, Dave Matthews and the like. Henry’s “Harmonica Song” is terrific, and his entire EP is a great listen. Henry can be heard regularly playing at Grumpy’s.
Riverbilly, a mostly Russellville act that already has made recording inroads into Nashville, had an array of great country songs and a Travis Tritt-like sound. Jonesboro-based Starroy has been touring throughout the Southeast with its infectious jam-rock sound and is guaranteed to give anyone happy feet. The Munks, from Little Rock, are probably the newest of the groups and have an original space rock sound, complete with great violin and pedal steel guitar, that’s easy to kick back and listen to.
For winning the Showcase, Blaylock and Eden’s Edge get a guaranteed spot in Riverfest, $300 in music equipment from Jacksonville Guitar, $200 in food from Trio’s, recording time from Blue Chair Studio in Cabot and a photo shoot with the Times’ Brian Chilson. Rest assured you’ll likely be able to catch all the finalists, and even some of the Showcase semifinalists, in Riverfest this May.
From then on, who knows where you’ll be seeing them, the best assemblage yet in the eight Showcases we’ve led. We just think they can go as far as they want to, but if they want to hang around here a while longer, that’s good for us.
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