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Music fans had a lot of choices last Thursday night, and I was thrilled that about as many of them as could fit into Sticky Fingerz chose the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase semifinal round 3.
Elsewhere, the popular alt-country band Son Volt, which I try to catch as much as I can, was playing Juanita’s. The White Water Tavern was having a big show as well.
At Sticky Fingerz, the music ranged from youthful alt-pop from the Sandbox Lizards to the fierce, energetic rock of the Cosmonauts to the bluegrass of Hannah Blaylock and Eden’s Edge to the alternative rock of Real Fighting. The Cosmonauts and the Blaylock band were the most stage-ready, by far, with Blaylock and crew harmonizing their way to a win and a spot in the March 3 finals.
This week, diversity again rules with country rock stylings from Chris Loggins and Brass Tacks, rock from John Neal and from Brighter Later, then jam rock from Starroy. Only Neal, the onetime frontman for the defunct Poeboy Society, is from Central Arkansas; Loggins is from El Dorado, Brighter Later comes from Fayetteville and Starroy is a Jonesboro act.
As part of our big Thursday music overindulgence last week, we caught some of Starroy at Midtown Billiards well into early Friday morning. More about that later.
First came a rude awakening. The friends we grew up with, and who even came to hear our bands perform back in the day when we all were teens, now have kids who are making the Showcase. Elise Davis was the star attraction for the Sandbox Lizards, though she demurely placed her mini-skirted self stage left, giving up the front-person spot to a mop-head male member of the quartet. She’s the daughter of Stephen Davis and the niece of Mark Davis, both of whom I’ve known since time began back in Pine Bluff, before we all matriculated north.
The Sandbox Lizards have a world of potential and just need some seasoning. Once they got over the opening-band jitters last week, about halfway through their 30-minute set, they rocked impressively. Elise Davis’ acoustic guitar songs especially made an impression on the judges.
The Cosmonauts are the latest incarnation of a band that includes brothers Mike and Tim Taylor; they’ve previously made the Showcase finals as PopSonic and they’ve entertained clubs all around the area as Taylor Made. As a trio with a powerful drummer, Drew Allen, the Cosmonauts totally kicked from the start, like the Stone Temple Pilots (without Weiland) meets Green Day. It was powerful stuff. I want to hear them again, soon.
From the first bars of the song “California,” Blaylock and Eden’s Edge caught the judges attention and kept it with masterful musicianship, particularly from the group’s mandolin (Cherrill Green) and dobro (Dean Berner) players. Those Arkansas Tech University students, along with harmonica-playing guitarist Lonnie Eason, are additions to Blaylock’s and Steve Smith’s previous incarnation, Lost and Found, which made the Showcase finals in 2004 and won the Arkansas Acoustic Showdown in Conway in 2003. Hannah’s dad, Mel Blaylock, is also back, providing a solid bass line to the songs penned by Smith.
The night’s last band, Real Fighting, approached their set as a modern-day Devo without the hats, with some loud rocking guitars and youthful energy that proved entertaining as well. From their demo, we were expecting a group that channeled the Strokes, but they were all over the map. The vocals were very Morrissey-like.
Eden’s Edge moves on to the Showcase finals March 3, where Riverbilly and The Munks already wait. Two more semifinals remain on the next two Thursdays. Admission is $5 and the music starts at 9 p.m. We’ll be giving away a door prize provided by Alltel Arena (could be tickets, could be concert shirts), and KKPT-FM, 94.1 The Point’s Jeff Allen will provide the golden pipes to offset my Pine Bluff twang on stage. The Point is our radio sponsor.
And speaking of Pine Bluff, the last semifinal on Feb. 23 starts with bluesy Liquid Groove Mojo of Pine Bluff, followed by Chris Henry (Little Rock), PM Today (Jacksonville), and Gringos (Greenbrier). Henry led American Standard in the Showcase finals in 2002 and is back as a solo artist.
Anyway, after we wrapped up the Showcase after 1 a.m. last Thursday, Joe Adams and I moved on to Midtown. Adams, whom I first met in the pit of a Widespread Panic show while he was taking photos of the band, has come aboard this year as a Showcase judge, and he’s also joined forces with some New Orleans music folks to start a new record label, Bughouse.
While enjoying one more cool one and the smell of those great cheeseburgers on the Midtown grill (that’s as close as I can get to a burger these days), I caught a very cool improvisation from the band stuck in the far corner. Didn’t know who they were, had forgotten by then who we had listed playing at Midtown, decided to check them out. It turned out to be Starroy, which we’ll see a little earlier (only slightly) this Thursday. They have a very good sound. So do the others in the lineup.
Again, you’ll have choices of good music around the city. Juanita’s has landed some pretty good touring acts to go against the Showcase on consecutive Thursdays. This week it’s Bob Schneider and next week it’s the band with a buzz, Click Five. Our offering is some good and sometimes great original music from Arkansas bands.
And, if you want to catch Hannah Blaylock before March 3, she’ll be singing the national anthem tonight (Feb. 16) before the UALR basketball game with Western Kentucky at the Jack Stephens Center.