Over the course of the evening, several people said to me, "This is the best showcase finals yet," or something approximating that sentiment. Now, I haven't been to all 21 showcase finals, nor have those other folks, it's safe to assume. But, the 2013 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase finals boasted five bands that were absolutely bringing it: Terminus, Damn Arkansan, The Stephen Neeper Band, The Revolutioners and The Sound of the Mountain.
Ultimately, The Sound of the Mountain emerged victorious. The Russellville band's instrumental post-rock boasted playing that was technically proficient. But it was also the remarkably passionate performances that made the difference.
Showcase judge CT wrote, "Flawless victory. Shards of wood off the drum sticks flying at the crowd. We need more original bands from Arkansas like this. Hopefully, Terminus and The Sound of the Mountain do a split 7" together." Guest judge Pete Campos thought that "if the Russian Circles, Isis and Pelican were to conceive, it would surely spawn what is known as The Sound of the Mountain."
Grayson Shelton wrote, "Best performance by a drummer in the showcase. They really let this cat shine!" Guest judge Bill Solleder reflected thusly: "Overall, both sides of the brain are represented by SOTM. Both imagination and fundamentals — a notch above the rest."
Fayetteville's Terminus kicked off the evening with a set that included some new material and some they hadn't played during the semifinals. CT called the band "the perfect hybrid of Rush and High on Fire. The bassist is amazing, a monster. Drummer is solid as a mountain." Shelton noted the massive amount of stage sound, which caused some of the vocals to get lost in the mix. "Rhythm section is ultra-tight and talented. Guitar player is gonna be a staple in the scene for a long time."
Damn Arkansan followed up with a manic set of melodic alt-country rock. Campos wrote: "Rambunctious, heartfelt music that sticks to your ribs. Damn good stuff." Solleder called Damn Arkansan "exactly what a band should be — a unit working in harmony, time and gut feeling."
Anchoring the middle of the bill was The Stephen Neeper Band, who again dished up soulful Southern blues-rock. Shelton wrote, "One guitar player in a band that can tear ass is good, but Drew [de France] and Stephen [Neeper] both can rage." CT took the occasion to offer audiences the following reminder: "actually knowing more than a few chords makes you a big boy." Then he wrote in all caps, "I LOVE LISTENING TO NEEPER PLAY GUITAR." It should be noted too that the Neepers and Co. inspired not one, not two, but three ladies to climb up on their beaus' shoulders for a better view.
The Revolutioners followed up with a blast of polished, radio-ready rock. As Campos put it, "Unabashedly in-your-face rock 'n' roll, not too far removed from anything I imagine one would hear on The Strip 20+ years ago, and I mean that as a grand compliment." Shelton wrote, "Put these dudes on the radio ... save me a few channel surfs!" Solleder wrote, "If you are talking money, this band has 6 zeroes to the right of the 1."
As with previous years, the Times Musicians Showcase reminded us that Arkansas has a wealth of homegrown musical talent across a wide swath of styles and sounds. Also: it was a ton of fun.
I want to thank all of the bands, the folks who came out to the shows, all of the sponsors and our fantastic hosts Stickyz and Revolution.
Congrats to The Sound of the Mountain. The band wins a bevy of prizes, including recording time at Blue Chair Studio, a gift certificate to Jacksonville Guitar, a T-shirt package from Section 8, a photo shoot with Times photographer Brian Chilson, and spots playing at Riverfest, Valley of the Vapors, the Arkansas State Fair and the Arkansas Sounds music festivals. They also get a victory party and a drink named after them at Stickyz.
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