A three-month process that began with nearly double the previous record of entries of original music performers culminates Friday, March 3, at Sticky Fingerz when five diverse acts meet in the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase final round.
Each of these finalists — ranging from country music to bluegrass to acoustic solo rock to jam rock -– first got through more than 70 entries, then five weeks of showcase semifinals. Friday’s final begins at 8:30 p.m. at Sticky’s, located on Commerce Street in the River Market district.
The playing order: Hannah Blaylock and Eden’s Edge (bluegrass), The Munks (alternative country), Chris Henry (acoustic rock guitarist and singer), Starroy (rock and improvisational jam) and Riverbilly (country).
While the idea of the contest has always been first to showcase original acts that music fans in Central Arkansas might not normally see, there is a winner at the end of the final night. The prizes will include a guaranteed spot at Riverfest, a $300 gift certificate from Jacksonville Guitar, $200 in food from Trio’s Restaurant, recording time from Darrian Nelson’s Blue Chair Studio in Cabot, a photo shoot with the Times’ photographer Brian Chilson, and four cases of Red Bull. The latter may come in handy by the end of the final, which should last into early Saturday morning.
Each band is allotted 30 minutes for its set. A judging panel made up of area musicians, music writers, promoters and producers will rate the bands on a 60 point scale, with 30 points split among song quality and originality and the other 30 points split into three categories: musicianship, showmanship and crowd response.
Finalist judges are Joe Adams of Bughouse Music, T.J. Deeter of the Localist online magazine, Burt Taggart of Max Recordings, local singer-songwriter Sara Thomas, Michael Proveaux of the local band Runaway Planet, Michael Marion of Alltel Arena, Deanna Shannon of Riverfest and Tim Jones of Porter-Jones Entertainment. Jeff Allen of KKPT-FM, 94.1 the Point will co-host the event along with Arkansas Times Entertainment Editor Jim Harris.
Here’s a quick look at each finalist:
• Hannah Blaylock and Eden’s Edge (Russellville) –- Blaylock and the group’s songwriter Steve Smith made the 2003 Showcase final as Lost and Found, and earlier that year won the first Arkansas Acoustic Showdown, held in Conway. The bluegrass and country band was formed from members of the same church in Russellville. Lonnie Eason (guitar) and Mel Blaylock (bass) were holdovers from Lost and Found, and they added Cherrill Green (mandolin, banjo and backing vocals) and Dean Berner (dobro) to complete the Eden’s Edge lineup. But it all revolves around Hannah Blaylock’s amazing voice.
• The Munks (Little Rock) – The band almost defies description, though some may slap the “eclectic” or “Americana” label on it. Drummer Brooks Browning classifies the band’s sound as “space country noir.” Pianist and vocalist Aaron Graham, who writes the band’s songs, has a Tom Waits meets Bob Dylan delivery. Alex Piazza plays guitar and pedal steel, Rich Dwiggins is on bass and Bennett Ryel plays violin.
• Chris Henry (Little Rock) –- Henry was part of the young rock trio American Standard, which was a finalist in 2002. As a solo act, Henry has displayed a guitar-playing style in the vein of Leo Kottke or Tim Reynolds (a Dave Matthews pal), or similar to John Mayer’s heavier stuff, but Henry brings a heavier rock edge to his singing. He blends some improvisation into solid contemporary rock songs.
• Starroy (Jonesboro) – Frontman Adam Barnard has led this group for almost nine years, but the current lineup has only been together a little more than a year. Barnard, like Henry, plays acoustic guitar and blends his acoustic improvisation and high-energy stage work with the electric guitar of Barry Fowler and bass of Justin Henry, while drummer Heath Finch keeps it all together on the backline. Starroy describes its sound as “country-fried psychedelic rock ’n’ roll.”
• Riverbilly (Little Rock) –- The group won the first semifinal back in January and will be the final act of the Showcase, with a country style and versatile musicianship. Singer Jason Campbell pits his acoustic guitar against Christian Dean’s powerful electric guitar leads. Brad Rickett is on drums, Rocky Don Jones plays bass and sings, and Shannon Huitt is the keyboardist. Riverbilly began life as Sum of Us, changing its name just before the Showcase began.
Previous winners of the Showcase since the Arkansas Times began sponsoring it in 1999 are Brenda and Ellis, Big Silver, Mojo Depot, Runaway Planet, Salty Dogs, Grandpa’s Goodtime Fandango and the Odds.