A flood of Showcase entries, 20 survivors 

The only consolation I can give that I think would be meaningful to each of the many good original music groups who didn’t qualify for this year’s semifinals of the Arkansas Times Musician’s Showcase is this: 49 others didn’t either.

With a new sponsoring venue, Sticky Fingerz Rock ’n’ Roll Chicken Shack, and a new sponsoring radio station, KKPT-FM, 94.1 “The Point,” some fresh air seems to have been breathed into the Musicians Showcase, which started life under the auspices of Guido Ritchie and Mark Abernathy back in the early 1990s, resulting in some pronounced interest.

This wasn’t an inundation of entries, it was an honest-to-goodness flood. If not a truckload, the submissions of CDs at least filled a couple of large boxes that we took to Sticky Fingerz on Saturday morning to decide on who would qualify for the semifinals.

Immediately, before listening to one CD, Chris King, Suzon Awbrey and Mike Drake of Sticky Fingerz concurred that with that many entries — 70, as opposed to the 40 or so that we have seen in past years — an additional semifinal night might be in order, taking our total qualifiers from 16 to 20. And who was I to disagree? The more the merrier, I’ve always thought.

Entries came in impressive numbers from Northwest Arkansas, where the past two Showcase winners were from. We had entries from El Dorado, Monticello, Pine Bluff, Dermott, Texarkana, Jonesboro, Mountain Home and other points. It has truly become a statewide showcase.

Someday, we’re going to figure out how to give everyone a shot. This year, we have room for 20, taking what was an open Thursday, Feb. 23, and scheduling another four bands that night. We start on Jan. 26. The final on Friday, March 3, will have five bands competing for the title of 2006’s best original music band in Arkansas.

The schedule was not finalized at press time, but we hope to have it available by today on our website (www.arktimes.com), the Sticky’s website (www.stickyfingerz.com) and announced on “The Point” and its sister station, KABZ-FM, 103.7 “The Buzz.” But these are the 20 bands that have qualified for the semifinals:

Anxiety (Conway), Bob Frazier/Sao Paulo (Little Rock), Brighter Later (Fayetteville), Chris Henry (Little Rock), Chris Loggins and Brass Tacks (El Dorado), Cosmonauts (Little Rock), Gringos (Little Rock), Hannah Blaylock and Eden’s Edge (Russellville), Josh the Devil and the Sinners (Little Rock), Key of Summer (Little Rock), The Kings of New England (Fayetteville), Liquid Groove Mojo (Sheridan), The Munks (Little Rock), PM Today (Jacksonville), Real Fighting (Little Rock), Sandbox Lizards (Little Rock), Starroy (Jonesboro), Sum of Us (Little Rock), Thanks for Nothing (Fayetteville) and Trapper the Rapper (Texarkana).

When anyone phones the office about our “battle of the bands,” as some are wont to say, I try to politely correct them by saying this is not one of those contests, per se, but an actual showcase of bands. Yes, there are a few prizes at the end for one band voted the best by a panel of judges, but more importantly, the Arkansas Times and Sticky Fingerz will be providing exposure to diverse acts, all on one stage, for a succession of five weeks –- acts that you might not regularly see around the clubs here, but should. Showcasing four bands on each night, and five in the final, gives the local music fan more incentive check out some great original music in Arkan-sas. If you’re new to seeing the Musicians Showcase, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.

This is especially true with this year’s entrants. Some previous semifinal qualifiers, even some previous finalists, were entered but did not make the final 20. There were a lot of good bands next 20 spots that might have won previous Showcases. In a couple of cases where it was too close to call on the final spots, we chose bands new to the Showcase over repeaters from last year.

All of us involved in the Musicians Showcase are hoping that even the ones who didn’t break through this year will be back again. There’s always room for another box or two of entries to sort through.

We wondered what Mozart might have thought of the addition of a saxophone quartet to a symphony performing modern compositions as we attended the Jan. 15 performance of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday. Afterward, joining an audience that had been wowed by the New Century Saxophone Quartet, we figured Mozart would have loved it as well.

The North Carolina-based New Century was featured on Bob Mintzer’s “Rhythm of the Americas,” which incorporated classical stylings, Afro-Caribbean beats and jazz, and which the Symphony, led by assistant conductor Izzy Getzov, jumped on with much enthusiasm throughout. After a thunderous standing ovation, the New Century group gave us an encore of one part of another piece by Mintzer, a big band leader and member of the jazz group the Yellowjackets.

Along with workmanlike precision on two Mozart works, the delightful “Le Nozze di Figaro” overture and “Symphony No. 25 in G mi-nor, K. 183,” which started the second set and seemed a little anticlimactic following the sax work, the ASO finished with a triumphant “Tannhauser: Overture” by Wagner.


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