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A tip of the cap for late fill-in 

A young group from Fayetteville called Phantazmelodia didn’t win last week’s semifinal in the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase — local group the Munks did, before a large crowd at Sticky Fingerz. But what Phantazmelodia did, not only for themselves but for the Showcase, and at half-past the proverbial 11th hour to boot, made them winners in our book.

The schedule had been set two weeks earlier, but last Thursday, while we were making last-minute checks with the bands to see what setup needs they might have, we were alerted to a message on the Localist webzine’s site that Kings of New England, a great-sounding group out of Fayetteville, not only wasn’t coming, but had broken up. Neither Sticky Fingerz nor the Times had been notified.

When we recovered from that surprise, we were set to go on with just three bands instead of the customary four. But in the eight Showcases run by the Times, only once had there been a no-show and that was the first year, in 1999.

As it turned out, Phantazmelodia, with a progressive alternative sound (acoustic, rock, jazz and more rolled into one sound), had made the round of 16 semifinalists last year, and was edged out for one of the 20 spots this year — as we noted in a recent column, where it was too close to call for the final spots, the selection committee chose bands who weren’t repeaters from the year before. They would be driving almost three hours to get here and probably had classes the next day at the University of Arkansas. But something told me to call their locally based manager, Travis Martin, and see if Phantazmelodia could play.

Martin wasn’t sure, checked with the band, called back and said all but one could come down (three members, in fact, did have class the next day and another had a job he didn’t think he could miss), so it wasn’t going to work out. That was fine, I said, we’ll see you guys next year. Then, a half-hour later, Martin called back. The boys were on the way at that very minute. They made it halfway through the show.

Their progressive music had matured over what we heard last year and on the band’s demo CD. Jovan Arellano, playing acoustic guitar and keyboards, leads the group. The talented Arellano was a qualifier in last year’s Arkansas Acoustic Showdown at the University of Central Arkansas. The rest of the band is made up of brothers Jeff Dudley (bass) and Sam Dudley (electric guitar), Aaron Shaneyfelt on drums and Trevor Bateman on keyboards and synth.

Martin, who went into sports and entertainment management after law school, met Arellano while at Fayetteville, and Phantazmelodia was among his first clients. “They’ve had a few cast changes but Jovan and the Dudleys have pretty much been the core.”

As mentioned, though, they didn’t win. That honor was sewn up early by the first band up, the Munks, who used violin, pedal-steel guitar, electric guitars, keyboards, drums and solid lyrics and melodies for a music that defies description. You almost want to put it in a country category, but it will rock at times like something you might hear from Counting Crows. Don’t even bother with the “Americana” label of a Wilco or Uncle Tupelo; the band will scoff at that. It’s simply the Munks’ sound, which was a winner and put them in the Showcase final on March 3.

But for the second straight week, the difference from the first band to fourth was a small margin, with stellar efforts from the hard-rock ’n’ rolling Josh the Devil and the Sinners and the more laid back Sao Paula (both definitely worth your money if you see them on the local club schedules).

This week, the music varies from the Alison Krauss-like bluegrass-country of Hannah Blalock and Eden’s Edge to the alt-country of the Sandbox Lizards to the rock of Real Fighting and the Cosmonauts.

Showtime at Sticky Fingerz is 8:30 p.m. and the $5 admission price is a steal for all four of the bands on the same stage.

And, as for Kings of New England, the good news is that leader Roger Barrett and some of the band formed a new group with other players in Fayetteville. You’ll likely be hearing from the new Blood Eagle soon, and maybe in next year’s Showcase too.

Oh, and Phantazmelodia’s three UA students, after finishing a set at near 1 a.m. here, did make class in Fayetteville the next day, Martin told us.

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