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Showcase showdown 

Never before have the followers of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase seen a reaction quite like that from the family and friends of young country band Highway 5 when the Sherwood-based band won last week’s fifth and final Showcase semifinal, sending them into the finals on Friday.

Highway 5 has a special story behind its name: several members were friends of the three girls who were killed three years ago at the intersection of highways 5 and 89 before that dangerous crossing got a long-needed stop light. Members of the band have since dedicated their performances to their lost friends. Two years ago, the band showed promise in the Showcase.

This year, they join four other bands in Friday’s finals, to be held at the Revolution Music Room, 300 President Clinton Ave., beginning at 8:30 p.m. The venue is open to ages 18 and up. Admission Friday is $6.

Five weeks of semifinals at Sticky Fingerz, owned by the Rev Room owners Chris King and Suzon Awbrey, have pared an original list of 20 bands to the five finalists:

· Damn Bullets — Bluegrass or newgrass doesn’t adequately describe this quartet, which features spot on harmonies from Joe Sundell and Paul Morphis and songwriting that shifts from country to pop, sometimes with an almost Beatles-like sound.

· Cooper’s Orbit — Acoustic singer-songwriter Chris Henry, who finished second in the Showcase in 2006 as a solo act, fronts this quartet, which includes two longtime friends who played with Henry in American Standard, a finalist in 2002. Acoustic-driven songs like “Greater Good” make fans think of top pop acts, while Henry amazes with his fingerwork.

· Jeff Coleman and the Feeders — Coleman’s musical talents are rangy, as he also plays piano locally, but in the Feeders, he’s found an outlet for a mix of country rock and Texas honky-tonk style tunes that are sometimes reminiscent of Memphis great Todd Snider. His songs are the kind you can sing along to, even if you’re hearing them for the first time.

· Dean Agus Band — Hot Springs native Dean Agus formerly fronted the band Crash Meadows, which was a Showcase finalist years back. With his quick-fingered brother on lead guitar and Dean on acoustic, the band has easily moved into the acoustic-driven genre with jazz- and folk-influenced rock songs.

· Highway 5 — With a frontman who possesses a Nashville-ready stage presence and a talented duo of guitarist and a solid rhythm section, this band will impress not only country music lovers but music fans in general.

Friday’s show will open with Highway 5, followed by Cooper’s Orbit, Damn Bullets, Jeff Coleman and the Feeders and the Dean Agus Band. Jeff Allen of KKPT-FM, 94.1 The Point will host the show with Arkansas Times entertainment editor Jim Harris. A panel of judges will choose the winner based on song quality, originality, musicianship, showmanship and crowd response. The winner will be announced in a Post-Showcase Party at Sticky Fingerz on Tuesday, March 6, beginning at 7 p.m.

Jacksonville Guitar, Trio’s restaurant, Blue Chair Studio of Cabot and Riverfest are providing prizes for the winner, with Riverfest assuring the winner a slot in its Memorial Day weekend lineup. Other prizes including a photo shoot with Arkansas Times photographer Brian Chilson, while finalists are paid for performing and will receive shirts from HipsSway, cases of Red Bull and other prizes.

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