This Friday, we celebrate the silver anniversary of the Musicians Showcase, inaugurated in 1993 by the now-defunct Spectrum Weekly and handed over to the Arkansas Times in 1997. The winner that first year under Spectrum was Substance, a Towncraft-era band from Sherwood whose members would later join Big Cats and Red 40.
A stellar list of champions followed: Ho-Hum, Pokerface, Ashtray Babyhead, Big Cats, Big John Miller & The Direction, Brenda & Ellis, Big Silver, Mojo Depot, Runaway Planet, Salty Dogs, Grandpa's Goodtime Fandango, The Odds, Hannah Blaylock and Eden's Edge, Cooper's Orbit, 607, Velvet Kente, Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth, Tyrannosaurus Chicken, Holy Shakes, The Sound of the Mountain, Mad Nomad, Ghost Bones and The Uh Huhs.
The showcase is older now than a handful of the musicians who entered it this year. It's been competitive, it's been collegial and it's been loud. More importantly, it's turned a lot of listeners on to local music they might not have heard otherwise, including some inventive work from bands that didn't necessarily end up on top. Our judges — Alex Flanders, host of KABF's "Girls"; LaSheena Gordon, operatic soprano and frontwoman for Off the Cuff; Tyler Nance, drummer for 2016 winner The Uh Huhs; and Zac Smith, helicon player for polka duo The Itinerant Locals and co-founder of Hot Springs' solar-powered community radio station, KUHS-FM, 97.9 — have narrowed the contenders down to six bands: four that won their respective rounds and two runners-up caught in a dead tie. Shepherded by emcee Traci Berry, LGBT activist and host of KABF's "The T with Traci and Angie," they'll battle it out at the finals starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Revolution.
The winner's prizes: some cold hard cash, a spot at Legends of Arkansas in September, a spot at Riverfest, a performance at the Bud Light Pavilion during the 2017 Arkansas State Fair, a spot at the Valley of the Vapors music festival, a celebration party and drink named after the band courtesy of Stickyz and Rev Room, a photo shoot with the Times' own Brian Chilson, a gift certificate to Trio's Restaurant, a recording session at Capitol View Studio and a $200 gift certificate to Dogtown Sound.
Here's a snapshot of the six bands and their answers to these questions: "Somehow, magically, you get to pick two of your favorite bands/composers/musicians — living or otherwise — to share a secret backyard party show. Who are they?" And, "Name something nonmusical that would 'pair well' with your band's sound — a book, a movie, a city, a piece of art, cocktail, a pizza topping, etc."
Band members: Drew DeFrance, Michael Fuller, Andrew Poe, Zach Williams, Joseph Fuller
Unfailingly tight Southern rockers with over 200 live shows in 2016 and a Garth Hudson musical genius of a keyboardist that one of our judges called a “feel-good Pepsi commercial band, for sure.”
Check out: The YouTube video for “I Need You” from the 2016 release “Second Wind.”
Favorite musicians/bands: It's really hard to answer, but Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, I've loved them since childhood.
Music pairs with: Major League Baseball and recreational marijuana.
Dazz & Brie
Band members: Dazzmin Murry, Kabrelyn Gabriel Boyce, Gavin Le'nard, Kamille Shaw, Hope Dixon and Darius Blanton
Self-described "girl gang" armed with divine melismas, an airtight rhythm section, virtuosic organ solos and a mission of "trying to change the world, one weirdo at a time."
Check out: NPR Tiny Desk Contest Entry video, "Old Tee Shirt."
Murry and Kabrelyn Gabriel Boyce respond:
Two favorite musicians/bands: Spice Girls (circa 1997) and James Brown!
Music pairs with: French fries topped with crabmeat and spicy mayo with a drink in a glass bottle.
The Inner Party
Band members: Keith Miller, Dave Morris, Derek Faires, Bob Gaiser
Solid rebellion rock band from Fayetteville, sticking it to The Man with snotty punk vocals and songs about minimum wage and death-by-office-work. The quartet played as a trio at the semifinals and still killed it.
Check out: “Blast Off” on Bandcamp, from the band’s 2015 release, “The Inner Party Makes a Mess.”
Dave Morris responds:
Favorite musicians/bands: I am speaking for myself on this first one, but I am confident Keith [Miller] would be OK with it as well. The first pick would undoubtedly be Nirvana because they're the reason I do this — and in this hypothetical it would mean Kurt Cobain is alive, and I'd give almost anything for that to be true. The second would certainly be Bad Religion because we're all very big fans and we think we're kindred spirits musically and intellectually. Last year when they announced the "Bad Religion/Against Me! Tour," I went berserk trying to make a Fayetteville date happen because I think that would be a perfect show for us and anyone watching. I even sent Laura Jane Grace a personal message on Facebook and tried to backchannel through some mutual friends but sadly nothing came of it. Honorable mentions to the Pixies, the Cure and Nine Inch Nails.
Music pairs with: Right now, especially with many of the songs from our upcoming new album, our music would pair well with a congressional town hall meeting protest. We wanted to try to do something as a band for [Sen.] Tom Cotton's recent one in Springdale, but we couldn't work it out. Ideally, though, we'd like to protest every Republican in Congress — and especially public enemy No. 1, Donald Trump. Aside from that, our name obviously comes from the book "1984," and I feel like our music is heavily influenced by the spirit of it, so I think the two go together well and I always hope fans of George Orwell do, too, when I meet them.
Band members: Rah Howard, Xavier Riley, Rikardo Borum
Fiery, political spoken-word from a charismatic emcee with Andre 3000-esque fashion savvy, blended with harmonica that one of our judges said “hasn’t given [her] that many feels since ‘Roseanne’.”
Check out: The YouTube video for “Everything.”
Favorite musicians/bands: I would have to say Jason Ricci and Kanye West. They have
both made such a huge impact on my life and the way that I believe music should
Music pairs with: The film "Crooklyn" by Spike Lee. In many ways, the film mirrors my childhood and a great deal of the experiences that I use as source material when writing music. I honestly believe that if there was going to be a watch party for this film, playing a few of my records would help set the mood for the event.
Band members: Jaimee Jensen-McDaniel, Ron Jensen-McDaniel, Simon Gable, Doug Roysen, Nate Mathews, Matt Glenn
Funk-forward dance band with prog leanings, two classically trained front people who also happen to be spouses, making for some sexually charged duetting. Retro guitar tones with a theatrical presentation.
Check out: “Devil Dance” on Bandcamp, from the band’s eponymous debut EP.
Favorite musicians/bands: Queen & Puccini.
Music pairs with: Bulges of any kind and whiskey.
Brae Leni & The Evergreen Groove Machine
Band members: Brae Leni [Braelon Leniear], Sam Clark, Brittany McFadden, Natalyn Bell and Ashton Hollow
Commanding frontman with a D'Angelo falsetto and a ton of energy, two show stealers singing Supremes-style backup, an effortlessly solid drummer backing a strong call-and-response game that veers from dance territory to something that resembled freeform jazz. Formerly called Soulution.
Check out: The YouTube video for "Miss That."
Two favorite musicians/bands: Michael Jackson & Kanye West! Oh my! How brilliant that would be ... .
Music pairs with: Easy, a beautiful dancing woman at a club somewhere in the United Kingdom!