Small-town, stagnant, nothing but Top 40 cover bands ? if you've ever described the local music scene in those terms, please, please come to the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase for re-education. For the next six weeks, we showcase (it's not for nothing that we use that word) local music in all its fullness. This year, much like last, we've got a rich talent pool filled with names both familiar and brand new (though unlike last year, or any previous one in memory, all of the semi-finalists are new to the competition), who specialize in country, folk, indie rock, metal, rap, rock 'n' roll, soul and genres undefined.
Here's the lowdown: Over the next four Thursdays, 16 semi-finalists (four each week), selected from scores of entrants from across the state, compete at Sticky Fingerz to advance to the final round, to be held Friday, March 5, at Revolution. Each week four permanent judges and one guest judge grade semi-finalists on song quality, originality and, to a lesser extent, musicianship and showmanship.
And, new this year, to combat the perennial cry of “if only band X had landed on another night of competition, it would've made the finals,” we're adding a special play-in round to be held on Thursday, Feb. 25, in which the second-place finishers from each round will battle to advance into the finals. An audience vote will determine the winner.
The first night kicks off at 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, with …
Bobby. That's right, just plain “Bobby.” It may not be the most distinctive name for a rapper, but if Bobby Tillman follows in his brother ? and past Showcase winner ? 607's footsteps, he won't have any trouble getting folks to remember it. A regular presence on 607's albums since 1999, the MC stepped out on his own with his 2006 album debut, “Bobby's World.” While he's prepping the follow-up, “Just Bobby,” he continues to work with his big bro, most recently in a group they call Ear Fear.
Bonnie Montgomery. New to town following several years in Nashville, the Searcy native specializes in folk music, but broadly. She's just as indebted to the cabaret tradition as to rock 'n' roll. That her chest tones always sound pure might owe something to her graduate and undergraduate study in opera. This year, she hopes to finish her operetta “Billy Blythe,” about the childhood years of Bill Clinton.
Cody Belew. The name may be familiar: For more than a year, Cody Belew's been one of Little Rock's most regular club performers. With his band the Mercers, he's out nearly every weekend whooping it up with rock and soul covers. But you've never seen this side of Belew. The Showcase marks the live debut of new material (and a new band) that Belew says speaks more to his small town roots (he grew up in Antioch, outside of Beebe). Expect the same sort of soulful dynamism that he brings to covers, but in alt-country-shaded pop songs.
Stella Fancy. Ditto. The Little Rock act has been around for a spell, but its latest incarnation ? Jen Shaw (vocals, guitar), JP Langston (guitar), Jon Bierman (bass), Damian Thompson (congas), Dan Huff (drums) ? hasn't. In fact, this show marks the live debut of a fresh batch of songs. But don't look for wholesale change. The band's mixture of understated, groove-heavy instrumentals with Shaw's lounge-style vocals sounds geared for the long haul.
Read Rock Candy online (arktimes.com/blogs/rockcandy) for more on the Showcase, including song samples, pictures and post-show reviews and video.
UPCOMING SHOWCASE SCHEDULE
Feb. 4: 3 Penny Acre, Big Boots, Elise Davis, Matt Stell and the Crashers.
Feb. 11: Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth, Dangerous Idiots, Flash LaRue, Rah HoWard.
Feb. 18: Iron Tongue, Outstanding Red Team, Ryan Couron, Underclaire.
Osyrus tha G.O.D., PROXY JUDGE*
Who? , emcee, booming voice.
Claim to fame. A vital cog in the local hip-hop, R&B and spoken word scenes for years.
Up next. An EP in the spring.
*Filling in for regular judge Joshua.
Who? Director of the Arkansas Community Arts Cooperative (ACAC).
Claim to fame. Co-founded Art Amiss in Fayetteville.
Up next. Booking musicians and artists at the ACAC; growing membership.
Who? Local guitar god and vocalist.
Claim to fame. Recorded an essential solo album, “… and Twiced Gone,” and performed alongside Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams and Jim Dickinson.
Up next. A new album due this spring.
Who? Music critic.
Claim to fame. An integral role in Oxford American magazine's Arkansas-focused music issue.
Up next. Writing more for the Arkansas Times.
g-force, GUEST JUDGE
Who? Little Rock's greatest DJ.
Claim to fame. Co-founded Under the Ground; DJing nonstop.
Up next. Saturday at Cajun's and Disco; soul night on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at Union.