It's been said ad nauseum because it bears repeating: Arkansas has more great bands per capita than anywhere else in America. For the next six weeks, beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday, we're showcasing 20 of the best the state has to offer in our annual battle of the bands, the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase.
Here's the deal: Over the next four Thursdays, 20 semifinalists, hand-picked from scores of entrants across the state, will compete at Stickyz. The winner of each semifinal night then advances to our final round, to be held Friday, March 4, at Revolution.
Each week's winning act will be chosen by our four-person panel of whip-smart, music-loving judges and a rotating, weekly guest judge. They'll score each band on criteria including song quality, originality, musicianship and showmanship. The final winning act not only gets to stand beside local greats like 607, Velvet Kente and Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth as fellow Showcase winners, it also will receive a spot at Riverfest on a main stage, a $300 gift certificate to Jacksonville Guitar, five hours of studio time at Blue Chair Studios, a T-shirt package provided by Section 8, a photo shoot with Times photographer Brian Chilson, a $600 gift certificate at Electric Heart Tattoo and a celebration party from Sticky Fingerz and Rev Room, as well as a signature drink named after the winning band on the restaurants' bar menus.
The cover charge for each semifinal round is $5.
Here's who's up first:
Zach Williams and the Reformation. This Southern-rocking Jonesboro act sports the most impressive tour schedule of the competition. Spring 2010 saw the five-piece embark on a European tour, taking to Belgium, Spain and France before spending July playing for Armed Forces stationed in Japan. Globe-trotters, sure. Time-travelers, maybe: Zach Williams and the Reformation look just like Dixieland soul-rockers of yore and sound like the Stones at their most Southern.
Think: Dazed & Confused & Bearded & Shredding & Fist-Pumping.
Catskill Kids. Fronted by the Queensland-born, Arkansas-transplanted brother and sister duo of Matthew and Christie Cronk, Catskill Kids spent the better part of last year honing their melodic, heart-on-sleeve indie pop at venues around town. Shaking vocals and whistling synth lines immediately bring to mind a laundry list of Canadian bands from the last 10 years.
Think: Wolf Parade reimagined by Charles Schultz.
Tyrannosaurus Chicken. You may have caught them busking during last year's King Biscuit Blues Festival. You certainly couldn't miss them. Both multi-instrumentalists separated by decades, Rachel Ammons and Smilin' Bob Lewis deconstruct the blues into a primal, raucous four on the floor attack of sawing fiddle, finger-picked guitar and trance-inducing bass drum. Shockingly tight one verse and gleefully atonal the next, the duo is definitely the most left-of-the-dial semifinalist of the whole shebang.
Think: Leadbelly acing the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Cody Ives Band. No stranger to the Stickyz stage, Benton's Cody Ives Band specializes in the Red Dirt country sound that originated in Oklahoma, found its way into Arkansas and has thrived here ever since. Taking diverse cues from Chuck Berry, Garth Brooks and Red Dirt icon Stoney LaRue. Since cutting their first demo, "Stimulation Simulation" in January 2009, the six-piece has kept it twangy and real, remaining a steady presence at motorcycle rallies, pool halls and beer bars around the state.
Think: The house band for the (Waylon) Jennings Family reunion.
Check Rock Candy (arktimes.com/blogs/rockcandy) for more on the Showcase, including song samples, pictures, and video, reviews and discussion after each round.