Instrumental guitarist Steve Davison joked with the crowd in Conway on Saturday night before his turn in the Arkansas Acoustic Showdown that he’d worn a hat to hide his bald head and maybe change his luck.
In the previous two showdowns at UCA’s Reynolds Performance Hall, he’d come up short. Whether it was due to the cap, or maybe the “third time’s the charm” thing, last Saturday was Davison’s night as he edged the 2002 showdown winner, Brian Driscoll, and 11 other competitors for the solo award.
“With such an array of talent, I felt blessed to be accepted as one of the finalists, and I’ve been working hard on my musical career lately, so it’s nice to have that affirmation you get from winning a competition like that,” Davison said.
Davison wasn’t the only artist to feel some measure of validation after coming up short in other competitions. Wildwood, a young “newgrass” trio from Fayetteville with outstanding harmonies and unique compositions, came up three points short of blues band Charlotte Taylor and Gypsy Rain last Thursday in the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, but on Saturday Wildwood reigned in the showdown’s group category.
Davison, who worked for the Little Rock office of World Wide Travel for 12 years, spent most of 2004 managing John Kerry’s airplane for the presidential campaign (he managed Bill Clinton’s travel in 1992 and 1996 as well as the Democratic National Committee travel while with World Wide). Now a consultant, one of Davison’s clients is an air charter brokerage firm. Through that firm, he and several others created a group two years ago that brought web technology and other skills together. They pitched this business to the Democratic candidates in 2004, eventually handling the travel for all the primary candidates and landing Kerry for the rest of the presidential run.
Davison got back to performing in December, headlining a show at Acoustic Sounds Cafe. So far, all he’s got on his plate are two shows in March at two Conway acoustic houses, but cafes and other venues ought to be booking the 52-year-old. His two songs, “Of Woods and Water” and “Bayou Bartholomew Blues” electrified the crowd. Driscoll, proving 2002 was no fluke, was sensational with his two songs as well, but judges gave the slight edge this time to Davison.
2003 winner Garry Bryant, in the audience Saturday and back Sunday for the jazzy, all-instrumental Edgar Meyer-Chris Thile show, said, “I’m proud for Steve, he’s been right there the first two years,” adding that he thought an instrumentalist was at a disadvantage the way the contest was set up.
Davison grew up in Pine Bluff and joined an R&B band in Texas as a drummer straight out of high school. There, he discovered the acoustic guitar, he said, and played regularly for almost a decade.
“About four years ago, I picked the guitar back up and made the commitment to really work on it again,” he said. “Then I had this sort of burst of compositions that came out of nowhere. That spurred me on to performing again. All of a sudden I had a couple of sets of original music. That allowed me to go out and see how the public would react.”
The Kerry campaign, though, kept most of the music on hold for 2004. Now, with a much-deserved competition trophy in hand, Davison is ready to get his sound heard.
“Last year was my year to focus on taking John Kerry around the world,” he said. “ This year I’m focusing on getting me around.”