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The Showcase finals will absolutely, unequivocally happen tonight


By the numbers, the Showcase thus far: Four weeks; 16 bands; 5,283 words of promo copy; 200 semi-finalist compilation CDs given away; hundreds of blank stares in response to the music trivia question, “What song is Chelsea Clinton named for?”; four acts named for their lead singer's given name; three named for their lead man's stage name; three judges with reddish hair; two appearances by Riverboat Crime on the Showcase t-shirts; one black Elvis impersonator and almost 17 hours of live and local music.

Together, of course, that means it's time for the Showcase finals. On Friday at 9 p.m., the four winners of the semi-final rounds will square off at Revolution to determine who will see “Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winner” precede their name every time they're mentioned for decades. Or a long time at least. Additionally, the winner will receive a main-stage slot on Riverfest, recording time from Blue Chair Studio, clothes from Hip Sway in Conway, a $100 gift certificate to Trio's, a $300 gift certificate to Jacksonville Guitar Center and a photo shoot with the Times' own Brian Chilson. All is not lost for the second-place finisher either. They'll receive recording time from H.I.S Sound Studio in Benton.

Here's a rundown of our four finalists and an argument for each to win:

First round winner 607 is Little Rock's most prolific rapper — he's released 29 albums in less than a decade. He performs dozens of shows a month and last year he traveled to Russia twice to penetrate that country's “hip-hop starved” scene.

Why he'll win: He's unpredictable. In the first round, he opened wearing a drama mask obscuring his face, performed a “palingraph,” a rap that made sense forwards and backwards (he unfurled a large sheet with the lyrics so the audience could follow along) and interpolated Britney's “Toxic” with one of his raps. And he's got more tricks up his sleeve.

Epiphany and One Night Stand took round two. Led by local rapper and record label head Epiphany, this hip-hop/jazz/soul/funk ensemble has, in the last year, become one of Little Rock's most in-demand acts, playing just about every venue in town, plus a wedding or two.

Why they'll win: Hip-hop backed by live music is a rare and impressive sight. The backing band is tight. Guitarist Sixstring pulls out some metal moves here and there, and vocalist Gina Gee can belt a hook like no one around. Plus, Epiphany is one of Little Rock's sharpest and most charismatic performers.

Third round winners Brian Martin and the Circulators are perhaps Hot Springs' most beloved performers. Martin is a full-time musician, a veteran of the stage who carries himself with a surfeit of confidence.

Why they'll win: Roots always wins. There's a long history of roots-tinged groups taking home the prize at the Showcase. The band's effervescent blues-folk swings powerfully, too. Greg Batterton, on harmonica and trumpet, is a secret weapon.

New-wave rockers Kyoto Boom took home a fourth-round victory with a dynamic and polished performance. Their synth-heavy stylings might sound familiar to local post-punks, but they've never sounded this tight.

Why they'll win: Experience. The three members of Kyoto Boom have all played in big-time bands, particularly lead singer Scott Cook, who toured nationally with the Kicks. Their performances exude professionalism.

As you can see, it's a toss-up. Three special guest judges will join our crew of four regular judges. Michael Marion is the general manager of Alltel Arena and past winner of Pollstar's Facility Executive of the Year. DeAnna Korte is the executive director of Riverfest. Jim Harris is the editor of Arkansas Sports and a former Times arts and entertainment editor, who oversaw the Showcase for years. Plus — and this is important for fans of a particular band — members of the audience will have a chance to vote for their favorite band. The results of that voting will be weighted equal to one judge, and it won't be winner-take-all.

In past years, the finals have sold out. There aren't advance tickets for sale. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the first band goes on at 9 p.m., so get there early. We'll be giving away free compilation CDs featuring all 16 semi-finalists to the first 50 through the door. Later, we'll have special giveaways for you trivia masters. Tickets are $5 for 21 and older and $10 for 18 plus. The winner will be announced on Friday. Check the Times' Rock Candy blog for more Showcase preview goodness.

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