The winner: Velvet Kente’s joshua. Photo by Brian Chilson.

I saw a lot of eyes stretch wide when Velvet Kente’s joshua. started his set off a capella on Friday. The man’s got a commanding voice in the most literal sense: Bar chatter stopped. Postures straightened. Hands held beer glasses just short of lips.


With a black hoodie pulled snug around his face, he sang full and clear and with the force of someone used to playing big stages. His voice ranged. Here loud, but laid bare, pleadingly. There with a kind of mediative Afro-Caribbean inflection. For “binti.,” the hypnotic song he lent Korto for “Project Runway,” he adopted a deep, righteous growl. Which seemed about right for lines like, “When you poor you suffer.”

His songs, some fleshed out better than others, mostly delve into social justice and faith. I’m all for frivolity, but it’s refreshing to see someone with such a clear talent pushing an agenda geared to provoke.


His band, anchored by longtime local player Tim Anthony on keys, was, as all the  judges noted, super tight. They mixed deep, traditional funk rhythms with Afrobeat and syncopated beats.

Lots of people danced, some with tambourines provided by the band.


Frown Pow’r. Photo by Brian Chilson.

Frown Pow’r kicked off the night with a large contingent from Arkadelphia (where a good chunk of the band’s from) and from Lyon College in Batesville (where a good chunk of the band schooled). They danced and sang and banged tambourines, too.

They got knocked by a couple of judges for being sloppy — playing out of tune and offbeat. That didn’t bother me. Some of my favorite bands can’t/couldn’t play their instruments very well (like Guided by Voices, Black Lips, Hasil Adkins). They made a racket (even using an aluminum door, at one point, for percussion) and relied on lead singer JT Tarpley’s estimable charisma to see them through.

607 wins for best metaphor of the night. He said, the band “feels a lot like church, catchy but spastic.” Count me as a convert.


Magic Hassle. Photo by Brian Chilson.

Magic Hassle had the misfortune of following Velvet Kente. Put them on another night, not behind a band that comes out of nowhere and blows everyone away, and they’re probably finals bounds.

Even though MH has only been together for a couple months, they’re still a familiar prospect to any American Princes fan. Just as he does in the Princes, David Slade offers material that, as Nicole Boddington said, is “sensitive, reflective, moving, goosebump inducing.” But in other spots, Slade seems to taking advantage of an opportunity to tap into his inner punk rocker and play really fast and loud and cuss a lot. It’s a nice contrast.

As ever, fellow Prince Matt Quin absolutely destroys his kit, and the other dudes, Straw Britton and Eric Morris, were impressive, too.


Jordan Atwater and band. Brian Chilson.

Jordan Atwater closed the night with an elaborate stage show: Two lead guitarists, a keyboardist, drummer, bassist, a back-up singer (“the most cheerful man alive,” observed 607) and two dancers. It took a while for the crew to get in place, and by the time their set started, around 12:30, the crowd had thinned.

They missed an entertaining set, but one that seemed to overwhelm the judges with activity. Still Jason Weinheimer offered, “More bands should have dancers.”

More pics after the jump.