Ryan Preddy and Jason Blankenship of Cassville, Mo., were there for a different reason.
"He made a promise to his wife before she passed away that he would do a show like this," Blankenship said of Preddy. "That's the only reason we're doing this."
On Saturday, with Blankenship on drum, Preddy sang two original pieces, including "Mary's Song," which he wrote about losing the woman who was the love of his life. The song connected with the audience and the judges, who awarded the duo, 221 Band, first place and the opportunity to compete in the state showdown in October.
"The first song, I wasn't nervous at all," Preddy said. "The one I wrote about Mary, sometimes it's a little tough to get through."
The show drew 14 acts, mostly solo singers and singer/songwriter guitarists. The youngest soloist was 5-year-old Sage Tresler of Berryville, who sang Taylor Swift's "Mean." Sage wore a pink cowboy hat and wants to be a rock star, the announcer said. Another local cowgirl, Ambur Rockell, sang two original songs, "Bar Room Rose," and "Heart Attack," which was named best music video at the Eureka Springs Downtown Network's Five-Minute Film Festival.
"I hear people pass me on the street yodeling 'Baby,'" she said, referring to a song lyric.
Audrey Nicole, a Eureka Springs High School senior, sang "Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town," which won her last year's high school's talent show. Other students with stage cred were Kashina McGraff, 14, of Omaha, Ark., who performed for two years in "Raising America" in Branson, and Keylen Bell, the 2012 Junior Miss Carroll County. An honor student and athlete at Green Forest High School, Bell, who is recording a CD of her favorite songs, took third place in the showdown, in which she sang "Hallelujah."
Adults competing in the show included Kristen Alvard of Berryville, who sings with her family, and Kendra Bruce, a worship team leader in Harrison who has recorded in Nashvile. Bruce, in cow-hide patterned pants, strutted her stuff in "Red High Heels," taking second place in the competition. Karen Saul, a pianist and church musician in Harrison, sang "When Does the Hero Come Home."
"I'm so out of my element," Saul said. "It's so much easier just to sing to God."
Singing and playing guitar were Johnny Hudson of Harrison, who sang ""How Far Is it Over You," and Cody Ricketts of Marble Falls, who did the gospel song, "I'm Going Over." Jeremy Marion of Clifty sang an original song, "Where the Red Fern Grows."
Audrey Bond of Eureka Springs, who said she hadn't sung on stage for years, kicked off the show with two Patsy Cline numbers, accompanied by Quinn and Beth Withy. Kevin Boyd of Green Forest, a rural mail carrier out of Berryville, said he entered the contest because his spouse, Debbie Boyd, dared him to do it.
"I hadn't picked up my guitar for a year," he said.
Blankenship said he and Preddy grew up together in Cassvile, and have been playing music together professionally for three years -- they had a gig at Chaser's that night. But Preddy said he was nervous about singing the song he wrote for Mary Ellen Wilson, his sweetheart since junior high school and the mother of their son, Bowen, 11. They were together 20 years.
"She died on July 30, two years ago," Preddy said.
Mike and Dale Bishop, headliners at Pine Mountain Theater, opened the show with two songs. Buster Sharp was stage manager and Drew Gresham did lights and sound. Jamie Hussey, sales manager at Radio KTHS, the show's sponsor, announced the winners. First, second and third place were only separated by a few points, Hussey said.
Blankenship, who works at Les Jacobs Ford, and Preddy, owner of Slinkard's and RPM Salvage, will compete in the Arkansas State Texaco Showdown in Little Rock for a $1,000 prize. The state winner advances to the regional showdown, with the winners of five regional showdowns competing in Nashville for the $100,000 prize and national title.
This is the eighth year that KTHS Radio has sponsored the local Texaco Country Showdown at Pine Mountain Theater, which drew an audience of 121.