Four regional groups will go head to head this week in the WKMS Battle of the Bands Competition, vying for a three-day recording session and a live studio performance on the station's midday program, "Sounds Good."
The Drunken Poets, of western Kentucky; Paducah-based Gideon's Rifle; Float as the Ghost, from Portland, Tenn.; and Cape Girardeau's The Evan Webb Band will compete Thursday at Maiden Alley Cinema, 112 Maiden Alley. Audience members will determine the winner.
Program Director Tracy Ross, who hosts "Sounds Good," said he knew from experience that the region hosts a number of talented musicians. But the contestants still managed to surprise him.
"I did not know they were this good, and I did not know there were this many," Ross said. "It's going to be really hard for a lot of people in this area to pick a favorite."
Eleven judges from WKMS-FM whittled 35 original entries down to eight semifinalists, and finalists were chosen by voters on social media. Aside from the groups' talent, Ross said he was impressed by the variety of music submitted to the station.
"I expected to have the various different offshoots of country and western," he said, but entries ran the gamut of genres, from metal to indie rock to blues.
Contestants say they expect the competition to be fierce, but friendly. In Paducah's tight-knit music scene, musicians often play in multiple bands - some of which competed against each other to make it to the semifinals.
"We're all in it together, for the most part," said Alex Coltharp, who plays banjo in Gideon's Rifle. "There's no morality police in the situation. We (local musicians) pretty much have to take care of each other."
Coltharp said the string band's set will consist of three original songs, including the submission that won the group entry into the Battle of the Bands. Though they haven't picked the other two songs, Coltharp said the group will try to highlight its strong vocals, harmonies and orchestral ornamentation.
And they won't forget to enjoy themselves.
"There's this moment where you can feel the crowd getting behind you. ... It feels pretty good. Music is a pretty unadulterated, pure, great thing in this world, so we like to be a part of it," he said.
Doors to the Battle of the Bands Competition open at 6:30 p.m., and music begins at 7. Poet and educator Samuel "Snacks" Hawkins and members of Paducah Improv will provide entertainment between sets. Tickets cost $10 and are available online at maidenalleycinema.com. Music from the four bands can be heard at wkms.org.
Although the competition marks a first for WKMS, it likely won't be the last, Ross added.
"After what we've seen so far in this contest, I can say with almost complete certainty that we will be doing this again, because there's just so much fertile musical territory to mine out there," he said.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.