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Photo courtesy of Texaco Country Showdown

Pop and country singer Jewel hosted the 31st annual Texaco Country Showdown finals in Nashville.

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Photo courtesy of Cedric Bixler-Zavala

Former Mars Volta vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala appears with new band Zavalaz at Elements Venue on Wednesday.

Attention aspiring Bakersfield country singers and musicians: start tweaking your twang.

After flipping formats from classic rock to country last month, local station 92.1 KIX Country is now calling for music submissions to be entered in the Texaco Country Showdown, which will include Bakersfield for the first time in its 32 years.

"We were excited to be contacted by the organizers," said Kris Winston, program director for 92.1 KIX Country. "They heard about us, that we were a brand-new station and thought we'd be a great fit. It's going to be great. There's going to be quite a mix of performers."

Previous Showdown contestants include Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert and others who've gone onto have major careers.

According to a news release, the contest is open to vocal and/or instrumental performers, both individual acts and groups with up to seven members.

Acts also must not have performed on a record charted in the top 100 country format of Billboard within 18 months preceding local competition. A $20 entry fee is required of all acts chosen to perform.

"It's an exciting community event that provides talented local artists an opportunity for state, regional and national exposure while promoting a greater appreciation of country music."

Contestants can enter by submitting their music through a variety of formats including CD, MP3 or video. Submissions can be sent via email to winston@lotusbakersfield.com, dropped off or mailed to the station's main office located at 5100 Commerce Drive in Bakersfield (93309). Deadline for submissions is noon on June 28.

There is no limit to the amount of submissions they can accept, and an outside panel of judges will pick the top entries.

"Ideally, we'd like everyone to get a chance to get up and perform. We are completely removing ourselves from the judging. I certainly wouldn't want to be in that position. The judges will be people that understand music, the industry. They will pick who moves on."

After the judges have narrowed it down to the top seven to eight entries, those contestants will move onto the local finals on July 19 at the Bull Shed Bar & Grill to perform in front of other judges who will pick a local winner. The public is welcome to attend the local finals and will have a chance to vote for their favorite. Those results will not have any bearing on the judges' decision, but, according to Winston, will give the public a chance to let their voice be heard.

"That type of competitive environment is a great experience. Anytime as a performer you get a chance to push yourself, you're only going to get better. Bakersfield is a small town and I know some of the performers are going to know the other performers. You get to see the best of the best getting up there."

Local winners advance to more than 40 state contests where the prizes include $1,000 cash and the opportunity to compete at one of five regional contests in the fall.

The five regional winners receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the national final to compete for $100,000. For a full list of rules and information, visit countryshowdown.com.

This marks the station's first big promotional campaign after flipping formats from The New 92.1 Max FM classic rock to 92.1 KIX Country on May 6, where it joins KUZZ as one of two local terrestrial radio stations with a full-time country format.

"It's been very interesting," said Winston who moved to Bakersfield three years ago after working in country radio in San Antonio for a decade. "We haven't had any real promo for the station, no ads or billboards. Most people are just finding us. The comments I get from people are mostly, 'How long have you been around?' It's a very up-tempo station. We play new country, with good energy and some great people on-air."

According to Winston, the station's morning show, hosted live by Bobby Bones out of Nashville, has received great reviews from listeners so far, followed by radio jocks Mel; veteran radio talent Anne Kelly, who broadcasts live from her present home in the UK; Winston in the afternoon; followed by "CMT Live with Cody Alan" in the evening.

"Bobby Bones has artists performing live constantly, talking and performing. Of course, we don't have the flood of artists like Nashville, so it's interesting for people to hear that."

Winston added the station plans become more visible in the community as time progresses, with the Texaco Country Showdown being a way to introduce its plans to engage the community.

"Through all my years, I've always felt radio has a responsibility to its community. Yes, we are a business, but we have a responsibility to be involved in the community and help where there is a need. Not just for charities, but for these young talents who come in and learn how conduct themselves as artists."

Zavalaz at Elements

Former Mars Volta vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala brings his newest project Zavalaz to Elements Venue on Wednesday.

Describing his latest musical foray as being a more natural representation of his spiritual being, the 38-year-old singer-songwriter said while Mars Volta was motivated by chaos, Zavalaz is driven by a renewed sense of awareness and love of family.

"There were moments when I was songwriting with Mars Volta that I was asked to do something a little more straight or give a second or third wind to the band. I don't know, but I always came up short. I always just hid behind my old bag of tricks."

Bixler-Zavala was an electrifying performer with Mars Volta, the popular progressive alt-rock group he founded with guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in 2001 following the breakup of their previous band At The Drive-In. All six of Mars Volta's best-selling albums were filled with tidal waves of imagery and cryptic messages, which fans studied and critics debated their relevancy.

"There isn't one person I've had a conversation with who hasn't had some kind of polarizing opinion about what I've done in the past. I think it's very difficult to understand, but a lot of times it was done purposeful, kind of a court jester approach. I definitely took a lot of cues from Captain Beefheart who had fun with words, and the meaning came second. I've also agreed with people who've said I written phrases with 25 meanings. I'm OK with that."

Following the abrupt breakup of the Mars Volta earlier this year, Bixler-Zavala says life was already at a crossroads. Enjoying sobriety, he credits marriage and his sprouting family with inspiring his rebirth.

"I wasn't preoccupied about trying to steer clear from the responsibility of having a family. I love my wife so much that babies were the next natural progression, and that would also whip my (expletive) into shape, and it really has. Having her point of view artistically, and understanding what a challenge it is to take your art and actually communicate something with it rather than just throw it against the wall and be like, 'Yeah, that's what I meant.' I did that for 10 years."

Bixler-Zavala described his new material as an homage to his parents' music collection.

"My parents were probably part of that record-of-the-month club where you pay a penny and get an eight-track tape. So, as a kid, I had Kiss' 'Love Gun' and 'Destroyer,' and my parents had (Fleetwood Mac's) 'Rumours,' certain Bee Gees records. I've always liked listening to softer material like that. Maybe it's also growing up in Mexican culture where you have a lot of cholos who live an aggressive lifestyle, but at the end of the day, they listen to slow dance material. It probably just rubbed off on me."

Fans expecting a Mars Volta reunion anytime soon shouldn't hold their breath.

"I think what people should understand is, it's not a thing of spite. You realize, there's a certain era to see it, and you learn from your past. Maybe reunions don't always work. It is what it was, and people had a chance to see it. You should've gone when you had the chance. I have to put the same effort that I used to put into being Omar's friend into my family, because that family is much lucrative for me spiritually and has a lot more positivity and that's just where I'm at right now."

Wednesday's all-ages show, also featuring Dot Hacker, begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13. Elements Venue is located at 3401 Chester Ave. For more information, visit timgardeapresents.com.