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Showcase semi-finalists announced 

After much discussion and scrutinizing scores of entries, we've come up with 20 semi-finalists who will face off in the 2012 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase. There were so many quality bands entering the showcase last year that the lineup was expanded from 16 semifinalists to 20, and it was damn hard to get it down to just 20 this year.

Here's a reminder of how the showcase works: Each night, four semifinalists will play 30-minute sets of original material for five judges, who will assess each act based on musicianship, originality, songwriting quality and showmanship. There will also be points awarded from the audience, so bands, make sure to bring lots of your friends with you.

The competition starts Thursday, Jan. 26, and continues every Thursday through Feb. 16, with the last semifinal on Friday, Feb. 24. The semifinals are all at Stickyz and the final show is Friday, March 2, at Revolution.

In the coming weeks, we'll introduce you to the judges and the bands that will be performing, and we'll provide details on the prize package for the winner, so keep an eye on the Arkansas Times and Rock Candy.

The semi-finalists:

Ben Franks & the Bible Belt Boys The Coasts

Don't Stop Please

Holy Angell

The Holy Shakes

J.D. Parker & The Tin Strings

Jab Jab Sucker Punch

Joey Farr & The Fuggins Wheat Band

Laundry for the Apocalypse

Lindsay Kate Band

Plain Meanness

Quadkiller

Se7en Sharp

Shining Rae

Swampbird

Tsar Bomba

Vore

War Chief

Wes Patterson

Wooden Toys

Arkansas Times contributing editor Mara Leveritt is the recipient of this year's $10,000 Laman Library Writers Fellowship. Leveritt plans to use the money to work on "Justice Knot," the follow-up to her 2002 book, "Devil's Knot," her exhaustive account of the West Memphis Three case, which became a sort of handbook for those interested in helping seek justice for Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley.

Now in its third year, the fellowship program awards a grant to previously published Arkansas writers who are working on another book. Historian Grif Stockley won the prize in 2010, followed by Little Rock novelist Kevin Brockmeier in 2011.

In April, Vicky and Steve Farrell plan to open The Joint, a comedy/rock club cum coffeehouse/bar, in a storefront at 301 Main St. in Argenta. The Farrells are new to Little Rock, but no strangers to comedy or theater. They met in the mid-'70's, as college theater geeks, performing in a summer show on a Mississippi Riverboat. They married and acted in plays in Minneapolis before launching two comedy ventures in Houston. The first of those, The Comedy Workshop, hosted national acts such as Rodney Dangerfield and Robin Williams.

Their North Little Rock venue will borrow from their second Houston venture, Radio Music Theater, a conceptual approach to two-act plays, involving a cast of three tackling 20 or more characters. On weekends, The Joint's large stage will host similarly structured plays riffing on local politics and other topics. But the coffee/comedy fusion is new to the Farrells, and they're branching out in other ways, too. They plan to have a small stage and a permanent piano in the coffee shop, which will open early and close late, serving wine and beer at night. The space seats up to 30 and will host open mics and informal music. The large stage, in a room that can accommodate 120, will host Wednesday night improv and Thursday night local and national music acts.

Jimmy Buffett is headed to Verizon Arena on March 1. Tickets range from $36 to $136 and go on sale Saturday, Jan. 14, at 10 a.m. via the arena box office and all Ticketmaster outlets.

Riverfest has announced that Lynyrd Skynyrd and Little Big Town will be among the headlining acts at this year's Memorial Day weekend festivities. Skynyrd plays May 26 and LBT plays May 27.

Looks like Revolution has good news for fans of orchestral pop and upbeat, rootsy indie rock: The erstwhile robe-wearers in The Polyphonic Spree are coming to town Feb. 8 and the San Diego act Delta Spirit is set to play March 19.

The good folks putting on Wakarusa made the first of three lineup announcements earlier this week, and there are some good'ns so far, including: The Weir, Robinson & Greene Acoustic Trio, made up of Grateful Dead alum Bob Weir, Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson and singer/songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Jackie Greene; jam-circuit faves Keller Williams and Railroad Earth; electro DJ Pretty Lights; Southern rockers Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit; the ubiquitous G. Love & Special Sauce, and about 30 more. The next announcement will be Jan. 12.

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