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This issue of Ground Zero features our picks for the year's best movies, restaurants, local performing arts and more, but one of my favorite moments of 2011 was in March, when we let you decide on the city's best cover band.

We presented Music Madness, a competitive bracket of 16 local cover bands that coincided with college basketball's March Madness.

Our contest was a success, with the bands using Facebook, Twitter, email and more to rally their fans to vote for them at JournalStar.com.

The final two were Soul Dawg and The Wheezetones, with The Wheezetones winning thanks to a flurry of late votes. We announced the winner with a special feature story on the band.

Interestingly, the bands are headlining a New Year's Eve show Saturday at the Pershing Center. They have been using our contest to promote the show. Of course, we just organized Music Madness. You decided the winner, and we thank you for that.

A few of my favorite things

I joined our Journal Star reviewers in picking the best from the local performing arts scene, but I also had a few favorite national acts from 2011. They were:

* Los Lonely Boys, Lied Center. The Lied went after a younger demographic and didn't disappoint by booking these rockers. It was a great, great concert.

* "Spring Awakening," Lied Center. The Tony Award-winner landed in Lincoln before Omaha for a one-night-only performance. It didn't disappoint.

* Bernadette Peters, Lied Center. She performed for nearly two hours. I could have listened to her all night.

* Bill Cosby, Lied Center. I can check this off my bucket list. I couldn't stop smiling for days.

My year's favorite story: It has to be my preview of UNL Opera's "Romeo and Juliet." Romeo (Patrick O'Halloran) accidentally stepped on Juliet's (Jeni Houser) toe during a rehearsal just days before the show. Houser gamely persevered, earning a rave review from critic John Cutler.

My year's favorite interview: Peters was great (she told me her hair is naturally curly when I asked), and so was violinist Joshua Bell, who shared with me what he has on his iPod. But my favorite conversation was with Rachel Pine, who not only is one of the best classical violinists around, but plays in a heavy metal band. How cool is that?

Here are three cheers …

* For collaboration. Several years ago, I gathered the leaders of Lincoln's theater companies for a round-table discussion. It was the first time many of them had been in same place at the same time.

Today, with funds lacking, many are working together to stage productions. It's nice to see. The best of the bunch may have been TADA Productions' teaming with the Lincoln Choral Artists on "Big River" in O'Donnell Auditorium.

* For cheap tickets. Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra took a bold step in decreasing its ticket prices to coincide with its move to the Lied Center for Performing Arts, allowing patrons to see Cirque performers and violinist Rachel Pine for as little as $10 each. Impressive. I hope it will last.

* For "Lady Windermere's Fan" tech crew. The work of designers Jacob Heger (scenic) and Mallory Prucha (costumes) on the Oscar Wilde play was a visual treat and some of the best I've seen in my 15-plus years of covering theater.

And three jeers …

* For Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra's first concert. The cheap tickets were great, but combining it with a Living Social deal proved to be nearly disastrous.

A line snaked out the door and down the sidewalk with people waiting to get their tickets. The concert started late because of it. It was a bad first impression for those who hadn't seen LSO before. I'm guessing a lesson was learned.

* For TADA Productions' hyped talent search for the male lead in "Little Shop of Horrors." TADA had a good idea, but instead of finding a fresh face, the judges awarded the role to an actor who already has been in several TADA shows.

We already know he's talented, or TADA wouldn't have cast him before. The contest should have been limited to those who hadn't performed with the company. Then it would have been a talent search.

* For UNL's Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film for underestimating the appeal of baseball personality Bob Uecker. The school booked his lecture for Howell Theatre instead of the bigger Lied Center and ran out of seats immediately after opening the doors 30 minutes before his appearance.

Seats were not reserved unless, of course, you were a VIP, and the school didn't set up an overflow in the Studio Theatre, where it could have broadcasted Uecker's talk. Many people were shut out, including several who came from out of town to see him.

This has been ongoing issue with the school, which, for some reason, doesn't have reserved seating for University Theatre and Nebraska Repertory Theatre productions either. Go figure.

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSjeffkorbelik.

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