Starting this weekend and lasting all through February, Seattle's all-ages community is being turned into a great big battle zone. But hey, who doesn't love a good fight?

Round one takes place this Friday, January 24, at the Downtown YMCA. The first ever Cutest Band Contest brings together some of this city's finest (and most adorable) young bands to compete for the very complimentary title of Seattle's most adorable band. Many entries were received, and much deliberating ensued, but finalists have at last been chosen.

While the chosen bands prep for the big contest, the judges are bracing themselves for some tough decisions. Em'ma Gawd! and Anna Rexia (both appearing in drag), Imaginary Liz (of fame), Steve Migliore (107.7 The End's "Steve the Producer"), and I all have a very tough job ahead of us, let me tell you, since Lands Farther East, In Praise of Folly, Asahi, Ambitious Career Woman, and Blue Sky Mile are all in the running. Who's gonna win? Well, I've seen most of those bands (and seen photos of the ones I haven't), and while I have no predictions regarding the outcome, I can easily say that you're in for an extra-big helping of both eye and ear candy. Let's get it on!

Then, after that fight is won, the next weekend (February 1) brings the kickoff of the Experience Music Project's second annual Sound Off! contest. Any local band consisting entirely of members aged 21 or younger was eligible--and just like last year, the prizes for the winning band are insane! Studio time, a bunch of free gear, and a gig at Bumbershoot are all included in the grand prize package. And competition is even stiffer this time around, since over 100 entries were received!

Here's how the monthlong schedule breaks down: On Saturday, February 1, Bench Grinder, Royale, and the Spit Licks (the very same great band that made it to the finals last year) compete. Then, on February 8, the Hollow Points, the Revelators, and Soybomb battle. And the next week, on February 15, Massive Habit, Red Fish Blue Fish, and Schoolyard Heroes go head to head (to head). Each night's winning band advances to the finals, and on February 22, the remaining three finalists compete for that very generous grand prize.

The Spit Licks, the battle-of-the-band veterans pictured above, have some words of wisdom for all bands about to compete.

"One thing I learned from last year, no matter what happens--win or lose--playing at the EMP Sky Church is an amazing experience," said 19-year-old lead singer Jared Borkowski. "For us kids, it's such a great opportunity to get up there. It's hard not to think of it as a competition, but have a time of it."

Good luck to all, and may the best band win. MEGAN SELING

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!