On Thurs. Mar. 16, day one of the South By Southwest Music And Media Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, I arrived not sure what exactly to expect from this enormous music festival. Being the extreme Type-A personality that I am, I diligently picked out which shows I absolutely had to see, being very selective so as to prevent any stressful attempts to see every single band I want. SXSW is the nation’s premier showcase of new musical talent. The four-day music festival is something of an alterna-world spring break.

Early in the day, I walked past the Beastie Boys chatting with some fans outside of the Hilton. Fortunately, my interviews (one with The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus on the MySpace bus, the other with Anberlin) went fairly smoothly, and then the rest of the night was mine. I set up camp at the Militia Group showcase where I was impressed and quite surprised by all three acts: Controlling the Famous, Brandtson, and The Appleseed Cast.

On Fri. Mar. 17, I spent the majority of my second day watching the “Shirts for a Cure” show, which featured a slew of awesome bands: Hit the Lights, The Loved Ones, Head Automatica, The Receiving End of Sirens, Circa Survive, Lifetime, and My Chemical Romance. All rock the main stage and make for one hell of a show. Later, Lucero in all their alt-country glory left me in awe.

Day Three found me back at Emo’s at the Alternative Press party, where I caught an absolutely incredible set by post-hardcore outfit Thursday, followed by strong sets from Damone and Superchunk.

On Sun. Mar. 19 the alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. and I was soon on a flight back to Atlanta, sitting next to a couple of Brits who are obviously in a band (and reeked of cigs and alcohol).

SXSW was amazing. I’m already contemplating next year’s trip.

10 SXSW Bands to Watch in 2006:

Damone — This Boston quartet was a ball of energy. The band’s brand of ’80s glam-rock mixed with pop and Blondie-esque vocals is going to put the group in high demand.

The Receiving End of Sirens — A prog-rock/emo band with multiple lead vocalists and three guitarists. They blended technicality, electronic beats, and edgy rock into a unique sound. These guys will definitely be all the rage in the punk/emo scene.

Brandtson — The guys changed up their formerly emo-rock sound to make it a little catchier. When their new album Hello, Control, drops in May, both old and new fans are going to be pleasantly surprised by their evolution.

Lifetime — The recently reunited punk rock veterans from Jersey made the “influences” list of almost every young melodic punk band out there. The band is set to record and release a new album on Decaydance Records. The kids are already drooling in anticipation.

Controlling the Famous — Can’t quite put my finger on what it is about this quartet that impresses me so much. They caught my attention right off the bat.

Lucero — Alt-country from Memphis with a lot of heart. These guys know how to put on a show and the buzz surrounding them is only going to continue to grow in 2006.

The Loved Ones — A straight-up, solid, punk-rock trio from Philly who play the type of music expected from a Fat Wreck Chords band. Catchy as hell without being pop-punk.

Hit the Lights — Sure, these guys from Ohio play New Found Glory-esque pop-punk, but they’re doing it a lot better than most bands out there these days.

The Pink Spiders — Yes, this trio actually wear pink and their own band T-shirts, for that matter. Slick pop-rockers from Nashville, The Spiders are newbies on Geffen and have their Ric Ocasek-produced debut coming out later this year.

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus — Terrible name, good music. This young quintet from Jacksonville inked a deal with Virgin last fall and just put the finishing touches on its pop-rock/screamo major-label debut due out in June.

Leah Weinberg is a freelance music writer based in Atlanta. She’s pretty darn emo about hardcore.