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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Firecracker Studios and Sunspot join in the fun at SXSW
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Huberty: 'It's like Mardi Gras for bands.'
Credit:Firecracker Studios

When the Crustacean Records showcase at South by Southwest ends early Friday morning, the three Madison bands opening the show will have played before an audience boasting enthusiastic local supporters. Members of the rock band Sunspot, the artists behind Firecracker Studios, and WORT music director Sybil Augustine each made plans to attend the show at the Molotov Lounge opening with sets by Droids Attack, The Gusto, and Screamin' Cyn Cyn & the Pons.

This is the first year at SXSW for artist and Madison gig poster doyen Sam Johnson, one of the principals behind Firecracker Studios. He is presenting his work at Flatstock, an annual music poster convention that runs concurrently with extravaganza in Austin. Sponsored by the American Poster Institute, it features dozen of designers displaying and selling their posters to thousands of attendees.

"I've wanted to go for a couple of years, to check it out and get involved," says Johnson. He was able to do so this year with the help of his collaborator at Firecracker, Grace Lorentz, who submitted the application and set up the trip to Austin. Johnson is also looking forward to sharing his work. "I'm much more confident in my posters than I ever have before, so this is a good year to go," he says. "Plus, I needed a vacation. It's a working vacation, but I'll get out of Madison for a week."

The working portion will consist in part of selling Firecracker merchandise, which includes his stock of gig posters, as well as with a new collection of stickers and ashtrays. The other part consists of making connections with other artists presenting at the convention. "Hopefully I'll meet some people, but mostly I'm here to see what other artists are doing and plan for next year," says Johnson, pointing to Shepard Fairey and Aesthetic Apparatus (originally from Madison) as presenters whose work he's particularly interested in seeing.

And like many other people making the pilgrimage to Texas for SXSW, Johnson and the Firecracker crew are looking forward to catching shows, including the Crustacean showcase for which he created a special edition poster. "There's just so much music here," he says. "With the festival going on it's going to be overwhelming."

This marks the third year in a row that Sunspot is playing in Austin as part of the vibrant collection of DIY music gatherings that have grown around the official SXSW happenings. "We were lucky this year, because people we had met during our last trip called and asked us if we were coming down, and set everything up," says Mike Huberty, bassist and vocalist for the versatile indie trio. That doesn't mean that they won't be busy, though.

Sunspot is playing six shows in Austin over their own long working weekend. Leaving Madison on Wednesday afternoon for a nearly 24-hour roadtrip down I-35, the band members arrived this afternoon and played its first show at Joe's Bar and Grill, only a few blocks from the club hosting the Crustacean showcase. Of course, they're stopping by to support their fellow Madison bands.

Friday brings two more gigs for Sunspot, starting with an encore at Joe's Bar, followed by a show at Trophy's on the south side of Austin. This marks the third year that the band has played at the club as part of the Invasion of the GoGirls showcase for women in indie rock. Saturday brings another pair of shows, one a return engagement at Agave Bar on 6th Street, and another at Bikini's Sports Bar & Grill. The band's weekend closes with a Sunday performance at The Parlor for the Texas Independent Musicians showcase. They'll be selling their 2007 album Neanderthal and other band merchandise to help pay for the trip, blogging the experience, and focusing on building connections with other musicians.

"We're definitely going to be busy there," says Huberty. "It's so much fun. Imagine State Street hosting bands all day and night long, with 50,000 more people. It's like Mardi Gras for bands."

Besides the Crustacean showcase, the members of Sunspot also hope to catch shows by American Graveyard, 3 Kisses, The Effects, The Melismatics, and Wax Machine, formerly of Madison. "Plus, we'll have to make time to see some new bands and make some new friends," notes Huberty. "Making connections that will help you to book shows, distribute your record, get new places in America (or the world) you haven't been to before, and just getting inspired by musicians who are playing balls to the wall is what it's all about."

Huberty points to the simple joy of sharing musical experience as the best part about Sunspot's annual trip to Texas. "Live music, live performance, human interaction, they trump anything else down here," he says. "People always respect a great show, but there's a hunger for it in Austin and especially at SXSW."

The veteran among Madison folks traveling to SXSW this week, though, is WORT music director Sybil Augustine. This marks her ninth year attending the festival. She arrived there on Tuesday, and plans to spend a full week attending shows and just generally taking in the atmosphere around Austin. "I'm taking a laissez-faire approach," she says, "you can just walk down the street like the locals do and hear good music anywhere."

One show Augustine is sure to hit, though, is the Crustacean showcase, declaring, "You've got to go there to support the Madison bands."

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