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Monday, September 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 70.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Lost City Music Festival 2013 is a musical getaway that's close to home
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Organizers are determined to keep the festival within their means, both financially and logistically.
Credit:Lost City Music Festival

Deadheads have been searching for the next Woodstock since 1969, but road-tripping to festivals isn't just for the jam-band set anymore. Many people attend these events to catch acts they've loved for a while and discover up-and-comers they can introduce to their friends when they head home. But what about those of us who can't hit the road for days at a time? Enter the Lost City Music Festival, a four-day event that highlights Madison-made indie rock and experimental music.

When John Praw Kruse and Corey Murphy launched Lost City last year, more than 75 acts filled seven local venues with hip-hop, post-rock, ambient music and more. This year, things look a bit different. There are only about 30 acts, which will play at three venues from Aug. 8 to 11.

Kruse and Murphy say scaling back is a positive thing.

"We haven't had any really longstanding celebrations of local music," Kruse says. "We've had a lot of things pop up and then go away."

That's why they're determined to keep the festival within their means, both financially and logistically.

The inaugural fest grew out of a lot of discussions at their record label, Mine All Mine Records. They spent four or five months planning the event, and then let 'er rip.

When booking this year's fest, Kruse and Murphy focused on finding acts that were available and a good fit for the performance spaces they'd secured.

"We try to build the best shows based on that information," Kruse says. "But we do try to get a pretty wide range of [musical styles]."

Kruse and Murphy also built Lost City 2013 on information gathered at last year's fest, especially lessons learned. Lesson number one? Don't enlist tons of venues if you want a sizable crowd at each show. Number two? Choose venues that are close to one another. With these rules in mind, they chose the High Noon Saloon, Dragonfly Lounge and Bright Red Studios for this year's event.

"For the first [fest], we decided to just go as big as possible and scale it back if we have to. We had a lot of things that were really cool, but which weren't super well-attended," Kruse explains.

An even bigger change, perhaps, is that the musicians are being paid. All profits from the 2012 festival went to local music charities. This year, the bands get 80% of the proceeds, and the charities get 20%.

Kruse says this change is in response to one of the biggest issues facing the local music scene: whether musicians get paid to perform, and how much money they receive for their time and effort.

"We decided it would be against the general efforts of the music scene for us to do the whole thing for charity again," he says.

Kruse and Murphy struggled to book a hip-hop act for Lost City 2013, but they're proud of the lineup's diversity. Highlights include indie rockers Building on Buildings and Chants, the atmospheric electronic solo project of Mama Digdown's Brass Band drummer Jordan Cohen. Then there are the harder-to-classify groups. The Kitty Rhombus eschew genre labels for their heavy, heady brand of rock. And many Lost City bands have animal-themed names -- Mutts, Coyotes, Tigerlance, Dog Hotel -- though they don't necessarily sound alike.

Tom Teslik, who leads local power-pop group TT & the Night Owls, is eager to see Pedro the Lion's Casey Foubert, who quietly moved to Madison about three years ago.

"He's worked with Sufjan Stevens and TW Walsh, and he hasn't really made a claim to being a Madison musician yet," Teslik says.

He also praises the songwriting capabilities of Building on Buildings' Erin Fuller and Connie Ward.

"Stylistically, they're like a mix between the Breeders and Lucinda Williams, so there's an alt-country and grunge rock thing, but it's also like Low," he says.

Teslik loves Building on Buildings so much that he'll be taking over their drum kit in the near future. It's just the kind of thing a locally focused festival promotes: collaborating, cross-pollinating and celebrating what makes Madison awesome.

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