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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 7.0° F  Fair
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The Bubble Music Festival tries to boost Madison music scene
Our South by Southwest?

Countless ideas have been tossed around over a game of pool and a glass of whiskey, but few have actually come to fruition. The Bubble Music Festival is one such notion that will become a reality this weekend.

With nearly 20 events at eight venues from Oct. 3-5, the fest features more than 40 new and emerging artists from the area, including Cowboy Television, Shook Twins, the Living Statues, Mad City Funk, the Daze, Circus Fires and Charlie Painter.

The fest is the brainchild of Benjamin Churley and Thomas Skibrud, guitarist and vocalist for local band Lazydeadpoet. When both were Madison newcomers, they bonded over billiards and drinks. A frequent topic of conversation was Madison's similarity to Austin, Texas.

"We started taking about why something like South by Southwest or Austin City Limits isn't done here," Skibrud says. "We have enough bars, and plenty of musicians to fill them, so we decided to look into what it would take to do something like this."

"I think [Skibrud] got tired of hearing me pitch the idea to people in hopes that someone in the business might take on the project," Churley says. "Eventually he convinced me that we would have to start it ourselves."

The two started by contacting Cathy Dethmers, owner of the High Noon Saloon. Without targeting specific bands or genres, they then created a website so local acts could sign up to play the fest. From there, they hit the streets to spread the word about the Bubble Music Festival.

"I wanted some of my favorite bands in town to be a part of the festival," Skibrud says. "So whenever I would go to a show or an open mic, I would throw the idea out there and see what kind of response I got. It was always overwhelmingly positive with both the venues and artists."

Churley says everything fell into place with relative ease, although many hours of work were involved. Plus, he and Skibrud were generally able to avoid the shadow of events like the Forward Music Fest, which fizzled after two years and lots of debt.

"We know it has been tried before, but we would like to think we're doing this a little differently," Skibrud says. "Madison wants something like this to work. It is just about getting it right and making everyone happy. What I mean by 'everybody' is the fans, the artists, the venues, the city and the sponsors."

The fest's name is as unique as the event itself. Churley says "the Bubble Music Festival" lends itself to the idea that music by underground artists has not yet "popped" with a broader audience.

Madison factors into the name as well.

"Most Madisonians are familiar with the quote from former Governor Lee Dreyfus: 'Madison is 30 square miles surround by reality,'" Churley says. "Madison is like a bubble surrounded by reality. We want to invite people into that bubble for a weekend filled with new and emerging music."

Churley says he is a big fan of community-based festivals that take place during the summer in Madison. But he stresses that the Bubble Music Festival is different.

"We are building a platform for bands to come to our city and share their music with audiences here, as well as for music lovers from outside the city to visit Madison and experience the collective effort of our music scene," he says. "We really do have the potential to become a destination music city."

Brandon Walker of Cowboy Television agrees, noting that the fest is a great start for something big.

"People around the country are starting to recognize that the Midwest has something to offer," he says. "It's only a matter of time before Madison gets the recognition that Austin has, being one of the most independent drink, food and music capitals of our nation."

[Editor's note: The photo of Charlie Painter accompanying this article has been replaced.]

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