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The Santa Cruz indie scene rallies around poster artist Stacie Willoughby in her time of need. That's rad.

By Curtis Cartier

For a minute there, Stacie Willoughby lost herself. Six weeks ago, an ambulance crew rushed her to the emergency room after a blood clot clogged an artery in her chest. There, doctors worked expertly to save her--and succeeded. But for a brief few seconds, the 25-year-old much-loved local artist toed the line between life and death."You can only get so close," Willoughby said through a piercing stare. "You see the other side but you have to look away. Still, though, I saw it. I saw death."

Anyone who's gone to a concert in Santa Cruz in the last five years has probably seen flier art penned by Willoughby. Most noted for her work with folkYEAH, Willoughby's twisting colorful murals portray themes of nature, space, sex and death while still managing to remind viewers that a great concert is coming up. And like loyal soldiers rallying around a wounded comrade, the musicians and fans who have been both her inspiration and her audience helped Willoughby fight the post-op bill battle with a benefit concert last Wednesday at the Crepe Place.

Although a self-described "recluse" and still on the mend, Willoughby made it to the show, where throngs of well-wishers had packed the house and coughed up whatever they could spare--which, by the end of the night, totaled about $1,400.

"When you work with these bands for long enough they start being your friends," Willoughby said. "Not just friends because you know them, but real friends that you call to hang out with. It's really hard to accept the help, but at the same time I'd do the same for most of the people here."

Mammatus put on a teeth-grindingly awesome performance, thrashing out math rock gems while maintaining a constant tension that the entire band could at any time decide to destroy every instrument on stage. The local four-piece has abandoned the jam band stigma but kept every ounce of epic pretentiousness needed to rock an eight-minute opus. Next up, Rachel Williams of Birds Fled From Me hit the stage. Besides holding a reputation as an innovative composer and vocalist, she has the added benefit of being blatantly adorable. And with a set that included familiar favorites and even a Neil Young cover, Williams soon had the audience eating seeds from her hand like well-trained pigeons.

"Stacie is a wonderful friend, and I'm so happy to be on the lineup that gets to play this show and help her," Williams said outside later between puffs on a Marlboro. "I love getting paid, but playing free shows like this is always worth it. I'd just like to see more talented female artists and musicians in Santa Cruz. Stacie is one of the best."

With more ruffles than a potato chip factory, a tuxedoed Harry and the Hit Men closed out the night. The festively clad Hit Men burst onto the stage, lacy undershirts bursting from under their vests, and delivered their signature brand of Motown hits sung in perfect hippie harmony.

By the end of the night, Willoughby was a little closer to paying off her debt and the fans were a little closer to some of Santa Cruz's best local rockers.

"What can I say?" Willoughby said. "It's good to have friends."

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