Madison’s Freakfest has always been billed as the biggest Halloween party in the Midwest. Even though the last few years has seen the event watered down to provide a safe, non-threatening environment that the city and university can tolerate. No more riots, police barricades and unruly behavior. Although, the ratio of drunks is comparable to a Wisconsin Badger game in the end-zone fan section.
Now, State Street is fenced in like some kind of science fiction prison camp. An admission price of $8-10, depending on whether you planned ahead, is all you need to experience the legendary Madison Freakfest. We paid our $10 to check out this year’s festivities along with 44,000 of our closest friends. The temperature was in the 30’s, so a lot of people bundled up, with the girls in skimpy outfits few and far between.
We wanted to see former Madisonians Locksley, now New York residents, who were scheduled to play sometime during the evening. So, we plowed through the crowd to the front of the main stage, at the top of State Street with the capitol shining brightly in the background. Most of the entertainment line-up we had never seen before. I have to admit that Third Eye Blind was a rather questionable choice to headline, even if the band has allegedly reinvented themselves as an indie rock band. We had been hearing comments all week about Cage the Elephant and the explosive live show that they put on. Ok, we’ll stay to see the bands and stand for a couple of hours to make sure were close to the stage.
We missed a couple of the opening acts and Push Play, a four piece band out of Brooklyn, New York, was the third of five bands to perform. The youthful quartet played their brand of catchy power pop in the Jonas Brothers mold to a crowd that was inebriated enough to cheer at the drop of a hat. “Are you having a good time?”, screamed Push Play’s baby-faced lead singer to a tepid response from the throngs of Halloween partiers. Push Play finished and I commend them for actually playing live instead of singing along with a backing track. Plus, the die-hard Cage the Elephant fans waiting for their heroes to perform didn’t kill them.
Cage the Elephant was up next and the crowd near the stage swelled in anticipation. I’m thinking to myself that this could be fun as the crazies started to appear everywhere around us with no room to exit. We’re in for the duration as stage announcements were being made before the start of the next set. An excellent side show was occurring off mike by the stage. The poor morning guy from a local radio station was trying to perform his MC duties before Cage the Elephant, while being verbally assaulted by male freakfesters in the front row. A blue-language tirade ensued with the local DJ performing heckler comebacks that would have made Sam Kinison proud. That was worth $10 all by itself!
The canned stage music stops and the members of Cage the Elephant take the stage each in some form of Halloween costume. The first guitar chord kicks in as lead singer Matt Schultz taunts the crowd to step up the energy level. I brace myself as the crowd shifts into surge mode with people bopping up and down and moving erratically pushing everyone in their path. I have to admit that Cage the Elephant was fun and my flip recorder was not destroyed in the process of catching a few songs. My partner for the night could only handle the crowd surge for about six or seven songs before we strategically exited in parallel to the pulsating throngs.
We finished watching Cage the Elephant at the side of the stage and stayed to see Third Eye Blind play. But, by then the temperatures had dropped further and it was downright cold. Third Eye Blind put on an energetic show, heavy on new material, with nuggets strategically placed from their 90’s heyday to keep the audience happy. The evening was not exactly an indie music fans dream line-up, but a safe roster of bands, for the new approved-safe Madison Freakfest. Oh yeah, we never did get to see Locksley who were playing on a side stage somewhere off State Street that evidently was not widely publicized.