While many costumed concert-goers enjoyed side stages like the WSUM Stage and Gilman Stage, the crown jewel of Freakfest was the Capitol Stage. This year it was pure hip-hop, which the audience gladly received.
The first performer was Coby Ashpis, a local beats producer. He has a popular YouTube series titled “Beats Around Madison,” where he plays his Maschine sample pad in different areas around Madison. While he usually plays around scenic areas of Lake Mendota, he found himself at the hub of the city playing to an eager crowd, also enlisting the talent of local MC Lord of the Fly.
Up next was a Wisconsin rapper with an East Coast flow named Charles Grant. The MC from Westfield, WI had the crowd throwing up their heads and bobbing up and down as he performed. Local MC CRASHprez joined him on stage and later threw himself into the crowd, surfing off of the heavy bass of a trap-styled song. At this point the crowd was expanding exponentially as people flocked to see the headliners.
WebsterX was up next and he killed his set. The highlight was without a doubt “Desperate Youth,” his hit song that came out exactly a year ago. The energy that he and his crew brought on that song was representative of how far they’ve come since its release.
deM atlaS, Prof and Atmosphere have been touring as a trio for some time now and have definitely mastered working the crowd. deM atlaS hit the stage first, setting the crowd up for nonstop boom boom clap hip-hop. Prof followed with his goofy lyrics and tight flow. Both artists had an audience swelling to enormous proportions for the final act of the night.
In-house DJ and producer Ant warmed up the crowd with a beat intended to get all hands in the air. As Slug ran on stage, Freakfest reached its peak level of wildness. They proceeded with a classic-heavy set, standard for a festival performance. The duo knew people were there to party and gladly aided in making the crowd go as crazy as possible. Because of Slug’s great stage presence, the crowd was an in-motion partying clump with numerous people getting knocked over and squished by the collective mob.
The three song encore was an impressive part of the performance. Slug freestyled with expertise and even brought on deM atlaS to improvise some rhymes. The freestyle was sandwiched between two classic Atmosphere songs, which together signaled the end of Freakfest. Those that stayed at the Capitol Stage the entire night might have overdosed on high-energy party hip-hop, but the vibes were fantastic and the various MCs, DJs and producers brought forth their best to guarantee a fantastic night.
After hearing so much hype around Halloween in Madison, my anticipation for Freakfest was through the roof. Prior to Saturday, I had the opportunity to interview James Shelley from American Authors. He was very genuine and willing to talk, making for an enjoyable conversation and adding to my anticipation.
“My favorite part about performing is definitely the energy from the people. You feel the energy from the crowd, people are screaming, it’s really amazing,” Shelley said.
As we made our way to the Gilman Stage, alt-rock act The Mowgli’s, currently on tour with American Authors, had just begun performing.
“It’s awesome. I love those guys. They’re a big group of hippies and I love it. They’re super positive and, you know, like to get a little crazy and have a good time,” Shelley said. “We’ve been a band for 8 years and when we recently started touring again, The Mowgli’s took us out on one of our first tours. That was over a year and a half ago, so it’s really cool that when we go on tour we have just a big family vibe.”
The Mowgli’s were remarkable, energizing the crowd with their light and lovely voices throughout their time on stage. All of the band members were dressed in costumes and made everyone in the audience feel at ease and eager to sing along.
American Authors followed The Mowgli’s, beginning their set at midnight. Transitioning between well-known songs, oldies, and guitar solos, American Authors magnificently captured our attention.
“Everyone has songs that they love, ones that are more personal to them than others, but we all agree that one of our favorite songs to perform, truthfully, is ‘Best Day of My Life’ because we really wouldn’t be here without that song. Whenever we play it, the whole crowd starts singing,” he said. “I wrote this song in a tiny, little apartment in Brooklyn when I had no job and I was poor and had nothing, and the fact that it has affected this many people is incredible.”
“You make art and you do these things because you want to be heard and that’s the hardest part about being an artist: having people relate to your art,” Shelley added.
When their current tour is done in November, the band has plans to go back to Europe, do some Christmas shows, but then definitely jump back into the studio.
“We’re trying to get back. We’re always writing while we’re on the road. We want to begin recording more songs,” Shelley stated.
American Authors were fantastic and I am happy I had the chance to see them perform live. I am sure we’ll be hearing more hits from them soon.
On the WSUM stage, Dense City, Midas Bison, Sky Urchin, Catch Kid and Eagle Trace showed the freaks just what they had to offer. These acts ranged from smooth electronic dance music sets to one man hip-hop/pop percussion shows to killer alternative rock.
The opening act was Dense City, pronounced “density.” They took over the stage and helped warm up the crowd with some EDM beats. Dudley Noon, their guitarist, layered funky riffs over the top to add to the dance party. People passing by even got into a dancing mood.
The next act was Midas Bison, the stage name of Sidney Johnson. Bison performed a mixture of pop/hip-hop originals, adding drum fills overtop of his beats. The show attracted a lot of attention and was theatrical and full of energy. His song “Drugs” was especially infectious.
Sky Urchin, formally known as Sky Road Fly, was next in the lineup. They’re an alternative rock trio with funky guitar riffs, big choruses and crazy guitar solos. I had a great time rocking out and head banging with the rest of the crowd. Everything was very intricate and fit together well, making their show musically profound and entertaining.
The penultimate act was a Madison-based trio called Catch Kid. Their light-up costumes gave the crowd a thrill and added to their alternative rock vibe. The vocals were smooth and original, with melodies reminiscent of U2. The guitar riffs rocked, but didn’t rip your face off, which helped add to their chill melodic sound. Their percussionist put down beats that made tapping your foot irresistible. All of their songs sounded different, which was a refreshing and unique experience.
The final act was a Milwaukee-based group called Eagle Trace. They are made up of four brothers Mitch, Max, Cass and Jackson Borgardt, along with Broderick Coning. Their sound is definitely infectious. It was hard-hitting and attracted the biggest crowd the stage had seen that night. Lead singer Mitch Borgardt’s vocals seemed to just roll off his tongue in a way that held the audience’s attention. I found myself moving without consciously knowing it. They have been hailed as one of the most anticipated bands coming from the Midwest and I have to agree.
I was excited to see what the WSUM stage had to offer and it did not disappoint. Madison and the surrounding areas have so much to offer. Although the crowds were not the biggest, they were full of dedicated fans who really enjoyed what they were hearing, making the low-key atmosphere fun and entertaining.