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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Festival-goers gather for Halloween festivities on State Street in 2012, the 7th year of Freakfest.

Freakfest's death is an effort to stop drinking culture. It will backfire

If there’s one thing Madison can thank COVID-19 for, it’s canceling Freakfest.

Freakfest, the infamous Halloween party on State Street and largest Halloween festival in the Midwest, has been canceled every year since 2020. Although the reasoning began in 2020 with COVID-19, both the 2022 and 2023 festivities were canceled because of difficulties with funding and support. 

The monstrous festival turned State Street into a jam-packed block party filled with intoxicated college kids from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other schools around the Midwest. In 2005, over 100,000 people were in attendance, and over 400 people were arrested for assault, vandalism, arson, property damage and more. 

Following that year, the city of Madison took over and began selling tickets in an attempt to gain control of the event. Though the event lost a bit of traction, the city still sold between 20,000-50,000 tickets a year and raked in revenue while supporting a city-wide drinking event. 

In this case, Madison got a lucky break with COVID-19 and was able to cancel the event with good reason. Prior to this, the only thing they could do to control the city on a night like Halloween was to sponsor Freakfest, which cost the city over $700,000 in damages some years. The city knew rambunctious college students would still host the event, only in that case it would be unmonitored and difficult to control. The only way to turn this event into anything positive for the city was by succumbing to party-school culture. 

UW-Madison is considered a top party school in America with its vibrant bar, block party and Greek life. Its reputation still stands today, but the city and university have cracked down on underage drinking in recent years at bars, football games, the Mifflin Street Block Party and more. 

Last year, a popular State Street bar for underage drinking was raided, citing 137 underage kids out of the 143 patrons in attendance at the time of the raid. The police fined the bar nearly $15,000. As a city that doesn’t require bars to have ID scanners, Madison has a fair share of bars that can be considered hotspots for underage kids. With increasing police presence on State Street, it’s becoming significantly more difficult for students to keep up with the binge-drinking party school culture Madison is infamous for, and it’s exactly what the city and university want. 

In an attempt to redeem Madison’s image and UW-Madison’s reputation, both entities are cracking down on problematic binge-drinking, party-school culture. Madison is an incredible university and city that is often overshined by its party scene and drinking culture. UW-Madison and the city have decided to polish their reputation, whether the students are on board or not. 

Although this ended as a city-sponsored event, it started as a student blowout with no organization or control. With Mifflin as the event in the spring, there’s bound to be a year when students decide they’ve had enough and it’s time to bring back an event in the fall with as much, if not more, foot traffic as Mifflin. 

Is Mifflin next? The MPD has been trying to put a stop to the Mifflin block party for years, but as a student-run event for all ages, the police and university have had very limited success controlling it, and hopes of canceling it are impractical. With that in mind, the university or city would be wise to get ahead of students taking over Freakfest again and should plan it themselves, allowing the city to bring in revenue and avoid costly mishaps. 

Ella is a junior studying political science and community and nonprofit leadership. Do you agree that Freakfest should come back to Madison? Send all comments to

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