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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Halloween revelers in Madison have options besides Freakfest
Nights of the living dead
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Credit:Travis Miller

Like New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, and the annual festival of anxiety and self-doubt known as your birthday, Halloween is a night for getting drunk and reflecting upon the unfortunate choices you have made in your life. Can't fit into last year's sexy Scott Walker costume? Maybe it's time to lay off the Bit-O-Honeys. Dateless for your coworker's costume party? Maybe you shouldn't have dumped the only man who ever loved you.

But you're going to go out anyway, so you may as well know about your options. From parties to concerts, Madison has a growing number of alternatives for costumed revelers seeking fun on the spookiest night of the year.

More than the Freddy Kruegers and the Fergies, the scariest part of Halloween has long been Freakfest, State Street's annual marriage of partial nudity and tear gas (Saturday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.). The party started in the 1970s, increasing in size and hooligan quotient until 2005, when it topped out at 100,000 revelers and an estimated 566 arrests.

In 2006, the city took over, turning down the chaos and cranking up the music. This year's event boasts national touring acts such as Baltimore-based pop-punkers All Time Low, rapper Murs, and one-man emo pop wonder the Ready Set. The event also features stiff security, a $12 entry fee ($8 in advance) and a costume contest with plush prizes like vacations and flat-screen TVs.

These days if you visit Freakfest, you're more likely to collide with Little Red Riding Hood than riot gear, but even sans billy clubs, 55,000 drunken frat boys in Charlie Sheen costumes may not be your cup of tea. For those embracing the road less traveled, let's review some other possibilities.

The sincerest form of flattery

You know what's better than a show with your favorite bands? A show with your favorite bands dressed up as your other favorite bands. It's your DOUBLE favorite! This is mathematically guaranteed to be the best thing. If you want to spend your Halloween rubbing elbows with the likes of Stephen Malkmus and Jerry Garcia, the closest you'll come in Madison is one of the tribute shows.

Head to the Barrymore Theatre (2090 Atwood Ave.) on Friday, Oct. 28, for the 5th Annual Night of the Dead, where local bands will pay homage to Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead, three acts unlikely to share a bill on this corporeal plane. Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Once you've had your fill of deadheads, mosey down to the High Noon Saloon (701 E. Washington Ave.) on Oct. 28 for the first night of Dane 101's Freakin' Halloweekend. Enjoy some tunes by bands impersonating the Flaming Lips, Blondie and the Smiths, among other acts, and vie for the $300 cash prize in the costume contest. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door, and the event has been known to sell out. Doors open at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, Oct. 29, you can hit up the second night of Freakin' Halloweekend, in which the High Noon Saloon features musicians paying tribute to Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen and the Strokes. Or you can drop by the Crystal Corner (1302 Williamson St.) for a Halloween tribute show honoring the Misfits, the Cramps and the Who. Tickets are $6.

The ghastly outdoors

After demolishing an entire bag of assorted fun-size Hershey's bars (or at least the Krackels and Mr. Goodbars), you may be in search of some fresh air and exercise to return your digestive tract to its former glory.

For more family-friendly frights, your first stop might be the seven-acre Haunted Maze on Mayr Family Farm (3680 Egre Road, DeForest). The labyrinth of corn is open from 7 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 29.

If the haunted corn maze has you seeking taller haunted flora, visit the Haunted Forest at Schuster's Farm (1326 Hwy. 12/18, Deerfield). Tickets are $12, and the forest is recommended for ages 12 and up. Visit Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 29, plus Thursday, Oct. 27.

If a haunted forest sounds appealing to you, you might also be interested in the Haunted Woods Trail, a fundraiser for Four Lakes Wildlife Center, a program of the Dane County Humane Society (5132 Voges Rd.). If you need some help getting in the autumnal spirit, they'll have hot cider to push you over the edge. The forest will be open 7-10 p.m. Friday and 4-10 p.m. Saturday through Oct. 29.

Get scared and feel good doing it at Horror in the Dark in Olin Park (1156 Olin-Turville Court), run by the Madison Metro Jaycees. Tickets are $8 per person and proceeds go to the Road Home, an organization dedicated to helping homeless families in Madison get back on their feet. The event runs 7-10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 29, plus Oct. 31.

Further afield, and scarier still, is Dr. S. Cary's Haunted House at Jellystone Park in Fort Atkinson (N551 Wishing Well Drive). This domicile of horrors is open 7:30-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 29. Tickets are $12 at the door, but you get a $2 discount for booking online, a $2 discount for coming before 8:30, and a $2 discount if you bring two eligible food items for Fort Food Pantry, so it's possible they could end up paying you.

Closer to home, check out Madison Ghost Walks, a 90-minute guided tour starting at the Capitol Square and winding through the spookiest pages of Madison's history. Tours are 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30, and 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31.Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for kids 12 and under. Be prepared for tales of haunted horrors and paranormal peculiarities, but don't worry - no one will jump out and say boo. Unless you run into a ghost.

Big gay Halloween

Fabulous costumes, elaborate shows and myriad opportunities to dress like a sexy firefighter - if there's any party that can rock Halloween, it's a gay party. Luckily for us, there are a lot of options this year in this arena.

While most Halloween parties' fun fits into one paltry evening, Club 5 (5 Applegate Court) requires a full weekend, offering four opportunities to get your vanilla cherry cheesecake martini on. On Thursday, Oct. 27, Club 5 is hosting local burlesque troupe Foxy Veronica's Peach Pies' last show of the year (10:30 p.m.), which promises to be frighteningly foxy. Friday, Oct. 28, marks one of the only 18-and-up Halloween parties in town, the Z-Boooty Bash Costume Party (9 p.m.), hosted by Z104. Saturday, Oct. 29, is the club's Things That Go Bump in the Night costume ball, with a late-night costume contest (12:30 a.m.) boasting over $1,000 in cash and prizes. Sunday, Oct. 30, is Club 5's Spooktacular Halloween Showcase (10 p.m.), starring Miss Club 5 2011 Trina Lynn and featuring drag performers from around the state.

Now that Willy Street construction is finally complete, the drunk and belligerent are free once again to line the sidewalk outside Plan B (924 Williamson St.). On Saturday, Oct. 29, they will be drunk, belligerent and most likely dressed as Lady Gaga. Halloqueen (7 p.m.) is indieQueer's fifth annual costume ball, complete with photo booth and tireless hostess Davina Deville. This is likely to be one of the best dance parties in town, so if you're looking to cut a rug, this is where to cut it. Costumes are mandatory, as they should be.

There are certain choices we can make without contemplation. Would you rather have raisins or chocolate chips? Chocolate chips. Would you rather watch Return of the Jedi or The Phantom Menace? Don't even ask me that. Would you rather have a party in a club or a party on a bus?

Correct answer: on a bus.

Woof's (114 King St.) has the right idea with their Haunted Forest Bus Ride, which sets off at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28. Your $25 gets you round-trip transportation and admission to a fright-filled farm, plus drinks on the bus and half off your first drink back at Woof's. Spooky!

Haunted bars

If Madison Ghost Walks piqued your interest in spectral encounters, why not celebrate this Halloween with the real deal? At least three bars in Madison are believed by some to be haunted. Pile the gang in your Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine and find out for yourself. Pro tip: If your pal Fred says, "Let's split up, gang!" stick with the girl with the glasses.

The Ohio Tavern (224 Ohio St.) may be Madison's best-known haunted haunt, with dozens of reports of footsteps in empty rooms, objects flying off shelves and cabinet doors opening without help from a human hand. Don't worry - employees say the ghost is friendly. This little tavern is a good distance from the mayhem of State Street and could be the perfect spot to shoot some pool with new friends, living and otherwise.

The Frequency (121 W Main St.) has been the site of some spooky sightings. Their Maximum Ink Halloween at 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, is yet another tribute show, and one of the few free Halloween shows in town. See your favorite local bands relive the 1990s with tributes to Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden, and keep an eye out for anyone who looks like they might be transparent.

The downtown Great Dane Pub (123 E. Doty St.) began life as a hotel in the 1850s, and ghostly reports have speckled its history ever since. According to Mike Huberty of Madison Ghost Walks, a recent ghost hunt in the building picked up the presence of two spirits, one kind and the other very angry. Visit the pub yourself for their Halloween party and costume contest on Saturday, Oct. 29 (9 p.m.), but if you see any ghost costumes that look a little too realistic, make like a banshee for the front door.

Stop by the Majestic Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 29, for the '80s vs. '90s Halloween Costume Ball (10 p.m.). It advertises free covers for zombies, so watch out for a certain "undead" element the event may attract. Tickets are $5 for the living, $10 if you're under 21. There's rumored to be a ghost in the Majestic balcony, but on Halloween I'm sure he'll fit right in.

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