The Mifflin Street Block Party

by Mike Huberty
April 2010

the first Mifflin Street Block Party circa 1969

the first Mifflin Street Block Party circa 1969

The University of Wisconsin has traditionally held two giant student parties every year. One is Halloween (where out of town revelers caused so many problems, it evolved into Freak Fest, still a good party but one that turns State Street into a demilitarized zone each year) and the other is the Mifflin Street Block Party. Started in 1969 as a reaction to the Vietnam War (the event that seems to loom over every student activity or university story from that decade), the party has been an annual tradition some times at odds with the city and some times with the city’s blessing. After a long time of relative peace, in 1996, drunken and foolish partygoers decided to attack a fire truck that came to put out a bonfire started in the middle of the street. Next thing you know, there’s riot gear, people are screaming bloody murder, and lots and lots of arrests are made. Needless to say, the 1997 party was kind of a drag. But the fest has continued in the ensuing years, and now local music promoters DCNY PRO, Madison natives and longtime Mifflin Street attendees, David Coleman and Ny Bass, have taken the bull by the horns. They spearheaded the party in 2009 to one of its most successful years. On the fortieth anniversary of the festival and even with over fifteen-thousand people in attendance, arrests were down from the year before and in 2010, they’re bringing more changes to make it a friendlier and safer place.

For the first time since the 1995, Mifflin Street will have a beer garden. Ny Bass explains, “We wanted to encourage safe drinking, there’s people that come from all around. We don’t want them crashing house parties, it keeps fights down and bad vibes. It gives them someplace safe to drink.” The DJ stage will be sponsored by student radio station WSUM, who got involved last year at the city and DCNY PRO’s behest. According to station manager, Maggie Brennan, “When we first did a music stage last year, arrests were down 70%. I think it’s in part because people had something to focus their attention on. The Mifflin Street Block Party is a really cool tradition, and it’s exciting to be able to be involved in it.” WSUM General Manager, Dave Black, agrees, “We are working with everyone to make it a safe event.” Adds Maggie, “They are making sure it’s a fun event but also safe. The city has also helped a lot with our stage. I think they see the music as an alternative to drinking too much or starting fights.” Maximum Ink music magazine is hosting the rock stage for local and national bands (even though it’s not uncommon to see a band playing on almost every yard in front of Mifflin’s gigantic apartment houses.)

As far as advice for first-time Mifflin Street Partygoers, WSUM’s Dave Black offers the soundest advice, “If you are under 21, don’t drink.” he says, “If you are 21 or older, drink responsibly if you choose to drink at all. Have fun and hope for great weather.” Bass agrees and adds, “If you’re of age and you’re drinking, don’t go in the streets with glass or alcohol. The police will enforce that.” He’s not kidding. You’re going to get arrested and your day is going to be ruined. It absolutely does not matter if the laws are right or wrong or if you’re trying to make a point, don’t be stupid. Your friends are still going to have a good time without you. The other big legal tip is to take it easy on the public urination. This may seem like a no-brainer to most, but when you’re drinking and you have to go, dangerous “going to the bathroom in the street” ideas can take hold. There’s going to be more public restrooms this year, so look out for them. Bass adds some common sense, “Just expect to have a good time and expect to meet a lot of people. Be courteous and have fun.”

DCNY PRO is still looking for local sponsors and you can reach them at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). They’re hoping to help make this May 1st, the party’s forty-first anniversary, one of the best. As Bass says, “I’ve always just loved experiences and everyone just enjoying themselves. It’s a small city of everyone having fun and relaxing.” And one final tip, “Pace yourself.” Maggie says, “You want to be able to stay for the whole party, and you don’t want to wake up with marker on your face.”

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