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Our favorite Madison rabbit holes of 2019

The strangest and most obsession-forming stories we chased this year.

Some of the stories on Tone Madison come about because the subject matter proves too bizarre to resist. Sometimes you can’t let go of a question, or maybe it can’t let go of you, and the process of asking (and asking and asking and asking) threatens to eclipse the story itself. Let’s look back on a few of these rewarding and/or bewildering journeys from 2019.

Chicken Lips no more

The most-read story on our site this year, and it isn’t even close, is an investigation into the Sun Prairie bar formerly known as Chicken Lips. At some point this spring, the name was changed (downgraded, in many folks’ estimations) to Chicken Licks. By all indications, Chicken Lips received some kind of cease-and-desist letter from another entity with a claim to the phrase, but no one really seems to want to take responsibility. Whatever you want to call the place, it’s still worth heading down County Highway N for some excellent wings. 

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Weed church

No story this year nuked Madison’s public consciousness quite like Lion of Judah, an ostensible Rastafarian church that opened in a shabby storefront on Bedford Street in Downtown Madison. Its founders attracted as much attention for their insanely offensive social media presence as they did for their questionable accents and their attempt to sell cannabis under the banner of religious freedom. They eventually faced criminal charges and eviction proceedings, but not before engaging in a whirlwind of bizarre and unsavory public behaviors, including the assault of a woman who went in to confront them about cultural appropriation, and telling Madison365 that they had some kind of a plan in mind for buying slaves, but like in a cool way. For a while, it was a raging clown show that not even “heterophobia” could ruin.

Burning flyer kiosks

Sometimes those flyer kiosks can get a little out of hand. I kept having people insist to me that city workers use fire to clear off all the amassed tape and promotional detritus. I just found it really hard to believe but enough people who’ve done more flyering than I ever will seemed pretty convinced, so it seemed worth at least looking. After asking around about it a little more extensively, I found a whole lot of denials, not a lot of evidence, and a bit of disagreement over who is even responsible for maintaining flyer kiosks in different neighborhoods around Madison. As for the one that was shedding ungodly masses of gnarled paper on the 1400 block of Willy Street, some private citizens recently took matters into their own hands.

Occupancy limits at venues

It often feels lately like things are looking up for independent venues in Madison. Not that it’s ever easy, but we’ve got a healthy variety of spaces for local music. It was worrisome when the city cracked down on one of the most important last winter and spring, telling the owner of Art In that the venue’s capacity limit was about half of what they thought it was, and far lower than the attendance at a lot of its actual shows. At the same time, the Madison Police Department certainly seemed to be taking an interest in hip-hop shows at Art In, and it sounded like different city departments weren’t necessarily communicating well with each other or with the owner, Jack Chandler, about how occupancy limits work. Eventually the city raised the occupancy limit to 95.

Buck Naked on Parade

Who wants to stop people from Instagramming naked pictures with the Bucky on Parade statues? The anonymous and comically clandestine Buck Naked on Parade caused a bit of a sensation in fall 2018. But by this summer, the account had vanished. After some follow-up reporting, it turned out that Instagram had deleted the account without warning or explanation. And then it was born again, and taken down again. Every time I write about the account’s latest incarnation and link to it, it seems to get zapped, but totally keep your eye out for it to maybe still be existing? Various parties with an interest in Bucky on Parade have denied asking Instagram to remove the account, but the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau would like you to know that getting naked with the innocuous Bucky Badger sculpture increases the risk of getting fiberglass splinters in your tender bits.

The butt-rock stage at Taste of Madison

As the annual Labor Day gut-bomb known as Taste of Madison approached, Tone Madison contributor John McCracken noticed that a lot of bands seem to make return visits to the event’s WJJO-sponsored hard-rock stage. Before we knew it, John and I had a goddamn spreadsheet going about the last decade or so of lineups. With our analysis in hand, John offered his harsh but humorous assessment. I’m pretty sure it was one of our most angrily received stories ever, but it was worth it to make sure the nagging sense of deja vu wasn’t just in our imagination.

The Crystal Corner Bar’s website

It’s incredible.

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