La Fête de Marquette Concert Review

Review by Terry O’

Friday, July 13th – Sunday, July 15th
Madison, Wisconsin

The three day Le Fête de Marquette opened for its second year on Friday, July 13th. Located in Madison’s fledgling Central Park, the festival is a free event raising money through concessions for development of the three acre park. The lineup of world musical talent is fabulous for a small festival with a brief history.

Vieux Farka Touré led the Friday evening lineup. Vieux’s sound doesn’t mimic the stark Malian blues his father, Ali Farka Touré made famous. His band sounds like what Jorma Kaukonen could done if he had transplanted Hot Tuna songs into the classic Jefferson Airplane performance on "Thirty Seconds over Winterland". It has that full band, feel so good vibe while retaining the earthy power of real blues.

Vieux‘s backing guitarist, the talented Mama Sissoko, repeatedly rose from his chair to jam with Vieux on long, winding grooves. The stage was surrounded by a sea of shaking bodies bathed in balmy breezes under a star studded sky. It was a great start to a what became a wonderful festival.

With no recordings and no prior airplay, Ivan Neville’s Dampstafunk followed Vieux onstage as an unknown quantity. These fine New Orleans musicians quickly took the crowd to another level with tight funky grooves that never seemed to end.

On many tunes, the lead guitarist shifted to a five string bass for a dual bass attack that was utterly irresistible. You simply had to move something to that beat. Twenty minutes into their set, the word was out and the field was packed. It was impossible to reach the dance floor. Hundreds of people were dancing around the fringes in the dirt, raising a thick dust cloud that swirled upward through the stage lights.

Part of Dampstafunk’s long set was clearly inspired by George Bush’s abandonment of New Orleans. A jam centering on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s "Fortunate Son" was followed by a song urging "you gotta help these people." A friend in New Orleans tells me the city is still 50% in ruins and depressing to drive through. Ivan pointed out one band member still lives in a trailer and another who is scraping to get by on odd jobs.

The only disappointment of Friday’s show was finding out the Dampstafunk "CD" was 5 song demo with only 27 minutes of music. I want more and I’ll need a big subwoofer to hear it.

On Saturday night, Treize à Table stomped the La Fête de Marquette stage, flattening it as if to take America by force of will. Playing a mix of high energy rockers and waltzable tunes they charmed the three acre audience.

In mid set, they started "La Marseillaise", as a proper French national anthem, before abruptly twisting it into a furious rock tune. The crowd’s reaction belied the silliness of the American government’s exhortation to reject French culture. They sang along in admirably loud, though questionable, French. In retrospect, The French look wise for their unwillingness to join the absurd "Coalition of the Willing" in the regrettably pathetic Iraq War.

Following "La Marseillaise" with a Hendrix inspired version of "The Star Spangled Banner" was a poignant and inspired choice. It further demolished cultural barriers while subtly pointing out the parallels in the mood of the American public during the Vietnam War and the present Iraq war.

The next band, Samba Mapangala and his Orchestra Virunga, rolled onto the stage to start their first US tour in ten years. By the end of the first song, Orchestra Virunga had the dance floor packed and surging as though the band passed the previous decade without missing a beat. Samba’s voice, now paired with his "little brother", is as mellifluous as ever. The crowd gleefully responded to calls of, "ça va, mesdames?" and "ça va, messieurs?", blissfully unaware of the gender implications.

Seated near the edge of the dance floor, I found Mama Sissoko talking to transplanted n’goni player Tani Diakate, whose Malian Blues Band is a fixture in Madison and who performed at the festival earlier in the day. Vieux Farka Touré and his calabash player, Seckou Touré, joined us to watch Samba perform. They were relaxing on a day off from their tour, choosing to remain in Madison to meet Samba and his band, a mix of veteran African musicians from, among other places, the Congo and Angola.

Samba kept the crowd bouncing for two solid hours. Several times he pulled a sextet of young women onto the stage for dance lessons, then asked the crowd to appraise their individual moves through applause. I saw Jeoffrey Arnone of Treize à Table snaking through the crowd, joyfully dancing with his arms over his head, his wild hair framing a nasty facial sunburn highlighted by the shadow of his now absent sunglasses.

I found the rest of Treize à Table swaying to Samba and relaxing under a tent at the edge of the grounds. They were leaving the next morning for a three day drive across America to Portland, the last of four gigs in their first US tour. They were giddy and agog at playing in America, thrilled to have total strangers in a foreign country bopping to their quirky, energetic music.

On Sunday, another fine lineup of bands headlined the show. I was only able to catch part of Feufollet, a fine group of young Cajun musicians from Lafayette, Louisiana. Purists may scoff at a Fender Stratocaster in a Cajun band, but the packed dance floor could care less.

There’s a wonderfully intimate charm to a smaller music festival where the line dissolves between the entertainers and the entertained. Though La Fête de Marquette is only in its second year, I hope it settles into Madison as a long running tradition.

Photo of Vieux and Mama by Terry O’