I made another venture out of my comfort zone today. I went to the Saturday edition of "La Fete de Marquette," a neighborhood festival for Madison's uber-l33t near-East side.
I first got the idea a few weeks ago on a whim. Someone from work forwarded an email from WYOU looking for volunteers for their booth at the Marquette Neighborhood Waterfront Festival. I went for it, feeling very nervous, yet very excited at the chance to force myself to meet some people and offer my time for a good cause. Yes, I do think community-supported media is a worthy cause. Plus, we made them air the first (and only) VOTAR live performance, so I guess I owed them something.
Anyway, it ended up being a really good experience. I met some nice people, and actually got to help out a little bit. And I saw a really great band too, which is always a bonus.
So anyway, the lady from WYOU said they might need some help at La Fete, so I volunteered to make myself available. Turns out they didn't actually need my help, but after perusing the festival's schedule, I decided I'd go anyway, just for myself. I wasn't disappointed.
The fest has kind of a "French" theme, and the musical acts drew from French influences ranging from Quebec to Louisiana to France to Algeria to Mali to Cape Verde. (Well, Cape Verde isn't very French, but whatever...) There was an excellent selection of food & drink from a wide variety of local caterers, including your typical beer & brats, Laotian, Cajun, slushies & floats, etc.
The first act I caught was Robin Pluer backed by Mrs. Fun, all hailing from Milwaukee. Robin Pluer is an R&B/French singer, and Mrs. Fun is a keyboard & drums jazz duo. The music they played was VERY French ... it sounded like something one might have heard in a French WWII-era night club. Traditional folky and/or loungy kinda stuff. I'd seen Mrs. Fun a few times in the past do their fun jazz thing, but they shifted gears somewhat to do the Frenchy thing, and quite good too. The keyboard player looked like she was having a lot of fun playing (, and that with the singer's charisma made for a good show. They also had a dude playing guest accordion on a few songs. Neat.
Next up was Chic Gamine, hailing mostly from Montreal (with one of them from Winnipeg). They were a mostly a vocal group, with four female singers (sometimes playing backup instruments, but mostly using their voices as instruments) and a dude playing a drum kit and lending a few vocals here and there. The style of their music was a blend of traditional-sounding stuff with a strong R&B flavor. Not necessarily my kinda thing, but it was enjoyable. It probably didn't help that the sun was really bright and in my eyes the whole time. But whatever.
I took a break to get some food. I enjoyed some Laotian chicken fried rice, which was a lot like Chinese chicken fried rice, except a little more flavorful and a little less MSG-ish. Maybe, I dunno. I washed it down with a nice Thai iced tea. Good stuff.
Watcha Clan played next, a fun blend various Mediterranean traditions with a heavy electronic implementation. The band, hailing partly from France and partly from Algeria, consisted mostly of a singer, a bass player, and a multi-electonics dude (keyboards, sequenced beats, samples, etc.). Most songs they were joined by a 4th dude who played guitars. Sometimes one or more of them would play little percussion thingies, a nice flavoring to the rhythm-heavy mix. I'd describe the music as having a strong foundation of Middle-Eastern & North-African influenced rhythms, implemented mostly by electronic sequencing, over which pulses a persistent bassline, and ultimately led by dark French-flavored melodies and other musical backdrops. These guys clearly were at home on stage, performing and getting their music on. It was really delightful to watch their enthusiasm spill over seamlessly into their playing and stage presence. Awesome. If I was a dancin' man, I'd have been gettin my groove on, srsly. My personal favorite of the day.
Balla Tounkara, from Mali, had the unenviable task of following up, but he and his band were definitely up to the task, and put on another good show. Balla Tounkara plays the kora, an interesting 21-stringed African harp-like instrument. His band consisted of a drummer, a percussionist, a bassist, and a backup singer/dancer. I like plucked-instrument sounds a lot, and the kora has a beautiful sound, but something seemed missing to me, like they could have used another instrument to fill out the sound. But maybe that's just my stupid white-guy American ears, I dunno. I still enjoyed it, even if it did sound kinda samey after a while. For the last song, he let a little girl come on stage and show off her mad hula hoop skillz. It was very cute.
Headlining the night was Lura, a Cape Verdean singer with a very smooth & slick jazzy tropical sound. It sounded like the kinda thing I might expect to see at night at a cafe in the Caribbean or something. Both Lura and her band were excellent musicians and performers, but I wasn't really into their "thing." On a different day, though, I might have been more into it. Or maybe it's because the overall energy level decreased from Watcha Clan to Balle Tounkara to Lura. This, combined with my decreasing stage view (more people standing in front of me), led me to leave early. Oh well.
I didn't really socialize much. The WYOU lady did go out of her way to say hi to me, and that was nice, but I didn't really converse with anyone else. That's okay... I didn't really intend to. I would have liked to, but I didn't want to "force" anything. So I just sat back, enjoyed the weather, and enjoyed the music. All in all, a good experience, and I'm glad I did it.