Madisonians love live performance. And they're very cosmopolitan. So where better for them to spend a pleasant February Saturday than Overture Center's International Festival? The event, which starts at 11 a.m., boasts music, storytelling, dance and puppetry by more than 25 acts.
The variety of performers is remarkable. There's West African drumming by Atimevu Drum and Dance Ensemble and Middle Eastern dance by festival mainstays Sadira & the Riad Dance Company. There's glove puppetry by the Taiwan Puppet Troupe, new this year, and the German choral singing of 156-year-old Madison Maennerchor. There's Sergei Belkin's dazzling Russian accordion and Cris and Ann Plata's Mexican conjunto.
Performances are free -- and all the performers are locally based. "Madison's got a very respectable scene for all kinds of music," notes John Fabke, who plays guitar with the Cajun Strangers, the Cajun-music group performing in the Overture lobby at 11:30 a.m.
The festival also features crafts and eats with a global flavor. "The lobby will be a big food court," says Mary Lou Krase, Overture's director of volunteer services. The day concludes with the sole ticketed event, an 8 pm performance in Overture Hall by the Japanese drumming troupe Kodo.
The International Festival started 28 years ago at the old Civic Center. "It came out of our mission of making sure we have a large community event that celebrates diversity," says Krase. The event began as a holiday fair, but organizers moved it to late winter, which can otherwise be a down period for performers and vendors. "Some of these groups plan all year to be here."
Overture organizers see the event as a showcase for the venue's community-oriented programming, which is ongoing, and also as an opportunity to show off the venue's various spaces. Promenade Hall will be set up with bleachers for an all-dance program, and the Wisconsin Studio will be the site of the Global Learning Center, featuring information presented by groups like Respite Center and Madison-Obihiro Sister Cities.
Here is a video montage from the 2008 edition of the festival.
Fabke is pleased to return to the event with the Cajun Strangers. "It's really fun, a nice variety of music," he says. "And it's a great wintertime event, to get out of the snow."
Madison has a devoted community of international-music fans, Fabke says. He knows firsthand. He hosts a segment on the community radio station WORT 89.9 FM, the folk show Pastures of Plenty, and can attest that the station's world-music shows, like Diaspora and PanAfrica, are avidly followed. "Those folks are diehards," he says.
Fabke's group performs the southern Louisiana music whose roots trace directly to 18th-century Nova Scotia. The Cajun Strangers' Brian O'Donnell and John Romano play the essential Cajun instruments of fiddle and accordion, respectively, and their skills have helped earn the group accolades, including a nod for the 2007 CD Valse a Deux Temps from the French Cajun Music Association of America.
The Cajun Strangers will join vendors and other musicians at a vital local event. "There aren't very many places in town where something of this scale can happen," says Overture publicist Rob Chappell. "It's important that the community sees the richness of artistic expression that happens in our own back yard."