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Thursday, August 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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La Fête de Marquette marks seven years of music as organizers anticipate return to Central Park
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Darnell Neal performs at La Fête de Marquette on Friday, July 12.
Credit:Kait Vosswinkel

La Fête de Marquette, a summer festival in Madison coinciding with Bastille Day, transforms an expanse of pavement off East Washington Avenue and South Dickinson Street into a small village, flooded with crowds enjoying French-themed music and food.

Bob Queen founded the festival seven years ago in order to help support the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center. "They needed the income," he says. "Fundraising is a very important thing. We want to support our neighborhood and everyone in our neighborhood."

When planning the festival, Queen centered it around all things Francophone because of his love for French culture.

"I was a French student, and I loved the music and the food from the French regions of the world," Queen says. "I was waiting for the right opportunity. We had a lot of festivals already, but the Wil-Mar center had no event of their own."

Ed Dudley comes from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, each year to operate a colorful Ferris wheel that spins above a corner of the festival grounds.

With volunteers from the area helping Dudley set up the Ferris wheel, the attraction is ready to ride in four hours.

"This is a vacation for me," Dudley says. "It's a great event with a lot of people, and it's a really great ride. I love when they get off happy, with a big smile."

Queen views the festival's mix of local, national and international musicians as an important part of the community in Madison.

"We stick true to our theme. Like [Thursday] night, we had Vieux Farka Toure from Mali, French North Africa. We had C.J. Chenier playing zydeco, which is as traditional Louisiana music as there is," Queen says. "I think it's great, the regions of the world we're exposing people to -- types of music, types of dance. Our local musicians plug in."

Queen has seen the neighborhood evolve and improve over the years, and believes that events like the festival play a crucial role in this process.

"Our neighborhood used to be a little dicey, a little scary," he says. "Just bringing people into our neighborhood is so incredible. They're drawn to live in this neighborhood. They're drawn to visit this neighborhood."

Queen watched La Fête de Marquette grow over seven years, and is excited to move the event back to its original location, Central Park, at some point within the next few years.

The park is being remodeled by the city, with a groundbreaking in August, although many of the long-term plans are still contingent on fundraising.

"So we'll be off and running there," says Queen, who thanks Mullins Group for lending its space for the festival's current location. "It'll be sooner than later."

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