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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 10.0° F  Fair
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The Marquette Waterfront Festival has boomed over 20 years
Rupa sings tangos and gypsy swing.
Rupa sings tangos and gypsy swing.

The 20th Marquette Waterfront Festival brings a sizzling lineup of local acts and emerging world music stars to Yahara Place Park on Saturday and Sunday, June 13 and 14. My, how this festival's grown.

The Wil-Mar community's long tradition of celebrations for the people dates back at least 44 years to the first Orton Park Fest; the Willy Street Fair's been around almost as long. The first Marquette Waterfront Festival was added almost by accident, says local promoter and Marquette Neighborhood Association activist Bob Queen. The grassy strip along Lake Monona's near-east-side shore was underutilized, Queen says.

"Homeowners used it like their front yard. When they ran off a popular neighborhood tai chi class we decided to take back the park."

At that first Waterfront Fest, Tapit/New Works' Donna Peckett and Danielle Dresden, dressed in vegetable suits, did a tap show for kids. Bob Kahn told stories and juggled. Bluegrass baron Chris Powers and Tejano duo Cris and Ann Plata provided music.

Hooray for our vibrant local bands. The Ritt Deitz Quintet and Marques Bovre & SoDangYang with Jim Schwall are among the Madison-based groups on this year's bill (see for complete schedule and details). But thanks to folks like Queen and Esty Dinur, selection chair for the Memorial Union's six-year-old Madison World Music Festival, our town's become a major Midwest destination on the world music circuit.

That's sustainable development, folks, and this year's list of Waterfront Fest headliners is rich. The first of five touring acts, the irresistible Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, out of Chicago, is up Saturday at 3 p.m. Founded by blue-eyed Michigan soul brother, ex-punkster and lead singer Nathaniel Braddock, the Occidentals, also featuring Ghanaian songster/horn-and-percussion man Kofi Cromwell, cook up killer Afropop with prime ingredients - old-school highlife, soukous and Congolese rumba.

At 4:45 p.m., Taj Weekes and Adowa, from New York via tiny St. Lucia, play classic roots reggae with socially conscious lyrics. Weekes played the Orton Park Festival last fall. "They were so hot we brought 'em back," says Queen.

San Francisco-based Rupa & the April Fishes take over at 6:30 p.m. Songwriting chanteuse Rupa, a world citizen of Indian heritage, is part musician, part M.D. Her band, fast-rising on the world circuit, follows her multifaceted footsteps. The April Fishes play polyglot new-century sin fronteras alt cabaret - Edith Piaf meets tangos, gypsy swing and Bollywood in one fell swoop.

If Rupa's style's not your taste, Sunday's bill is rootsier. At 4:15 p.m., on the heels of Marques Bovre and crew, Bonsoir, Catin, a quartet of tough young Cajun women (plus their drummer dude), serves straight-up, hard-swingin', bona-fide bayou tunes.

As a late-breaking bonus, master Afro-Peruvian percussionist Juan "Cotito" Medrano, who pops into town next week to teach on campus, plays between sets.

The fest closes out at 6:15 p.m. with Vieux Farka Touré, the rising scion of Malian blues. Vieux, son of the late, legendary Ali Farka Touré, played the '07 Fête de Marquette. He's come a long way in two years. His spanking-new sophomore album, Fondo, is already climbing the world music charts. Vieux's taken his father's folkloric sound into next-generation territory - it's diaspora-driven, but it's still Malian blues. Like they used to say where I come from, if you don't dig the blues, you got a hole in your soul.

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