Locals in New Orleans, long ago dismissive of the jazz fest devolving into Stevie Wonder reunion tour stops, flock to Lafayette to party to the kinds of music the New Orleans affair used to offer before it went WalMart.
Note: This is the first in a series of posts from Andy Moore, who is in Lafayette, Louisiana, this weekend to attend the Festival International de Louisiane where he will find and book artists to perform at Madison festivals. He'll be filing updates through Sunday, April 26.
Winter is dismissed, finally, so now let's do what we do every Spring in Wisconsin. Jump straight to summer. For Madisonians that means a ridiculous wealth of music festivals--all within reach of a bus or bike ride.
Four jewels of Madison music festivals take shape on the near-east side of town. The two-day June Waterfront Festival in Yahara Place Park is in June. This summer is the 20th anniversary of that gathering. La Fete de Marquette coincides with Bastille Day at Baldwin Street and East Wash in July. Orton Park Festival, forty years old and still going strong, is in August. The Willy Street Fair wraps it all up in September.
Because the music line-ups are so plentiful (80 bands have been booked for the combined 2009 summer season) and of such high quality, festival goers are largely unaware that the proceeds from beer and selected concessions go directly to Williamson-Marquette neighborhood organizations and businesses in need. Just to give you a partial sense of what that means: middle school summer programs at O'Keeffe are funded by the festivals. Elderly programs are too. Scholarship money for high school seniors are gathered from festival proceeds. There's many more examples.
These causes are motivators for festival organizers to put on the most dynamite parties of the season, to bring in the most over-the-top lineup of local, national and international acts one can find anywhere. How does that happen?
As you read this, I'll be deplaning in Lafayette, Louisiana, the site of the five-day Festival International de Louisiane. I'm part of a team of Marquette neighborhood organizers who come to Lafayette to work with music agents and other promoters from around the country, using the festival in Lafayette as a giant audition. Coordination with other promoters follows individual shows. These discussions string together tours that enable a band that may not be able to come all the way from say, Paris, to appear in just one Midwestern city but, given a string of appearances guaranteed in Chicago, Madison, and Minneapolis, help the trip become a reality.
Festival International de Louisiane is free, requires 1,500 volunteers to run and takes over the entire downtown area of Lafayette (parish population 125,000). It overlaps with the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz Festival which explains why so many people from NOLA are in Lafayette right now. Locals in New Orleans, long ago dismissive of the jazz fest devolving into Stevie Wonder reunion tour stops, flock to Lafayette to party to the kinds of music the New Orleans affair used to offer before it went WalMart.
Among the 75 acts appearing on six stages in Lafayette in the coming days: Zulu Connection (Louisiana), Chicha Libre (Peru/France/U.S.), Ladysmith Red Lions (S. Africa), Dobet Gnahore (Ivory Coast), and Dengue Fever (Cambodia/U.S.).
If you came to last year's La Fete de Marquette you no doubt remember Dengue Fever's performance. We made our original contact with Dengue Fever last year in Lafayette.
To be specific, we connected with them at the ratty Days Inn that serves as the host motel for artists, promoters, and agents. The motel is in a bad neighborhood, surrounded by weeds overtaking inhabited yet boarded up clapboard houses. It squats beneath the shoulder of Interstate 10.
So how bad is the neighborhood? Last year one of our group mentioned to a festival host assigned to the motel that he was going to stroll the four blocks to a gas station to pick up some cold beer. "Oh no! Don't do that," she said. "You might not make it back. I'll take you there."
Still, I wonder what the invisible neighbors think of the sight and sounds around the puny Days Inn pool every night; the site of the after-fest-party where 50 or more people gather to trade instruments, bang on garbage cans and sing in five languages. The Days Inn lobby has a 24/7 free spread of food. Bins of jambalaya, baskets of fried chicken, deep pans of etouffe, crawfish pie, platters of Po Boys, tureens of steaming gumbo. All prepared by ancient Cajun women who move effortlessly between French and English. "You're too skinny, West-consin!" said Mrs. Dumas last year. "Have some more 'a dis good etouffe!"
For the record, I plan to grab a fork as soon as I step off the plane in Lafayette and don't plan to put it down until airport security extracts it from me upon my return to Madison.
My friend David Hecht, Madison musician extraordinaire and WilMar Neighborhood Association Board Member, will be shooting photos. Together we'll be posting once or twice per-day--through Sunday--on the social, culinary, musical and mystical scene in the heart of Acadiana.