Music from Tani Diakite and BingBong makes this festival's third edition a strong one. Info
The Eken Park Festival launched in 2017, celebrating a new era for the North Side neighborhood. The nearby Oscar Mayer plant shut down that same year, and the neighborhood's working-class character seems up for grabs in a rapidly gentrifying city. Still, long-time residents and a good number of younger folks buying their first houses in Eken Park have turned it into a lively place. The North Street Cabaret, Tip Top Tavern, and Ogden's North Street Diner have brought a center of gravity (and a lot of good live music) to the corner of North and Commercial, though of course there will always be a Trachte shed-shaped hole in my heart where Resale Records used to be. The Eken Park Fest is also creating an identity of its own among Madison's slew of outdoor music events, offering compact but varied lineups of music that's close to home.
This year's five-band lineup includes a headlining set from BingBong (6:30 p.m.) and a mid-fest performance from Tani Diakite And The Afrofunkstars. BingBong is a mild-mannered power-pop band, combining punch with a bit of breezy melancholy. The band's 2018 debut album, Pop Restoration, consisted of 13 concise, sharply crafted songs that combine jangly warmth with guitarist/singer Pam Barrett's affecting vocal melodies. Diakite, a longtime Madisonian who emigrated here from Mali, leads his band with a powerful voice and the ecstatic, rippling sounds of the kamele n'goni, one of a family of elaborate West African stringed instruments that are also precursors to the banjo. On the 2012 album Dalonkan, The Afrofunkstars use layers of hand percussion and drumkit, prickly guitar, and whirling keyboard melodies to explore Malian music's ancestral connection to the blues, tastefully working in elements of reggae and funk as well. From the rousing "Nungulunba" to the plaintive "Yelema (Change)," Diakite and band invest these songs with a vivid emotional range and musical complexity. Joining these two standouts in the lineup are Slag (noon), Lose Meskales (1:30 p.m.), and November Criminals (4:50 p.m.). —Scott Gordon