Big Sam has become one of New Orleans best-known musical ambassadors. He plays La Fete de Marquette on Friday night.

The Ferris wheel, the carnival atmosphere, the big brass and French Quarter flair — all the old standards are back for the 2017 Fete de Marquette.

But this year’s free festival, which raises funds for the near east side’s Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, also doubles down on a growing aspect of the popular annual event: family-friendly fare.

The 2016 Fete introduced a bevy of kid-centric activities like bouncy houses and ball pits between the two music stages in Central Park. Beatrice Hadidian, Wil-Mar's development and program director, said that it marked a new direction for the festival, which had been more adult-focused in the past.

“People responded so well to Family Fete last year,” Hadidian said. “Adding that was so wonderful.”

This year’s festival, running Thursday through Sunday, will have a smorgasbord of family activities: a parade, magicians, jugglers, DJs, a parade, an interactive mural from the Madison Children's Museum. Friday night also features a parade, and a screening of the Paris-set Pixar hit “Ratatouille.”

Last year's fete also introduced a double-stage setup, which also makes its return this year. The Sun Stage by Ingersoll Street and the Moon Stage by Brearly Street, in addition to a “Bistro Tent” and the nearby High Noon Saloon, will play host to three nights of high-energy world music. Here are six acts you’ll want to check out:

Big Sam’s Funky Nation

Sam Williams, AKA Big Sam, is a quintessential New Orleans ambassador. The trombonist has played in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, toured with the likes of Allen Touissant, made routine appearances in the NOLA-infused HBO show “Treme,” and has become a fixture at festivals like Bonnaroo. Check out Big Sam's Funky Nation for a hearty fusion of hip hop, funk and R&B. The ensemble performs at the Sun Stage on Friday night at 9:15 p.m.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

The fete is really laying on the funk this year: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears will build off of Big Sam’s energy with some slick, guitar-forward grooves over at the Sun Stage on Saturday night at 9:15 p.m. The band, originally from Austin, has clearly taken some notes from James Brown; Joe himself has mastered the art of the soulful screech, a caterwaul that only adds to the manic garage rock energy baked into the music.


Red Baraat

A New Orleans sound is Fete de Marquette’s bread and butter, but the festival has been branching out. Case and point: Red Baraat, an eight-piece band out of Brooklyn that specializes in Bhangra, a kind of Punjabi folk music fused with just a bit of jazz and funk. The rousing sound centers on the percussion work of Sunny Jain, an influential jazz artist known for playing the dhol, a double-headed Indian drum. Red Baraat will play the Sun Stage on Sunday night at 8:15 p.m.

Kevin Saunderson

Musique Electronique is a festival within a festival, an annual electronica celebration that coexists within the larger Fete. It consistently lands big names — last year’s headliner was Kid Koala, for example — and this year is no exception. Kevin Saunderson is a techno legend, one of the founders of Detroit’s lionized electronic music scene. His performance will be on Saturday night as part of the Musique afterparty at the High Noon Saloon, at 10:30 p.m.

Ten Strings and a Goatskin

For a slightly lower-key palette cleanser, consider Ten Strings and a Goatskin, an Acadian folk ensemble from Prince Edward Island. The trio, who merge their Franco-Canadian musical roots with some Scottish and Irish flair, rely on a tried and true flavor combination: Harmony, strings, rhythm. They’ll play an early afternoon set at 1:30 p.m. on the Sun Stage on Sunday.

Mydy Rabycad

Mydy Rabycad’s forte is “electroswing,” a portmanteau that delivers everything you might imagine: uptempo, synthy, jazzy, quirky beats you can bop around to. If you miss the Prague-based band’s first performance on Saturday night at 7 p.m. on the Sun Stage, no worries: They’ll close out the festival with an encore performance Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. on the Moon Stage.

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.