“It’s always nice to get two clear days in a row,” smiles Bob Queen, one of Madison’s favorite festival organizers. “Last year was the year they tried to drive me out of the business, but it didn’t. We had so much rain. I wanted to come back this year and hopefully have great weather this year. If you want to retire, you want to retire on a high note.”

Queen is especially excited to be bringing in Septeto Santiaguero, direct from the famous Casa de la Trova club in their hometown of Santiago, Cuba. One of the most popular music ensembles on the current Cuban scene, Septeto Santiaguer warmed up for their Central Park Sessions event by playing the North Street Cabaret Bar on Tuesday night in Madison.

“They are an amazing band – Latin Grammy Award winners, regular Grammy Award nominees,” Queen tells Madison365. “We’ve never had a band from Santiago, Cuba before – it’s the hotbed of music and all kinds of great rhythms.”

Bob Queen
(Photo by Nancy Nikora)

Since its founding in 1995, Septeto Santiaguero has performed in more than 30 countries, mixing different circuits of salsa, jazz and world music. They are just the type of band that Queen finds when he’s searching out diverse artists from around the world throughout the year.

“We go to Cuba every year for the last five or six years,” Queen says. “My wife and I met in Cuba, so we have a great love for the island and a great love for their music. It’s a joy for us to have them here.”

The music of Cuba is near and dear to Queen’s heart — it’s the country where he and his wife, Nany Kathman, first met on a sugar plantation 46 years ago.

Tonight’s Central Park Session will start at 5 p.m. and will also include Golpe Tierra, Madison Choro Ensemble, and Centavrvs from Mexico City. The whole night will benefit Centro Hispano of Dane County. Centro staff and board members will be on hand to talk about all of the great programs that Centro runs. There will be Puerto Rican food from El Coqui, Venezuelan food from La Taguera, and Mexican food from El Sabor de Pueblo.

Occasional bad weather aside, Queen is happy about the success of the Central Park Sessions so far, which he started four years ago because he thought it would be fun to have bands together that fit a certain category for a night. The innovative concert series will have a bit of a different look to it this year. To provide financial stability and efficiency, the concerts have been configured in three Wednesday-Thursday pairs.

“This new Wednesday-Thursday configuration has been working out well for us. In the first week, it showed how well it can work,” Queen says.

All told, there will be seven great nights of music in August this year at the Central Park Sessions on Wednesday-Thursday nights.

“The first day is called the Session Select. More of a concert series, it’s a great band doing two sets with a break in between. It’s pretty casual. It lets you break up the first day and have a nice, relaxed night,” Queen says. “We’ve done many festivals – La Fete de Marquette, Orton Fest, Waterfront Fest – and they are a crazy two days and you don’t really get a chance to relax very much. But for this one, the first day is just beautiful and you only have one band to entertain or shuttle around or make sure they are where they need to be.”

El Septeto Santiaguero

On Thursdays at The Central Park Sessions, there will still have two exciting traveling bands featured and a terrific local group opening unified under a loose thematic umbrella. The Shooting Stars Sessions was held on Aug. 2 and featured Foxygen and Star Power. Tonight is all about Latin Grammy Award winners El Septeto Santiaguero and Latin Grammy nominees Centavrvs. Next Thursday will feature The Ragin’ Cajun Session and will feature Lost Bayou Ramblers and Sonny Landreth both from the Lafayette, Louisiana region in the heart of the Cajun Prairie. The Central Park Sessions will wrap up on Sept. 7 with the Serendipitous Session featuring The Modern Sounds with Joel Paterson and Rockabilly star JD McPherson from Oklahoma.

“We have a terrific raffle, too. That’s $6,000 worth of prizes,” Queen says. “Big entertainment packages, hotel rooms, ticket packages, restaurants. The winners will all be drawn on Sept. 7.

Every night there will be a wonderful array of dining options plus a fine beer, wine and cider selection. Throughout the summer, food will be available from a diverse array of restaurants like La Taguara, Underground Butcher, El Dorado Catering, Lao Laan-Xang, Umami, Banzo/ Shuk, Buraka, Melted, El Sabor de Puebla, Jamerica, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, That BBQ Joint and El Coqui.

“I enjoy having it at Central Park very much. I enjoy the way we set it up and that it’s such a wide open space,” Queen says. “You can get a good view from 100 yards away. It feels like Big Sky country. There are great sight lines without much of anything in the way.”

Equally as important, seven non-profit agencies will partner and benefit from this summer’s Central Park Sessions including The River Alliance of Wisconsin; WORT-FM; The Stoughton Opera House Friends Association; Centro Hispano; The Urban League of Greater Madison; The Omega School and The Literacy Network of Dane County. Common Wealth Development Corporation based on Williamson Street is serving as this year’s host agency.

Tonight’s Central Park Sessions will benefit the staff and programs at Centro Hispano.

“Those diverse groups bring in people who appreciate their work and they bring in people from a different part of the city,” Queen says. “I love that we get the whole city involved so we’re not just one age group or we’re not just one section of town – the Marquette area.

“We have so many great events already in the Marquette neighborhood so this was one that I wanted to have a different, citywide audience and I wanted everybody to feel comfortable at Central Park no matter where they come from or what they do,” he adds.

Besides supporting the great people and programs of Centro Hispano, why should people come on out to the Central Park Sessions tonight?

“It’s based on having terrific music. It’s a great experience,” Queen says. “It’s a fun after-work thing. We want people to come from work or to come from school or from their homes and to bring their children and enjoy themselves. Come and listen to some great music, have a drink, and get some good food. It’s a great chance to socialize with your neighbors and friends and it’s all for a good fundraising cause. Every one of our non-profit partners that we are raising money for are doing great things for this city.”

Come on out to the Central Park Sessions tonight to listen to Septeto Santiaguero, Golpe Tierra, Madison Choro Ensemble, and Centavrvs. Central Park, 215 S Brearly St., is located on Madison’s near east side in the Marquette Neighborhood, a block below Williamson Street.