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Jazz and food lovers unite in France

The Marciac jazz festival brings together fine fare and music for aficionados.

MARCIAC, France — It's a one-hotel town, in the middle of French corn country, but each summer its population swells with outsiders sharing two very specific, and complementary, interests.

Marciac, a village of 1,200, has become something of a mecca for jazz enthusiasts and lovers of fine French fare. Or, indeed, both.

This year, the Jazz in Marciac festival starred the American trumpet player Wynton Marsalis — a regular performer here who has his own bronze statue in the center of town — Brazilian legend Gilberto Gil, and newer talents, such as the Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca.

On the food side, the stars were buttery foie gras, crispy duck magret and a local sweet white wine called Pacherenc.

This truly unique mix of jazz and delicacies won over Marsalis’ bass player Carlos Henriquez 15 years ago.

“This festival is really home-like,” Henriquez said. “It brings the elements of France, which are the small towns, the people, the food and the wine, but with a big crowd.”

Hanging out backstage before his show, Brazilian musician and former Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil was all smiles when asked about Marciac.

“It is always beautiful to play here,”said Gil, attending Marciac for the fourth time. “Marciac is a small village with an extraordinary culture ... with a great foie gras and the surrounding area is very rural. It is a very elegant village that prepares itself for the festival every year.”

Although the festival draws some of the biggest names in jazz, it retains the feel of a family-run event.

All day long, to the tune of small bands playing, visitors swing by the food stands and through the cobbled streets around the village’s main square — the Place de l’Hotel de Ville.

The event is run by volunteers. An armada of roughly 800 people helps run the show in exchange for free access to the concerts — tickets cost between $35 and $60, the more expensive entitling the bearer to seats nearer to the stage. 

Volunteer and amateur pianist Francois Guyard has been coming to the festival for almost 10 years and says the volunteers are the heart and soul of the festival.

“I remember a concert with Roberto Fonseca," Guyard said. At 1 in the morning, you had 600 volunteers dancing to his music and giving him a standing ovation. They did not want to let him go.”

Of course, you cannot attract A-list musicians with a tiny budget. Over the years, the festival has become more corporate — sponsors include an aeronautic group, banks, an insurance company and several news organizations.

Some old-timers fondly remember the festival’s early days.