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As if travelers needed more reason to visit French Polynesia, the 138-room Le Meridien Tahiti has added yet another by co-producing one of the island’s most anticipated annual events — the Tahiti Festival Guitare. Each February, the two-day event features local bands, a talent competition and renowned French guitarists playing everything from folk to progressive metal.
“Immersing the community in art and cultural programs is imperative to our brand,” said Nicolas Orget, Le Meridien Tahiti’s sales and marketing director. “The Tahiti Festival Guitare is just one of many such events.
This year, local favorite Acoustic Party warmed up the crowd with covers of AC/DC, Stevie Wonder and Prince. Audience members nodded their heads to the familiar tunes, sipped on cold Hinano draft beers and ordered comfort food from a dining menu created exclusively for the event, while turning their attention to the main stage, which was erected on the gardens of the hotel’s open-air restaurants. “I must say that it feels unusual to play in the same space where we’ve been eating breakfast every morning,” said metal guitar virtuoso Patrick Rondat. “But then again, we’re used to playing in dark nightclubs and places that aren’t quite so beautiful.”
Jan Vanek and Laurent Dujin, last-minute additions to the lineup, proved to be audience favorites. Steady Dujin served as a metronome for Vanek’s unpredictable improvisations, which ranged from beating the base of his guitar like a drum to chanting inside its sound hole to produce hollow, tribal-like wails.
The talent competition followed, and any group of two guitarists residing in Tahiti was able to enter for a chance to win approximately $550 each, a six-month contract to play at Le Meridien Tahiti and a custom-designed Yamaha guitar, among other prizes. Seven sets of finalists, including a duo of 13 year olds, shared the spotlight, but a panel of expert judges and the public agreed on the talents of up-and-comers Christian Chebret and Michael Broussard.
When asked what the pair would do with the brand-new guitar, Broussard recalled King Solomon, saying, “We’re going to cut it in half.”
After the competition, Flamenco guitarist Louis Winsberg teamed up with jazzman Marc Berthoumieux on the accordion, which proved to be a soothing break from the norm. Jean Felix Lalanne and Michel Haumont followed with an instrumental folk set filled with masterful guitar picking. The most entertaining part of their performance, however, was a 15-minute-long Michael Jackson tribute in which the artists performed “Billy Jean,” “Thriller,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Human Nature” and “Beat it.”
But after more than four hours of instrumental guitar, the organizers of the festival would not let the audience go gentle into that good night. Rather, they brought out Patrick Rondat, who was supported by his metal band (Patrice Guers on bass, Dirk Bruinenberg on drums and Manu Martin on the keyboard). Rondat drew mostly from his 2004 release, “Ephemeral World,” with a title track catchy enough to get stuck in your head for days. His cover of the J.S. Bach composition “Partita No. 1 for Solo Violin” proved that Rondat’s metal is so sophisticated that even dad could bang his head to it.
After more than an hour of dominating the stage, the band indulged the crowd with two back-to-back encores. Make no mistake; Tahiti most definitely knows how to rock.
Le Meridien Tahiti 68-947-0707www.lemeridien.com/tahiti
Next year’s festival will be held in late February. Tickets cost about $30 per person, per day.