The Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival has seen significant changes in the last year, but Foundation members say the festival is here to stay and are proud that four men considered legends in the genre will be present this year.
The festival will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Stauffacher Center for the Fine Arts at State Fair Community College with free ragtime venues, a free treasure hunt and children’s crafts along with two ticketed concerts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday, the festival will move to downtown Sedalia with performances at the Stark Pavilion on East Fifth Street, Gazebo Park at Second Street and Ohio Avenue, and Maple Leaf Park on East Main Street. Ticketed venues will take place in the newly renovated Liberty Center Association for the Arts on West Fifth Street. The Scott Joplin Store, coordinated by Reva Woodward, will also be located inside LCAA in the Joe Fischer Gallery.
Coming together for the first time in years will be ragtime legends Max Morath, David Reffkin, Terry Waldo and Richard Zimmerman. The men will be interviewed and filmed by Michael Kelly.
“Because it is the legends reunion there is going to be a dedicated effort to collect oral history through video by Michael Kelly,” Sedalia Heritage Foundation Executive Director Debbie Biermann said. “He is from the area and he worked on the (Sedalia) Sesquicentennial video and a couple we’ve done at the Katy Depot, so he’s kind of a local boy and professional videographer.”
Kelly will stay for the whole festival not only to collect the legend’s interviews but to gather other historical perspectives of the festival.
Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation President Kathleen Boswell said ragtime legend David Reffkin, who is slightly younger than the other men, will interview the others in a special symposium Thursday.
“He has been to every festival,” she noted. “Including the first two.”
All four men will be part of the “1974 Reunion Panel” hosted at 10 a.m. Thursday in the LCAA theatre. The men will discuss the early beginnings of the festival and ragtime musicians of the ’70s.
“They will discuss the resurgence of ragtime because of the movie ‘The Sting,’” Boswell said. “David will interview those three (and) they’ll be talking and reminiscing.”
The legends, except Morath, 90, who will serve as emcee, will also be performing individually at some of the concerts throughout the festival.
The festival will also see a new entertainer this year, Sebastien Troendlé from Switzerland. Troendlé is a pianist, composer and musical director. He was born in the east of France in 1977 and is a graduate of the Conservatory of Basel in Switzerland.
Boswell said Herbert Frei, a frequent festival attendee from Switzerland, paid for Troendlé to come to the festival as an entertainer.
“I think he’ll bring a unique feel to to the festival,” she added.
Classical ragtime returnees such as Richard Dowling, Sue Keller, Jeff Barnhart and Brian Holland will be performing this year along with many other noted musicians.
“We’re excited, it’s fabulous lineup,” Boswell said.
Boswell noted that ticket sales are going well.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the Saturday night concert will be sold out,” she said. “That’s the big one. Every single performer who’s here plays Saturday night. Won’t it be electric to have it packed to capacity!”
Besides Frie, the festival has people who will be attending from as far away as Scotland.
“I’m hosting a couple from Scotland and this is their fourth trip to come here,” she added. “They actually come to the United States just for the ragtime festival.”
A special treat this year will be a presentation by ragtime aficionado Larry Melton, of Union, who is the interim curator of the Sedalia Ragtime Archive. Melton will talk about Sedalia and his ragtime research Friday at the Katy Depot.
“Larry’s big push, and I like this idea, is moving the festival from the bars and brothels of Main Street to the publishing office on Fifth Street,” Boswell stated. “He’ll focus on the change that this made for all musicians who come after.”
Boswell said Melton and Biermann have worked to scan and preserve the Sedalia Ragtime Archive. “Sedalia and Ragtime Era,” created by Melton, is on exhibit at the Katy Depot and various ragtime artifacts will be on display at LCAA during the festival, including Joplin’s “Treemonisha” opera score and the clarinet that belonged to Tom Ireland.
Another unique event taking place during the festival will be the Central Business and Cultural District Commemorative Ceremony at noon Saturday, June 4 on East Fifth Street. The ceremony will designate 114 E. Fifth St. as the site of the historic contract signing between publisher John Stark and Scott Joplin for the “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Biermann said the idea was taken to Sedalia artist and Business and Cultural District member Doug Freed, who helped get the process started for the commemoration.
Adding to the excitement of the commemoration, Kyle Stark the great-grandson of publisher John Stark, will be in attendance with his two young sons, Jack, 10, and Nick, 7.
Melton said by phone Thursday that Kyle Stark, of St. Louis, was at the first Scott Joplin Festival in 1974 with his grandfather John Stark III. Kyle was 7-years-old at the time.
“He is still with the publishing company although the name has changed,” Biermann noted.
Saturday will also see a vintage costume contest at 9 a.m. in the Fox Theatre Event Center on East Fifth Street.
“We have it for boys and girls, men and women and couples,” Boswell said. “It’s always fun to see who shows up.”
When asked about the future of the festival, both women said the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation members hopes Sedalia can eventually become a year-round destination for ragtime.
“You know this story is so big in the way that it already connects with the performers,” Biermann noted.
“These big names from the past still knew Sedalia’a connection to Scott Joplin,” Boswell said. “They were excited in the ’70s that something was happening.
“Most people don’t realize that we work pretty much the full year around getting the festival set up,” she added. “It really, really benefits the community. Which is why tourism and the city of Sedalia helped to sponsor it.”
“It’s a year-round business to do a four-day event,” Biermann added. “This is the 34th consecutive (year) and the 36th total for the festival. There are other communities that have a long tradition, but none of them match this tradition. There are some that are no longer in the festival business, they weren’t able to keep it going. … The right people have come behind to produce this for 34 years.”
“Things grow and change and we’re just lucky that this one still going,” Boswell added.
Boswell and Biermann said the dates for the 2017 festival have already been scheduled.
A full schedule of events for the 2016 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival will be provided in the Democrat next week.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.