June 4, 2009
Sedalia has always tried to indoctrinate its children with a love of ragtime. They let the kids out of class for an hour or two every year so that they can listen to someone play some ragtime music; they teach a miniature ragtime lesson in every class with the words “history” or “music” in the title. We were fed a steady diet of ragtime so that we would be ready each year to play it up like it was the most stunning and original development in music to date.
This has kind of worked too well in my case. “The Entertainer” sticks out distinctly in my mind and I love it. I hope desperately that every new cell phone I get has it as a stock ring tone. “The Maple Leaf Rag” becomes distinct as soon as I hear a little bit of it or try to distinguish it in my head from “The Entertainer.” This Sedalia ragtime upbringing has left me with only two “ragtime” songs that I can identify quickly. They must give the Sedalia students too much of exactly the songs that they want to hear because I can’t remember a single other one from any of those gymnasium performances.
I thought long and hard about doing this story. I didn’t really have any desire to go to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival unless, of course, there would be people sitting at a little piano and playing “The Entertainer” in 24-hour shifts.
I unfortunately didn’t make it to the opening day of the festival out on the State Fair Community College campus. (It’s a little silly to have one day’s activities take place on the other side of town from the next day’s activities; I found some people downtown who seemed to be very distraught and confused by this revelation.)
The average age of a person in Sedalia goes way up when the festival rolls into town. I probably would have been the youngest person there if it wasn’t for the families with small children. I can’t imagine how a young child would feel about a day full of ragtime music, but I bet they were getting fussy after the first hour or so.
Sitting in front of the giant street tent that was the John Stark Pavilion was something that could probably be best described as an “information booth.” They sold recordings of some of the artists who had been and are still performing at the festival, they handed out free copies of The Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation’s “Sedalia Rag.” I don’t see how you could name a ragtime-based newsletter anything else.
They were also selling programs for $3. I thought it was honestly a little high but at least there isn’t a different one for each day. Is that what things like this run? Are they barely recouping their costs with this price? I don’t know, I don’t tend to frequent festivals.
I was also surprised that there weren’t more streetside tent vendors. Everything that I had ever attended that was advertised as a “festival” always had people selling homemade fudge, ice bandannas, gigantic bird puppets and pieces of wood with down-home bits of wisdom carved into them.
In any case, it seems like the Scott Joplin Foundation is making a killing; I had no idea that they had concerts that you had to pay admission to before this year. I had no idea that a family of four might have to spend up to $120 just to attend a concert in the evening. I guess talented ragtime musicians don’t come as cheaply as I might have thought.
I don’t see why anyone would though, because with all the free entertainment that is offered, it would be quite easy for anyone to satiate their hunger for ragtime. Maybe the real concert prices have to stay so high so that they can recoup their losses with a lower showing.
There are four places downtown that you can rely on pretty much all day for your free ragtime fix. You can (and probably will) go to the John Stark Pavilion next to the courthouse; The Gazebo Park, which is almost directly across the street from the giant building mural of Scott Joplin himself; the former Maple Leaf Club site on Main Street; or the Katy Depot, which is that big, weird-shaped building out in the middle of nowhere.
I went to the Pavilion first because that’s where I was and it seemed like the venue to be at. I was greeted with a sign on a pole that said, “Please do not replace chairs inside the tent with lawn chairs!!!”
I knew that I was dealing with people who identify themselves as travelers before anything else and who wouldn’t be caught dead without their trusty collapsible chair. These are the sort of people who go about the country, sustain themselves on festivals and dine on fairs. To some, being a tourist is a very serious matter and no flimsy native chair will do the job well enough.
Lue LeBrun is a feisty woman with an accordion and hers was the first set that I got to see in its entirety. I don’t care much for that particular instrument, but she was extremely enthusiastic about what she was doing and it was really helping me enjoy it a lot more. The level of enthusiasm was perfect for the situation. She closed with “The Entertainer.”
“I’ve got to play “The Entertainer before everybody else comes out and plays it,” she joked. Sadly, it was the only time I heard that song on Thursday.
My ragtime adventure will continue in Saturday’s paper, and if you see me roaming around today then I want you to talk to me — especially the tourists. Tell me about why you came, how you were forced to come or about the funny things that you’ve seen so far.