When June arrives, it can only mean one thing in Sedalia — the Scott Joplin Festival.
The event takes place beginning Wednesday through June 8 at several venues downtown, at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, and at the State Fair Community College, as well as Smith-Cotton High School.
Some 4,000 to 5,000 people are expected to attend from as far away as Australia, Japan and both coasts of the United States, said Stacy Purvis, executive director of the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation. About 50 percent of the attendees will be from outside Missouri, she said.
But, that doesn’t mean the shindig that takes over the city’s motels and streets for five days offers nothing for local folks. Some of the nation’s best known ragtime performers will play in 20-minute increments on free, outdoor stages along Ohio Avenue and at Maple Leaf park on Main Street. Other free venues include the Katy Depot.
Friday’s festivities include nearly non-stop piano music at the free venues, while Saturday morning will bring the circa-1900 period clothing fashion show to the Liberty Center, followed by the parade south on Ohio to Maple Leaf Park.
Absent from this year’s festival will be the traditional reunion event at Maple Leaf park, which had kicked off activities on Wednesday night.
“We have forgone that so that the Historical Society can use that time for their fundraiser,” Purvis said. “It was just sort of a natural progression to let that go” because the first festival concert takes place Wednesday morning.
Donald Barnes, vice president of the foundation board, has tried to generate more local interest by inviting Sedalia people to participate in the parade and fashion show.
Purvis said she thinks there may be a bit more interest among people here.
“Each year, I hear of more locals that are going. That is the general conception,” Purvis said. “They partake in more of the free activities; you can’t track them on ticket sales.”
Three festival favorites who will return this year are Brian Holland, Mimi Blais and Jeff Barnhart — all of whom have been coming for a dozen years.
Holland has been making music since age 3, first playing the organ and then the piano. He studied classical piano for 12 years, and then turned to ragtime. He was the World Old-time Piano Playing Champion and is one of only five three-time (and therefore “retired”) champions of this event.
In 1997, Holland met Barnhart at the Scott Joplin festival here. At an after-hours session, the two decided to try a couple of piano duets, which led to an all-night jam session that didn’t end until the next morning. Barnhart and Holland have recorded three CDs together. Holland most recently expanded into ensemble jazz, forming the Holland Rhythm Co. and B-Square Entertainment.
Barnhart began his professional career at 14, playing four nights a week in a restaurant in his home state of Connecticut. He played classic swing, jazz and ragtime. He plays as a soloist and band pianist at parties, festivals, clubs and cruises in all corners of the globe. He manages the Titan Hot 7 here and leads two bands in the United Kingdom.
He also performs in the trio We Three with clarinetist Bob Draga and drummer Danny Coots and also Ivory and Gold, a duo with his wife, flutist Anne Barnhart. He also is part of a quartet called JAS”M which also includes Anne, Sherrie Colby and Matt Bottel.
Blais, of Montreal, Québec, Canada, is considered the queen of ragtime. She trained at the Quebec Conservatory of Music and McGill University in Montreal. Her music combines classical, folk, jazz, modern, blues, tango and ragtime. She also has written two one-woman shows titled “Once upon a time, ragtime” and “An afternoon with Jean-Baptiste Lafrenière.”