I try to make it to all of Sedville’s fairs and festivals as often as possible but for the past few years I haven’t been able to attend the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival because it always happened at the same time as the Gateway Hemophilia Association’s Camp Notaclotamongus in early June. When I accepted their invitation to be a counselor at a second summer hemophilia camp I realized that it would probably mean missing the festival for the foreseeable future.
But this year camp moved to the second week of June because the way the dates fell meant that the first week of June wasn’t really a viable option. Ultimately it meant that I would finally be able to attend both events. And the fact that the city bus was free meant that there was no excuse to not enjoy some performances from the men and women who define Sedalia’s own musical genre.
I spent most of my time at the festival in the John Stark Pavilion both because it always seemed to be the main free stage and anyone who is preforming at the festival is probably going to have at least one set there.
This next preformer is called Jazzou Jones and I bet he’s pretty good with a piano if he can get away with using a stage name like that. Jazzou sounds like a special kind of jazz preformed exclusively at the University of Missouri. But it is slightly less cheesy then when I assumed it was spelled “Jazzoo”. (Ironically an event with that very name was taking place at the Kansas City Zoo on Friday, and there was probably some serious potential for cross promotion) But he’s good enough to adopt any nickname he wants.
Some of them are festival adjacent workers coming to the performance space during their lunch break. Some of them are fans from around the world who wait anxiously all year for the chance to visit the Mecca of Ragtime. Some of them just want a Dick’s Corn Dog. The conscious and subconscious appeal of a fresh corn dog from a familiar white cart seems to be practically infinite among Sedalians and maybe people in general. I swear I hear more people talk about more about Missouri State Fair corn dogs each year than any other aspect of the Fair. I saw a representative of one local business stop by in their company van to do nothing more than purchase a Scott Joplin corn dog.
Even the lone protester, who was lapping the courthouse with a series of large signs accusing various vague entities of conspiring specifically against his marriage and children occasionally got a taste of Ragtime when his path took him past the John Stark Pavilion.
Over and over again I heard both hosts and entertainers express relief at the lack of rain but a little summer shower would have been comparatively refreshing. There were moments when it felt like I was sitting in a festive Ragtime sauna.
I sat in my folding chair and as the day went on I started to doubt my own personal commitment. Like all good Sedalia kids I was indoctrinated towards a genre of music that comparable children around the country had probably never heard of. These people are the cream of the ragtime crop but the open air hot weather was starting to get to me. For entertainment like this I could continue to deal with it.
For the entrepreneurial soul who happens to live near downtown Sedalia, it would have been the perfect day to sell lemonade, soda or even water. If you managed to grab the attention of at least a couple of festival attendees early then you could probably get a day of business based on being them spreading the word about your cooler-based store being the cheapest option around.
What is there to write about a series of Ragtime masters sharing their top talent on a hot stage on a hot day? They made it look easy – I was sweating more just listening and occasionally taking some notes with my tablet than they were performing complicated piano pieces.
I noticed French pianist Sébastien Troendlé carrying a large grey exercise ball and when he brought it on stage I assumed he had some wacky musical trick in mind but it just turns out that he prefers to tickle the ivories astride a large inflatable sphere. He even had to pay a visit to the good people at Pro-Velo Cycle Sport to get some air in his Ragtime ball. He was great on the piano, and the performer that went on before him did complain about how uncomfortable the seat was so maybe he’s onto something.
That’s just the sort of casual service that business owners all over Sedalia and especially the downtown area are expected to provide in service of the Festival and the entertainers performing there. Of course, they do it with pleasure and pride because they know that the Ragtime faithful are good for business.
Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.