Local musicians and bands are coming together this year to bring a free, contemporary spin on the 38th annual Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival.
The Festival will begin May 29 and run through June 1, although this year in celebration of the 120th anniversary of Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” Friday and Saturday will feature free local music venues. Organizer Chris Robinson, a Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation board member and a member of the band One Track Train, said the event “Celebrating 120 Years of Sedalia Music Then & Now” is a salute to Sedalia’s musical origins.
“We’re celebrating the 120th anniversary of the publishing of the ‘Maple Leaf Rag,’” Robinson said. “Therefore, we’re celebrating 120 years of Sedalia music. Sedalia is one of the most important musical cities in the country. That may be difficult to take in, but it’s true.
“Ragtime was America’s first pop music,” he continued. “Without Scott Joplin and the ‘Maple Leaf Rag,’ that wouldn’t have happened.”
The venues are a breakaway from the traditional ragtime music played during the Scott Joplin Festival. The local venues are being sponsored by the Sedalia Central Business Cultural District in hopes of drawing in a Sedalia-based crowd.
“We recognize that not everybody wants to hear ragtime, that’s fine,” Robinson said. “It’s a matter of sort of balancing the music.”
Friday evening will see the performance of local band One Track Train from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The American roots music band will play blues, bluegrass, gospel and folk in the Stark Pavilion on East Fifth Street.
Saturday will feature Sedalia natives Melvin Kerr and Arthur Seabury. Kerr, now of Kansas City, will perform at 3:30 p.m. with the St. Monica Music Ministry at Gazebo Park. Also performing will be the Smith-Cotton High School Jazz Band and the Sedalia Chorale.
Saturday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Arthur Seabury and the Supermatics, a blues band of Kansas City, will perform in the Stark Pavilion.
Bringing the local venues and the international festival full circle, Robinson said during both evening performances ragtime musicians will be playing tunes on the piano from time to time.
Also on Saturday, Dakota Anstine and The Artists Gathering will host an event for adults 18 and up from 8 to 11:30 p.m. upstairs at Fitter’s 5th Street Pub. The free event will feature singer-songwriters, poets, rap artists and visual artists performing and presenting original works.
Robinson, who was a professional blues and rock ‘n roll musician for 10 years, said many people don’t realize the significance of Scott Joplin’s music to Sedalia and the world. Joplin’s ragtime influences morphed over to create other musical genres including the local music to be played Friday and Saturday.
“Scott Joplin was the first platinum artist,” he noted. “He was the first artist to sell a million copies. It happened to be sheet music, because there were no records then. When the ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ was published in 1899, within a year ragtime was the big thing in Paris. That says something about the impact of Scott Joplin in Sedalia.”
Robinson said the local music venues being offered this year is a “festival within a festival.”
“Ultimately, we just want Sedalians to be proud of their musical heritage — and realize how, in terms of American music, Sedalia is an extremely important place,” Robinson said. “From 1899 until 1917, when jazz came out, ragtime was the most popular music in America. Without Sedalia, Scott Joplin, and the ‘Maple Leaf Rag,’ that would not have happened. That same creative spirit continues today.”
He added he wants to remind people that Sedalia is a “great music town.”
“By featuring all of these different musicians, that came after Scott Joplin, I want to show that the creative spirit is still thriving,” he said. “That same energy is still here.
“There’s a great vibe happening in Sedalia right now, and I think that’s related to the vibe that began 120 plus years ago,” he continued. “I just want us to be able to celebrate that.”
For more information, visit www.scottjoplin.org.