Ragtime entertainer Mimi Blais plays a tune inside the Stark Pavilion at the 2017 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival. The 38th annual Scott Joplin Festival will begin Wednesday night and run through Saturday.

Although the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival has been around for decades, many don’t realize community volunteers and businesses donate time and money to ensure its success.

Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation Board President John Simmons and board member Debbie Biermann both agree the festival would not be up and running each year if those in the Sedalia community didn’t help with all the moving parts.

“It takes an entire volunteer city to pull this off,” Simmons said. “I think one of the things we’ve experienced as board members, without a director, is there are truly a lot of mechanics to this. Without the help of the people we call on, it would be difficult physically to do.”

Simmons said people have stepped forward to move stages and chairs, decorate, and volunteers make sure vendors are situated correctly. Volunteers work with the entertainers on sound and acoustics, work with tent companies, and help with electrical components for the festival vendors. Being a largely outdoor event, security has to be considered and addressed.

“There are so many moving pieces and I think that’s a tribute to the people of Sedalia, that this event occurs,” he noted. “It’s because of their hard work that we’re able to present this every year.”

Biermann said it’s often said Sedalia doesn’t support the festival, but she fully disagrees.

“You take a look at the amount of volunteers, you take a look at the corporate businesses that support it, either through cash or in-kind donations, this community does support the festival,” she said. “The message is, they do support it. They support it through volunteerism, through their donations of products and services and through their cash — it’s a long list. The festival couldn’t happen without those.

“This is a production,” she continued. “When you think about the amount of planning that goes into just the Stark Tent.”

Biermann said the Sedalia Scott Joplin Festival is considered internationally as the “premier ragtime festival.”

“There are three things that I hear that makes it special,” she said. “The connection to Scott Joplin and the ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ being published here in Sedalia. And, then the fact that it is like a family reunion atmosphere, not only for the performers but for the people who come on an annual basis. Then the fact, that we do all that we do ... there’s a lot of extra stuff here that you don’t get at other festivals.”

Biermann said this year the festival will honor the late ragtime musician Trebor Tichenor with a tribute concert Thursday night at Hayden Liberty Center Association for the Arts. Then in keeping with a tradition started a few years ago, they will honor a living ragtime musician.

The 38th annual Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival will kick off Wednesday night with a spotlight solo concert by Paul Asaro at the Liberty Center.   

“Another thing they are trying to blend into the festival is that ragtime is considered the first true American form of music,” she said. “And, from it, all other American popular music has evolved. One of the things they are trying to do is reinforce is that message through comments, through the symposia and the literature.”

Another way to emphasize Joplin’s reach into other musical genres is a new venue featuring free band performances on Friday and Saturday, which will highlight blues, jazz, folk and gospel music. The performances “Celebrating 120 Years of Sedalia Music Then & Now” was organized by board member Chris Robinson. The local twist is aimed at attracting Sedalians to the festival.

“I think one of the things we want to reinforce is getting our local residents introduced and reacquainted with the festival,” Simmons noted. “So, I think Chris’s efforts in that are key. We are really going out on a limb with Central Business District to create an event that our local residents would enjoy.”

Simmons encouraged Sedalia residents to come down and give the performances a shot.

“I guarantee they’ll find themselves tapping their feet,” he added.

The 38th annual Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival will begin Wednesday night and run through Saturday. Twenty-six ragtime musicians will participate in this year’s festival. There will be seven concerts, three free afternoon-long matinees, late-night jam sessions and eight symposia that explore the evolution of American popular music.  

For more information, visit www.scottjoplin.org.

Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Faith Bemiss is a reporter for the Sedalia Democrat, covering general assignment, arts, food and entertainment stories. She can be reached at 660-530-0289.

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