Well, the lone workshop at the 2011 Ragtime to Riches Festival went fine.
The next measuring stick for the festival happened immediately afterwards...and that stick was the first of two concerts at this year's event at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ.
And I felt really at home up there...really comfortable.
I started my one-hour set with 1899's "Tickled to Death," written by Charles Hunter (a man who also went by the name Robert Hampton). That number got included because I felt lucky that the folks at First Central UCC came to R to R's rescue.
"Tickled to Death" was also the first competition piece I ever heard at Illinois' World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest. I started going to that event in 1993, when it was held at the then Holiday Inn in Decatur, IL; that year, thirteen-year-old Julie Ann Smith (who was still living in and going to school in her home town of Hastings, NE) got the competition going by playing "Tickled to Death." (Julie Ann grew up to become one of the world's top classical harpists.)
Julie Ann...thanks for getting me interested in learning "Tickled to Death!"
Wanted to get in a tune that marked a first of some kind, so I followed "TTD" with Bob Cole's 1906 biggie, "Under the Bamboo Tree." (Bob was one of the first African-American songwriters in Tin Pan Alley history...and one of the first to hit it big in that Alley.)
This time, I felt comfortable enough to do five rags in my eleven-song set (including "Funny Folks," the 1914 W.C. Polla rag I botched up at the 2009 OTPP Contest- the last time I'd been able to make it to the Hotel Pere Marquette in Peoria, IL, OTPP's current home).
When I put together a set, I like to get topical...so this time, I managed to get a dig in on two now former US representatives from New York- Chris Lee (R) and Anthony Weiner (D). (Okay...I dedicated one of Irving Berlin's first songs to the two ex-lawmakers. The song was..."Telling Lies," a 1910 number where Irving's words were set to Henriette Blanke-Belcher's music.)
And since I had the local weather and the flooding taking place along the Missouri River on my mind, I added Nellie Stokes' 1906 rag, "Snowball."
Well, it was all that snow in North Dakota that triggered the flooding along the Mighty Mo.
NCAA baseball's Division 1 World Series had wrapped up (South Carolina won it again, this time sweeping Florida)...and that's why Scott Joplin's "The Easy Winners" (from 1901) and a 1915 novelty from Ray Sherwood and Bert Rule, "I'm Goin' Back to Old Nebraska (Goodbye)," got in there.
And I closed it all out with "Golden Slippers," James Bland's 1853 winner that they used to play all the time on Gunsmoke. (A month before this year's R to R, James Arness died...a year after his younger brother Peter Graves passed away.)
Well, that was it...and Burns Davis picked up the baton and took R to R 7.0 home.
This time, Burns came up with a five-part concert, "From There to Here;" in it, the Californian-turned-Nebraskan spotlighted rags that contrast changes and reflect similarities in rag styles.
Burns (she's a massage therapist in Lincoln when she isn't playing piano or organ) kicked her set off with folk rags, topping it all off with 2000's "Sutter Creek Strut," the final rag written by another Golden Stater-turned-Cornhusker Stater, the late Gil Lieby (who died two years before Peter Graves did).
Dance rags were next up to bat...and they included, if I remember right, Joseph Lamb's final composition, 1960's "Ragtime Bobolink."
Burns' elegant style of playing continued on in the third segment of "From There to Here;" this segment consisted of three marches/two-steps, led off by Scott Joplin's 1908 "Pine Apple Rag."
Then it was rags based on blues. Two of the four such tunes that made it into Burns' concert were Kathi Backus' 1985 "Omaha Blues" (you don't have to be a Nebraskan to love it) and a number that David Thomas Roberts wrote five years later, "Roberto Clemente." (That one's one of the most poignant rags ever devised...and you don't have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this most famous of all the rags David's come up with.)
The last four rags put over in this year's festival fall into the category Burns called "Band Shell, Bring on the Brass Band, Rags."
Lincoln's massage therapist-church organist-ragtimer started this subset with another 1908 tune, May Aufderheide's "The Richmond Rag." (Me, I'm still working on getting the hang of that one!) The next number, Max Morath's rousing "The Vindicator Rag," also stood out...as did the last song in R to R 7.0, the piece that put rags on the map for good.
Nope...not "The Entertainer."
It was "Maple Leaf Rag."
One of the things the audience enjoyed about Burns Davis' concert was how she, from time to time, passed around the sheet music she was playing from. Because of that, we got a chance to see exactly what the composers were out to convey when they put these selections together...especially the effects the Scotts and Josephs and Mays and Maxes built into their rags.
Speaking of built...this time, Burns and I had two pianos to choose from: A Mason & Hamlin grand from the 1920s and an Anderson & Newton upright from, I'm guessing, the turn of the 20th Century (if not the 1890s).
Instead of clashing, the two pianos were in tune with each other. Matter of fact, the A&N upright turned out to be the hit of the festival...at least that's what one of the audience members told me.
The secret was...well, after the workshop about Maceo Pinkard ended, all the talk about Tin Pan Alley gave me the idea of sticking a thumb tack into each of the upright's hammers for that tinny sound. (Don't worry...all the tacks got removed from the Van Wert, OH-built piano before the church emptied out.)
The next day, I made it over to the Omaha Street School and handed staff member Tami Saunders the R to R proceeds- $100. (Man, the staff was happy to get the dough!)
And I'm happy that we were able to pull off a festival that had to find a replacement venue FAST.
On top of that, I can't wait 'til we get to do it all over again in 2012...and I hope you can join us.