First, the very bad news:
Only six tickets were sold for this year's Ragtime to Riches Festival, held at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ. (Last year, the Great Plains Ragtime Society sold thirteen ducats.)
Now here's the really good news:
All the attendees really enjoyed themselves at this past Sunday's event.
Admittedly, 7-10-2016 was a scorcher here in the River City. (7-12-2015- the day of the previous R to R Festival- turned out to be hot outside here in Nebraska's largest city, too.)
Well, some things were different about the twelfth R to R. One of the differences was...a new workshop presenter.
2016 represented Faye Ballard's first year of giving a Ragtime to Riches workshop. This year's topic was one that one of the 2006 performers, Nan Bostick (one of the best ragtime historians who ever lived), touched on: "Women in Ragtime."
And like Nan's presentation from a decade ago, Faye's presentation hit the spot.
The Champaign, IL native presented a dozen rags by women composers. (Did you know that at least 500 women wrote one rag or more apiece during the 1899-1917 period?)
For me, some of the standouts in Faye's workshop were "The Allen Glide," written by Louise Allen in 1915; "Chicken Chowder," penned a decade earlier by a St. Louis teenager named Irene Giblin; Adeline Shepard's rousing "Pickles and Peppers;" "The Thriller," a 1909 May Aufderheide rag; and a 1907 number, Julia Lee Niebergall's "Hoosier Rag."
When it came time to change from workshop presenter to concert performer, Faye switched the focus to some of ragtime's men composers. First up was "The Harlem Rag," the Tom Turpin piece that was the first published rag written by an African-American composer; then 1899's "Original Rags," the first of five Scott Joplin numbers the recently-retired office manager from Central Illinois played at this year's R to R.
Faye didn't leave the other two members of ragtime's Big Three behind; she turned in James Scott's "Frog Legs Rag" and Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale."
Then she gave two examples of what rag pianists would play in the "cutting contests" of that 1899-1917 period: "It Had to Be You" and "Mack the Knife," both of which actually were written in the 1920s...long after the Ragtime Era ended.
Faye wrapped it all up by coming up with a fine, fine version of "Twelfth Street Rag."
I was scheduled to go up at 4:15 PM (Central time)...but I ended up deciding to start my own concert at 4:30 PM after helping Marty Mincer get set up for the anchor leg of R to R 2016. (We'll take a look at the anchor leg later!)
Actually...my turn at bat had a head start, preceding the workshop by ten minutes, the better to help out a festival fan who needed to attend her oldest grandson's birthday party.
So I wrapped up the festival's open-piano session with my first two concert selections: "In the Good Old Summertime" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans."
Once the clock ticked 4:30 PM, I picked my own concert thread back up and continued to focus on tunes I'd done in competition at the event Faye serves as its coordinator: The World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.
Mindful of the fact that the Illinois-turned-Mississippi competition started out as a fundraiser for the Monticello (IL) Railway Museum, and thinking about how contestants initially had to choose a rail-related song among their selections, I offered up "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad..." one of just two numbers I'd been able to play as a finalist (the year was 1994).
In addition, George Giefer's 1899 winner "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" worked out fine (well, at least the audience thought so); so did my closer, "In My Merry Oldsmobile."
This concert included three rags: Charles Hunter's 1899 "Tickled to Death," W.C. Polla's 1904 "Funny Folks," and E. Warren Furry's only rag of consequence, his 1902 "Robardina Rag."
And this machine operator from here in Omaha (by way of Des Moines, IA) called an audible, replacing would-be selection "Grand March (from 'Aida')" with "Take Your Girlie to the Movies (If You Can't Make Love at Home)."
Speaking of movies...the R to R anchor leg was a movie.
For the first time in R to R history, we'd show a silent film. In this case, it was Harold Lloyd's 1920 winner "Get Out and Get Under."
And instead of giving a conventional concert, Marty was in town to cue the movie.
With Marty (the apple farmer from Hamburg, IA) providing the DVD, some friends from the church I go to providing a DVD projector, and First Central itself coming up with a DVD player, we were ready to go.
We didn't even need a screen.
The DVD projector went on top of the church's turn-of-the-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright piano and was aimed at one of the blank walls at the church's Memorial Hall.
That setup worked out fine.
Marty's accompaniment (on the church's turn-of-the-21st-Century Yamaha grand piano) was right on. (He even threw some post-1920 wrinkles in there, and also pulled out a song from 1962- "Puff, the Magic Dragon-" during a scene where Harold was lighting up a cigarette.)
"Get Out and Get Under" was some kind of hilarious.
Now if we'd been able to get more people to come to First Central this past Sunday.
I'm thinking of some projects that can get more people (especially people here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area) to check out the R to R Festival...and help keep old-time piano alive.
If you've got any suggestions, feel free to pass them along. (Nope...giving up isn't an option!)
It's time for some really good news and some very GOOD news.