How anyone can describe Sutter Creek’s 14th Annual Ragtime Festival without excessive hyperbole, is beyond me! If it were an Olympic event, it would have earned a gold medal. If it were a movie, it would be a five-star Oscar-winning production, and if it had been a school project, “Excellent Job” would have been stamped all over it. The 14th Annual Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival was over the top, definitely an A+ festival.
Even the daily temperatures managed to scream hot. As a side note, perhaps next year someone on the committee could have a chat with Mother Nature to reign in her enthusiasm a bit. But somehow, even in beastly hot daily temps, fans and performers rocked the charts.
Following tradition, Keith Taylor led off with a rousing countdown, opening the festival at precisely 4:00 p.m. in the Ice Cream Emporium. He then launched into a set of classic and modern rags that included an entertaining version of The Entertainer. Keith, along with Frederick Hodges presented an enjoyable night of silent films. Both Keith and Frederick could be seen throughout the festival in solo sets. Frederick’s Fred Astaire set was a knockout and following that with Waiting for the Robert E. Lee in multiple musical styles was a hoot. Frederick also joined up with friends, Marty Eggers and Virginia Tichenor in the delightful Crown Syncopator sets and as an emcee.
Marty and Virginia also contributed greatly with solos of their own, performances together and with the Ragtime Skeddadlers. The Skeddaddlers, a string band group featuring performers Dennis Pash, Nick Robinson and Dave Krinkel with their authentic ragtime sound, perform such pieces as Cottonfield Capers by William Christopher O’Hare and Ernesto Nazareth’s Dengozo from arrangements published during the ragtime era. Nice to hear these quiet, eloquent arrangements.
What makes a festival very special are not only the planned surprises but also the serendipitous happenings. On Saturday afternoon, there was a brand new Festival Sampler program—a kind of patchwork quilt of offerings highlighting the diversity of the festival. A real hit! The Bella Grace Wine Tasting Room opened its side garden for a pleasing outdoor venue. Their side porch made for a perfect stage where Larisa Migachyov performed during an evening pizza and wine gathering. Larisa also brought singer par excellance, Candace Roberts, into the festival’s finale concert where she knocked our socks off with her stunning performance of a Cole Porter tune, Let’s Misbehave.
Sutter Creek welcomed new faces–youth performer John Reed–Torres, jazz performer Ray Skjelbred and classic ragtime pianist/violinist Bob Pinsker— to the lineup this year. All welcome additions. Composer/performer Galen Wilkes was back after missing several years. Both Bob and Galen not only performed but they also presented educational and edifying seminars. Bob performed a little known, unpublished number, The Untitled Fox Trot by Eubie Blake, which he found while researching ragtime era compositions at the Smithsonian. Galen played not only his own beautiful compositions and at one point even a series of them in a beautiful medley, but he also performed some little known gems.
The biggest surprises of the festival were the youth performers. Showing great maturity not only in their masterful playing but also in stage presence were Will Perkins, whose stride performances have an easy going loping feeling like he has been doing this for 50 years, but would you believe only five? Then there was Vincent Johnson, gracing and owning novelty piano, not only as a performer but also a composer. His Tiffany Lamp is luscious. The same with newcomer, John Reed–Torres, whose performances of his own and period classical rags show that he gets the style. Tim Rotolo was also back not only performing his upbeat and energetic Disneyesque–styled pieces but also showing musical maturity in his handling of the ballad, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? Then, along came thirteen year–old Diego Bustamante, affectionally known as “The Kid,” who performed not only on the Bradshaw and Ragnolia sets but also on the powerhouse youth concert with three stellar numbers. And if that wasn’t enough, later in the day, young Graham Messer, Frederick Hodge’s ten–year–old nephew performed a nearly perfect Elite Syncopations. The youthful presence throughout the festival gave new lift and life to the spirit of the weekend. Ragtime is thriving in these youthful hands.
Squeek Steele, always a hit, had folks in chairs 45 minutes before her Sunday morning hymn fest. Word has it that fans were singing right along, enjoying every note. Squeek was joined on several of her sets by banjo playing Gary Greenlund. Their playing of Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay was a great hit.
When it came to the finale concert, Stevens Price (emcee and performer) kept the show moving right along. This is the program where performers take to the stage alone for a single number and then call up someone else to perform with then. Tom Brier, a festival favorite, was called up to the stage so many times that Stevens was right when he quipped, “No rest for the wicked.” (Note to Stevens: Next year just add an extra chair to the stage and park Tom in it.)
And speaking of the finale concert, Patrick Aranda, who had been playing alone and duos with Carl Sonny Leyland all weekend outdid himself when that flashy red hot plastic trombone came out of the case. Carl added some wonderful boogie and blues to the festival. Mighty fine playing!
The Sacramento Ragtime Society players were well represented. The Raspberry Jam Band, flautist Julia Riley’s wonderful group of troupers–Doug Davies, John Massey, Shawn McCoy, Kitty Wilson and Cheryl Woldseth–with super star, Tom Brier at the piano, performed on Sunday, with stalwart fans following them from venue to venue. Other groups included the Bradshaw Duo, The Ragnolia Ragtette and the Sullivans and Drivons performing lots of classic to contemporary rags. This year Robyn and Steve Drivon had their own set of a singing and strumming Steve with Robyn providing the bass line on her tuba. Quite charming!
With this festival dedicated to the memory of Nan Bostick, festival tributes occurred throughout the weekend including some from the Ragtime Skeddadlers, Galen Wilkes, the Ragnolia Ragtette, and a moving performance of Nan’s own “That Missing You Rag” in the gentle hands of Larisa Migachyov.
A festival of this magnitude can’t happen without performers and fans, but the big thank you’s need to go to those behind the scenes workers who have put in tons of hours before the festival even happened. Festival Directors, Marilyn Norton and Dan Lucas, you are the greatest! It was a fantastic festival, start to finish.
Plans are already underway for next year’s festival to be held, August 9-11, 2013. Mark your calendars now! Although we can’t promise a little cooler weather, we do want you to know that we are serious about having that little chat with Mother Nature.