From the Sutter Creek Ragtime Pandemic

Just when you thought it could not be done, the Sutter Creek Ragtime Pandemic was held on August 15, 2020. This event reminds me of the Kansas state motto “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (for those of you who do not remember your Latin “To the stars with difficulty”). Kansas became a state through great difficulties, much like this event. In spite of heat and the pandemic, ragtime prevailed. Where there is a will, there is a way, the will being that of Stevens and Jan Price and a group of intrepid musicians.

After many difficulties, the festival this year became a one-day series of performances and an evening concert. Musicians participating in this event were (in alphabetical order): Elliott Adams, Michael Chisholm, Paul Orsi, Stevens Price, Julia Riley, Anthony Sarginson, and Virtual Tom Brier (thanks to Ron O’Dell). In thirty-minute intervals, these musicians performed singly, in organized groups and spontaneous combinations. There was even a spontaneous sing-along.

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The event, if you are familiar with Sutter Creek and its environs, was held behind the hotel next to the old Ice Cream Emporium in the hotel parking lot. The area was shaded by colorful umbrellas and a misting system was used to reduce the heat. The recording piano from the hotel and an electronic piano were provided. The performance area was backed by a partition which improved greatly the sound which is often lost in an outdoor setting. In addition to the partition behind the pianos, the parking lot is lower than the street level on one side and the other two sides are brick buildings. These things created a natural outdoor auditorium.

2020 Sutter Creek
The Hedgehogs—from left, Elliott Adams and Michael Chisholm on pianos and Julia Riley on flute and piccolo – perform “Angry” in 115° heat at the Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival. (photo by Rob Thomas via YouTube)

The day started with Paul Orsi and a spontaneous sing-along. This was followed by a rotation of musicians and groups every thirty minutes. Some groups were planned, like the “New Hedgehogs,” which consisted of Elliott Adams and Michael Chisholm on piano and Julia Riley on flute and piccolo and unplanned partnerships such as Anthony Sarginson and Michael Chisholm and Stevens Price and Elliott Adams. There were performances of well-known numbers as well as original compositions. Some other combinations of performers were Elliott Adams and Michael Chisholm, Michael Chisholm and Julia Riley, Anthony Sarginson and Julia Riley and virtual Tom Brier on the recording piano with Julia Riley. The Virtual Tom recordings were some made on the same recording piano used in this festival, made at the hotel in Sutter Creek in about 2008.

A small, but enthusiastic audience remained throughout the heat of the day (reported to be 107 degrees Fahrenheit), masked, socially distanced, and determined as only ragtime enthusiasts could be. Available for sale were “A Ragtime Pandemic” masks and t-shirts. Performances were recorded by Rob Thomas, sure to be on you tube in due course. The quality of these recordings is excellent in spite of the difficulty of playing in the extreme heat with sweaty fingers.

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With the history of the “Pandemic Festival” firmly in in the record books, we look forward to next year’s 23rd annual “Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival” which will take place on August 13 – 15th, 2021. We look forward to seeing you there.

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