Alive and well: Musicians gather to celebrate ragtime at festival

Known for its uneven, ragged rhythm, ragtime music saw its heyday at the turn of the 19th century eventually get overtaken by jazz and other genres. It made several small revivals, most notably when composer Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” was the theme song for the 1973 hit movie “The Sting,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

While it may not be among the most popular music genres, ragtime is being kept alive by a small group of musicians, some of whom will perform at the upcoming Central Pennsylvania Ragtime & American Music Festival Sept. 23 to 25 at several venues in the Orbisonia/Rockhill Furnace area.

“It’s an intimate gathering, and I go back for the music, but also for the people, the musicians and the people who come to listen,” said pianist Bryan S. Wright, who has played the music fest since it started in 2009. “It’s not an especially common musical genre these days … and a rather small group of performers specialize in this genre. The festival is a way for performers scattered all over the United States to get together to play each other’s music and the music of a century ago.”

All-inclusive, three-day tickets are $125, but there are a lot of opportunities to pick selected concerts, said festival organizer and director David Brightbill. For example, the concerts on Friday night and Saturday afternoon at Orbisonia Presbyterian Church cost $30 each; a Saturday-only pass is $75 and includes a workshop, an afternoon and evening concerts, dinner at the Rockhill Trolley Museum pavilion and an evening concert; and the Sunday picnic and concert are $40.

No tickets are needed for the Ragtime Free-for-All at the Rockhill Trolley Museum on Saturday or the Sunday morning “Ragtime Goes to Church” service at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Mount Union. All of the venues are within walking distance, except for St. Luke’s, which is 11 miles north on Route 522 from Orbisonia.

At the Free-for-All, “anyone who wishes may have time at our piano located at the Trolley Museum,” said Brightbill. “If there is no interest from the public in this, several of our performers play and many times will honor requests from that era. As people relax under the Trolley pavilion, the museum’s collection of operating streetcars soldier past on the trolley tracks offering rides to those visitors.”

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Brightbill, who spearheaded the festival in 2009, for years was the conductor for the East Broad Top Railroad, and he still owns the Iron Rail Bed & Breakfast, one of the fest’s venues.

One of the headliners, Wright was classically trained as a pianist and now specializes in ragtime and early jazz piano styles. A native of Lynchburg, Va., Wright earned his doctorate in musicology from the University of Pittsburgh and was the 2013 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation’s artist in residence.

He and his wife, Yuko Eguchi Wright, have performed and lectured on ragtime across the United States and abroad, and they will perform together at the Central PA festival.

“We specialize in 1910s and ’20s, vaudeville-type songs,” Wright said.

Other performers this year, including:

* Percussionist Danny Coots, who has appeared in more than 100 countries and has recorded extensively, including one that won a Grammy.

* Brian Holland, who frequently performs with Coots, is an internationally renowned pianist, composer, recording artist and entertainer whose musical career has spanned more than 35 years. He repeatedly won the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest, and he has 15 recordings, including one nominated for a Grammy.

* Richard Dowling, who appears regularly across America in solo recitals, at classical chamber music festivals, ragtime/jazz music festivals, and as guest soloist in concerto engagements with symphony orchestras. He has played the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and has a dozen-plus recordings of classical, chamber, ragtime, jazz and popular music.

* Frederick Hodges, who trained as a concert pianist, but also is a soloist, singer and dance-band pianist. His repertoire includes ragtime, stride and novelty piano solo pieces. He has appeared on national television and radio, as well as in several Hollywood films.

* Daniel Souvigny, who is the three-time Junior Champ of the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing contest. Earlier this year, at the age of 15, he became the youngest to ever take second place in the adult division, which was moved from Peoria, Ill., to Oxford, Miss. His first CD, “Tearin’ Up the Keys,” was released in 2013, and in 2015 he released his second album, “Possibilities,” featuring fellow festival headliner Coots.

Special guests will include Tom Alvord, a singer, banjo player, and all-around entertainer who involves audiences in singing, stories and dancing; singers Angelina and Ashley Leyva, 10-year-old twins from Paramus, N.J., who play piano, guitar, bass guitar, ukulele and trombone; and Steve Standiford, who has performed at the Scott Joplin Festival in Missouri since 1997 and plays piano, string bass, tuba, and does vocals for several Dixieland and traditional jazz bands.

“We’re a small group, but an active group,” said Wright. “We’re writing new music, seeing how far we can go with it. … I see (ragtime) as a genre that has continued to grow and change with the times.”

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.