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Style Magazine

Rollicking Rhythms

Jul 09, 2013 08:54AM ● By Style

Photo by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group

Sutter Creek attracts visitors year-round with its rich Gold Rush heritage and rustic charm, but come August, music lovers and history buffs alike will flock to the jewel of the Mother Lode to enjoy the rollicking sounds of ragtime-era music.

The Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival is a labor of love for members of the Mother Lode Ragtime Society. Following the success of 1999’s inaugural festival, the passionate group banded together to “ensure that all pianos and miscellaneous instruments in and around this picturesque Gold Rush town issue ragtime music.”

This year’s event will take place August 9-11 throughout five venues. More than 30 acts, including the Crown Syncopators, Elliot Adams, Virginia Tichenor, Tom Brier, and Jack & Chris Bradshaw, are expected to draw nearly 300 people to the small town of Sutter Creek with performances of classic stride, boogie, and novelty piano tunes of days gone by.  

“[It’s] a smaller, more intimate festival than many and there is a greater than usual chance of having a private, casual conversation with a performer,” explains volunteer coordinator Kathy Berg of the festival’s unique appeal. “The musicians are very appreciative of the volunteers, and will often stop to thank and chat with them.”


Pat Aranda

Photo by Lewis Motisher.

With “Early Bird Special” three-day passes (on sale through the 15th) priced at just $65 and single-day tickets starting at $15, organizers have ensured that the family-friendly event is not only fun, but affordable for fans of all ages. Since its inception, the event has been run much like a non-profit organization—the entirely volunteer staff generously donates their time and resources, and money from ticket sales goes directly to festival expenses such as performer fees, advertising and supplies.

“As I see it, the trick to making this festival successful is to keep it informal so musicians can perform what they want with whomever they want,” shares festival organizer Dan Lucas. “When they do that, the music just gets better and better. Just as important, though, is the atmosphere of Sutter Creek. It’s casual and relaxing for the performers and attendees alike. It is a unique place for a unique festival.”

Since 2009, Lucas and his wife Marilyn Norton, along with a dedicated team of volunteers, have donated countless hours to planning and producing the festival. They hope to eventually find board members for the Mother Lode Ragtime Society and gain official 501(c) status.  

“The most challenging aspect of running the festival,” Lucas says, “is getting a good team of volunteers to help. The most rewarding aspect is to see the enjoyment of the people who attend…and the performers who keep coming back.”

“What we are most looking forward to at this year’s festival, as always, is the magic that happens when the music begins,” Norton adds. “The musicians get warmed up, begin playing off each other, improvising. As that happens, it’s so delightful to watch the folks in the audience come alive and become completely involved in the music. We truly enjoy watching this happen.”

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