Elks sending Evergreen a Ragtime Valentine

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By Stephen Knapp

Mountain-area music mavens will have a lot more to love this Valentine’s Day, as the Evergreen Elks’ long-awaited Ragtime Bash comes roaring back into town in a backbeat blaze of syncopated savoir faire.

The cabaret-style fun kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, with a VIP Valentine’s Day Dinner and Concert at the Evergreen Elks Lodge on Iris Drive. More melodies are in store for Saturday, with a frothy selection of “Saloon Tunes” on tap all afternoon in the dining room, and an evening concert slated from 7 to 10 p.m. A rollicking Ragtime roundup fills out the playbill from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. While tickets can be purchased for individual shows, guests with a $90 VIP ticket won’t have to miss a single note all weekend, and the money raised will help fund the more than two dozen local charities and nonprofits the Elks support.

This year’s piano-palooza is playing under the title “Ragtime Bash Again” for the very good reason that it’s been taking a rather generous break. Longtime Elk and area resident George Keeler kicked off the original Ragtime Bash in 1994. A talented Ragtime performer himself, Keeler had attended dozens of Ragtime festivals from the Cascades to the Catskills and figured Evergreen could play that tune by heart.

“I wondered why we couldn’t have a Ragtime festival right here,” says Keeler, who started bedeviling an 88-key upright in Central City back in 1988. “We had the contacts, the talent, and an unbeatable venue, and I’d already seen what works and what doesn’t. I pitched the idea to the Elks, and they went for it.”

Evergreen went for it, too, and in a big way. The first Ragtime Bash struck a chord with nearly 400 aficionados, a number that easily doubled by 2001 when Keeler got sidetracked by personal business and the event went on extended hiatus. But Keeler’s back, the bash is on track, and of talent there will be no lack. As ever, Ragtime Bash Again will feature five of the best Ragtime performers who ever tickled the ivories.

“We’ll have two concert grand pianos set up in the ballroom, and two uprights in the dining room,” Keeler says. “They’ll be going all weekend.”

Billing themselves “Ivory & Gold,” Jeff and Anne Barnhart of Connecticut are renowned for serving up Jeff’s red-hot Ragtime chops with a cool side of Anne’s piquant flute accompaniment. A veteran bandleader and international favorite, Jeff’s Ragtime resume reads like a who’s-who of the genre, including prominent record labels in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom, and celebrated names like Ralph Sutton, Neville Dickie and Brian Holland.

Speaking of Brian Holland, the Dallas-based musician will be warming a piano bench of honor come Feb. 14. Three times a World Old-Time Piano Playing Champion, Holland’s laid-back personality, dynamic presentation and innovative musical style have earned him a 2014 Grammy nomination.

Folks who attended even one of the previous bashes will recognize Bob Milne, because he’s played at all of them. That’s a little surprising, because Milne is a man in demand. Considered by many to be the best Ragtime/boogie-woogie pianist alive today, in 2004 the celebrated Michigander was declared a “National Treasure” and has since been working for the State Department as a “musical ambassador” to Ragtime-starved audiences from the Okinawan Islands to the Swiss Parliament.

An Arvada resident, Dick Kroeckel started his musical journey right here in Evergreen back in the early 1960s. Called away to tour for Uncle Sam, he performed at military bases across the country and, in 1976, on a segment of Charles Kuralt’s popular “On the Road” series for CBS Evening News. Since returning to his Centennial State roots, Kroeckel has been a Ragtime regular at venues from Georgetown to Estes Park and all piney points between.

Last, but not least, unless you count birthdays, 22-year-old Adam Swanson of Shenandoah, Iowa, is a remarkably accomplished young fellow. Three years ago Swanson played Carnegie Hall, and earlier this year he packed them in at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., qualifying him as a rapidly rising star in the Ragtime realm.

But if Keeler has lined up some very high-caliber musicians, the Ragtime Bash Again is first and foremost about the sometimes poignant, often playful, and always passionate music. Emerging from the saloons and brothels of the South and Midwest in the 1890s, Ragtime dominated the American hit parade for nearly three decades, and, for those who listen close, its exuberance, pathos and good humor can still be heard deep within today’s Top 40.

“It’s the first genuinely American music,” Keeler explains. “All subsequent forms of American music — jazz, country, all of it — grew out of Ragtime. The energy is incredible.”

To learn more about Ragtime Bash Again, to purchase tickets, or to explore sponsorship opportunities, call Rita Collette at 720-272-9165, or visit www.evergreenelkslodge.com/ragtime-bash/.