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MUSCATINE — If you've heard an ice cream truck drive by, you've likely also heard ragtime music.

"The Entertainer," one of composer Scott Joplin's most recognized songs and other piano music popularized by its syncopated rhythm swept the U.S. in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

In its 25th year, Muscatine's Eagles and Ivories Ragtime Weekend, Jan. 24-27, will bring those kind of classics and even more "top-notch music" to town, said Dave Ales, event organizer and founder. "These are absolutely the best pianists you can find for ragtime in the world." 

Ragtime, Ales said, is "the original American music. It was the precursor to blues and jazz." And that's what concert goers can expect.

The festival, sponsored by the Muscatine Arts Council, will feature Ivory & Gold, a husband-and-wife duo of vocalist Jeff Barnhart on piano and vocalist Anne Barnhart on flute. The couple have headlined Eagles and Ivories for 11 years and will perform the first concert to introduce the festival.

"We're very fortunate," Ales said, "Jeff is probably the outstanding jazz musician and ragtime musician in the world."

Nearly a dozen groups will perform over the weekend at several locations in the city including the Muscatine Art Center and Wesley United Methodist Church. New to the list of venues this year is the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center, which will host the Thursday night concert and After Hours concerts.

The art center will host silent movies with piano accompaniment by Marty Mincer and a concert by David Majchzak. Both musicians have played in Muscatine before.

"It's really a community event," said Ales. "To put something like this on for 25 years is pretty remarkable."

Al Brotherton, trombonist for the Mad Creek Mudcats, has been attending the event every year since its inception.

"I just look forward to the whole thing every year," he said. "I very much enjoy the music and participating."

He said he likes playing ragtime music because he likes the style.

"It's upbeat music," he said. "It's just very friendly music and it's nice to listen to. He also said he's amazed at how technically complex ragtime and jazz were in the past and how it's "devilishly difficult to play." The Mudcats have been playing ragtime and early jazz for about 15 years, with the same musicians for the last five. 

"A band like that," he said, "after you've been together for awhile, it's a social event. It's friends getting together to do something they enjoy."

Brotherton and band will bring that joy and refers to Ales as "The Godfather" of Eagles and Ivories. He said 25 years is a big deal and "quite an accomplishment for a festival of what's really obscure music."

For those interested in the weekend, Brotherton said, "give it a try."

"You probably will like it."

The "eagles" part of Eagles and Ivories is a bald eagle watch Saturday morning on the riverfront.

Eagle watch part of weekend, too

Muscatine County Conservation Naturalist and Park Ranger Dave Bakke said the watch is coupled with the ragtime festival to share information and the story of recovery of one of the nation's symbols.

The bald eagle used to be included on the federal list of endangered species. It's removal from that list and its comeback will be shared at the eagle watch. 

Bakke said during that time, eagle egg shells were so weak, when the birds would sit on them, the eggs would crack under the weight and that contributed to the decline in population. Eagles only lay eggs once per cycle. 

The eagle watch will feature spotting scopes and binoculars for spotting the eagles along the river and the RARE Group, a raptor rehabilitation clinic, from Iowa City will have a live barn owl, red-tail hawk and American kestrel for people to see. The birds are taken care of by the clinic because they are unable to be released into the wild.

"I think people will really enjoy that," Bakke said, "getting a close up view of the birds."

As for an up-close look of an eagle, Bakke said there won't be a live one in Pearl City Station this year, but there may be a taxidermy eagle for people to see the size of an average adult bird. He also said it's good that some "real winter weather" has hit the area because eagles scavenge for food along frozen rivers.

Bakke said near Lock and Dam 50, there have been 4-8 eagles recently spotted, but with more ice on the river there may be as many as 50-60.

The eagle is a "big, impressive bird," Bakke said, "and people like to get out to see them."

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