MUSCATINE — The 24th annual Eagles and Ivories Ragtime Festival will feature a weekend full of ragtime and stride, Dixieland jazz, traditional jazz and more. The festival begins with a free kick-off concert Jan. 26 at 9 a.m. at SunnyBrook, 3515 Diana Queen Drive., Muscatine, and runs through Jan. 28.
For the first time, Muscatine County Arts Council Co-Vice President Angela Woodhouse said the organization hopes to increase attendance by offering a contest at Muscatine schools. Children 16 or younger may attend the shows for free, and the arts council will track attendance by school.
The school with the highest number of students attending — including their accompanying parents or guardians — will win a $400 check from the arts council.
"We all know how difficult it is for teachers and how hard it is for them to pay for certain things in their classrooms," Woodhouse said. "And we've had a pretty good response because money is so tight in schools. We're hoping this will also give an experience to people they have not had before through this type of music."
In addition to the contest, the arts council will screen a silent movie to students at Jefferson Elementary School, with musical accompaniment by Jeff and Anne Barnhart.
While the silent movie plays, Jeff Barnhart will perform piano as the soundtrack, honoring the tradition of early silent movie theaters.
"[Jeff] is so great because he knows how to play the music, so if something really funny is going on or something really serious, he knows exactly how to play the music so it gets the kids' attention," she said. "So you see them laughing so hard or dancing in their seats and it's a great time."
Woodhouse said the showing is also a rare opportunity for elementary students to gain exposure to early styles of film.
"It's a great way to experience culture in music and art that they've never experienced before," she said. "And every time we've done this, the kids are so animated."
The rest of the weekend, Coordinator Dave Ales said, will follow a typical Eagles and Ivories schedule, with performances at Wesley United Methodist Church and the Muscatine Art Center, plus after hours events at Wine-Nutz on 2nd Street.
"One big thing this year is the restored (Wesley United Methodist Church), which was damaged last year in March and lost its pipe organ, and the Steinway piano was also damaged," Ales said. "But that's been repaired and the church is back in great shape."
This year, performers include Daniel Souvigny, a 16-year-old award-winning pianist and violinist, the Mad Creek Mudcats, a Muscatine ragtime and jazz group, the Locust Street Boys, a Dixieland band from the Quad-Cities, plus world renowned musicians Stephanie Trick and her husband Paolo Alderighi.
"For the first time we'll have performer Stephanie Trick, who is from St. Louis, and her husband is from Milan, Italy," Ales said. "They perform all over the world... and Stephanie has been one of the best piano players for a number of years even though she's a young woman, and her husband is classically trained. So we're looking forward to that."
Along with the performances, Ales said the ragtime festival coincides with the U.S. Corp of Engineers' Eagle Watch at the Pearl City Station on the riverfront, which usually brings nearly 500 people to the events each year.
"So this is the only place the Corps has some live music offered for them too during that and people turn out for that," he said.
Ales and Woodhouse said the Muscatine County Arts Council is making big plans for next year's 25th anniversary, and hopes to boost excitement for the anniversary this year.
"There are exciting things on the horizon for that, so this year, we thought let's try to get more people exposed to this type of music," Woodhouse said. "When people come, they like to come back. And it's not exactly what they expect and the level of musicianship is just incredible."
Tickets for this year's Eagles and Ivories Ragtime Festival are available in advance at Flowers on the Avenue and at the door. Each evening concert costs $20, afternoon concerts cost $15 and the Saturday silent movie is $5. A three-day concert package is $50. Children ages 16 or younger may attend all events for free.
For more information, visit muscatineartscouncil.org.