Committee finalizes plans for Magic City Ragtime & Jazz Festival

Published 3:51 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

By Ann Matheny


The Magic City Ragtime and Jazz Festival Committee recently met to finalize plans for the event that will take place June 21 – 23.  Tony Maxwell is the overall chairman for the Festival which is a program of the Bell County Historical Society, and is being sponsored by multiple local businesses, organizations and persons.

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Melissa Turner, director of the Bell County Chamber of Commerce, and Celia Shoffner, director of Middlesboro Main Street, are joint chairpersons for the gala dinner that will kick off the Festival on Friday night.  They reported that the catered dinner, which will be preceded by a reception with wine and appetizers at the Bell County Museum, will be held outside on 20th Street and will include music and entertainment under the direction of Amy Simpson.  This is a ticketed event and is already almost sold out.

Saturday will feature music and events all day throughout downtown Middlesboro, all of them free.

John and Beth Parker, who are in charge of music, announced that they have procured four professional ragtime/jazz groups, each of which will give 3 performances at different venues around town.  Blair Crimmins and The Hookers will be on the Levitt Amp Stage. The Victorian Garden at the Arthur Museum (American Association Building) will host the Sparks Trio.  The Jackson Alley Cats will be at the Middlesboro Public Library Garden and the Braden Jones Trio at the garden at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

Each of these sites will also host a master craftsman and apprentice who will demonstrate period crafts and have their wares for sale.  These crafts include fiddle making, coopering, gourd art and Appalachian agriculture.  The craftsmen are being provided through a grant from the Bowling Family Project at Southeast Community College.

Tony told the group that a professional storyteller, Anne Shelby, will give three performances, one of them especially for children, and will have her books available for purchase. She will be well remembered by those who attended her performance at the Bell Theatre last year as Aunt Molly Jackson.

Jane Cambron, who is in charge of children’s activities, stated that she has been given permission to use the grassy area next to the Christian Church. She has procured a number of games children played during the 1890s and early 1900s plus children’s books from the period.  The latter will be given free to children, courtesy of a grant.

Activities at the Bell County Museum will be supervised by Jes’Anne Givens and Piddle Osborne.  The museum will be open all day on Saturday with guided tours available and short talks scheduled on Ben Harney, originator of ragtime, and his wife Jessie, and on early Middlesboro.  Piddle announced that the back room of the museum will be turned into an 1890s saloon with bartenders in period dress offering complimentary glasses of sarsaparilla (root beer) and that new-fangled drink Coca-Cola, which originated in 1886.

Donna Smith of the Middlesborough Garden Club stated that her group will have a flower show entitled “All That Jazz” at the American Association Building which will be open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m.

Although scheduled events will be over at 5 on Saturday, music will continue at Shades and Ike’s throughout the evening.

Buffy Dunnaville and Larry Cadle are in charge of the closing event, a gospel sing-along on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m.  It will feature Larry on the fiddle along with his instrumental group.  It will close in time for everyone to attend his or her own church service.

The committee expressed the hope that the Magic City Ragtime and Jazz Festival will become an annual event to celebrate the unique place Bell County holds in the history of modern music.