Walking into the Missouri Theatre on Monday afternoon was like walking straight into the past, where ragtime reigned supreme and musicians conquered the crowd. Two large pianos pressed against each other on stage, and the lights beamed on a solo artist pounding away at the piano during the “Blind” Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival. The powerful piano player with the patriotic vest and top hat, however, was not the usual performer at the festival, which ends tonight. Instead, 15-year-old Adam Swanson added a new spice for the ordinary salt and pepper festival-goers.
Swanson, originally from Michigan, started playing ragtime on his piano five years ago, learning from his mother. Since then, he has attended festivals as far away as Hungary. Despite being so young, Swanson said talented older musicians don’t intimidate him.
“Everyone here is so nice,” Swanson laughed, showing his braces. “I’ll just play as long as they let me.”
Swanson will perform at 7:30 tonight with the other headliners of the festival at the Missouri Theatre.
This is Swanson’s third time playing at the “Blind” Boone Festival.
“I just sat down and started playing,” Swanson reminisced about his first time at the festival. “Lucille (the director of the event) invited me back officially this year.”
As Swanson intently watched the action on stage with sparkling eyes, fellow performer Bob Ault, 58, raved about Swanson’s performance.
“He’s frighteningly good,” Ault chuckled, and twisted his handlebar mustache, but then took on a serious tone. “We’ve got to have these younger kids (playing), if we don’t, this thing is going to die.”
Adam Swanson isn’t the only young performer keeping ragtime alive at the festival this year. Benjamin Anderson, 10, of Columbia, entertained the crowd on Sunday afternoon.
Anderson became interested in ragtime after learning how to play the piano three years ago.
“I like listening to my Scott Joplin CD,” he said, and then cheerily added, “I like him a lot. His music is just really good.”
Like Swanson, Anderson became involved with the festival because of its director, Lucille Salerno. Clay Anderson, a physician at MU who shares his son’s love of ragtime, explained Salerno’s role.
“Lucille heard him play a ragtime song and asked him if he wanted to learn more. I think she even mailed him a CD.”
While Anderson loves the piano, he also enjoys the violin, which he started playing after a visit from the Missouri String Project, a program run through the MU School of Music, about a year ago.
“People came to my school and showed us the instruments, and then I started taking lessons.”
Anderson plays with groups of about eight other children his age two times a week during the school year through the program, which gets younger children involved with string instruments. The group has played at the Blue Note and will be playing during this year’s Twilight Festival.
Clay Anderson also commented on Swanson’s performance, which Benjamin and he saw on Sunday.
“That kid is amazing! There aren’t very many young kids playing this kind of music,” Clay Anderson said. “They are a special breed in a style of music that is uniquely American.”