The 27th annual Big Muddy Folk Festival attracted more than 1,000 spectators from at least three states to Thespian and Turner Halls in downtown Boonville on Friday, April 6 and Saturday, April 7.
“I like the music, folk music. A lot of times we don’t get to see a lot of our friends but once a year and this is the time,“ said Dan Crawford of Boonville, who with his wife Lari has attended 20 of the 27 Big Muddy Folk Festivals.
The festival featured nine groups and artists of varying musical genres performing to a full-house audience on the oldest remaining stage west of the Mississippi River. Acting as masters of ceremonies for the event were Dave Para and Tilly Tyrell who introduced each act standing before a steamboat helm dedicated to the memory of “Missouri River Bard” Bob Dyer.
The festivities began at 7 P.M. on April 6 with singers Sparky and Rhonda Rucker performing folk and civil rights classics. Ozark-based Marideth Sisco and Blackberry Winter preformed next while preceding festival stalwarts Dave Para and Cathy Barton, who were accompanied by fiddler Lauralyn Bodle. Saint Louis jazz band The Gaslight Squares capped the evening with improvised and their signature syncopated impressions of jazz standards.
“They were all good because they were different and we enjoyed every one of them, and the jazz was extra special” explained the Crawfords.
After the first night concerts, attendees and artists retired to historic Turner Hall for a dance called by Claire Baffaut.
In addition to each act performing on either night of the schedule, musicians conducted one-hour workshops for attendees on the morning and afternoon of Saturday, April 7.
In one such featured The Gaslight Squares, the “traditional jazz band” based in St. Louis, mentored a dozen select students from the Boonville High School Silver Pirate Band. The session was predominantly guided by The Gaslight Squares trumpeter and cornetist T.J. Muller with added input from tenor banjo and guitarist Ryan Calloway.
“We do several festivals a year; arts society concerts and stuff like that“ explained Muller, a native of Cumbria, England, United Kingdom.
Over the course of the hour session, Muller and Calloway instructed the students both individually and as a group on the principles of jazz techniques and improvisation. The experience for students culminated in a “Dixieland” Jazz rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“This is the best,” exclaimed Muller of working with the BHS students, “I wish I could do this every week because I really enjoyed it. It’s great to be taking this music to new corners of the Midwest and be representing traditional jazz as people typically thing traditional jazz is only in New Orleans and New York but the Midwest has a rich history of jazz.”
Other workshop offerings included artists sharing insight on the community and social inspirations for their music in addition to fiddle, Celtic and iconic American folk song jam sessions. The lunch on April 7 was presented by Big Muddy Barbeque with proceeds contributing to the continued operations and preservation projects of the Friends of Historic Boonville.
The Saturday evening concert began with pianist and vocalist Phyllis Dale, better known in her half-century performing as “Red Hot Mama.” Trio na Skylark followed with their brand of woodwind, harp and bagpipe-fueled Irish, Celtic selections. Michael Miles and Lloyd Brodnax King led the show into intermission with their combination of Miles unconventional banjo and King’s jazz flute.
Rounding out the evening and 2018 festival after intermission were solo guitarist/vocalist Matt Watroba and string-Irish accordion ensemble Charm City Junction.    
“We like to support the preservation of historic properties,“ explained Lari Crawford regarding why she and her husband Dan continue to support the Big Muddy Folk Festival, which also supports the initiatives of the Friends of Historic Boonville.
The Big Muddy Folk Festival marks the first of three major events for the Friends of Historic Boonville with the Sundown Concert Series in the Hain House Garden on June 1, 8 and 15 and 43rd annual Missouri River Festival of the Arts scheduled for August 23 through 26 2018.
“I love the town of Boonville. It’s a wonderful town with wonderful people,” concluded Dan Crawford on what attracts and and Lari back to the festival each year.