One more time...

The bright, brassy sounds of New Orleans and Tin Pan Alley return to Long Beach this weekend at the Ragtime Rhodie Dixieland Jazz Festival. Seven bands will perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 16-18 at the Long Beach Elks Club and Chautauqua Lodge.

But the 20th annual festival will also be the last.

Festival organizers, some of whom have been with the event since it began, are switching gears and planning a bluegrass festival for spring 2005.

But for one last time, the classic tunes of Louis Armstrong, Eubie Blake and Jelly Roll Morton will get fans dancing.

Performers include Hume Street and Electric Park from Aberdeen, Wash.; Uptown Lowdown, Prohibition and Uptown Swing from Seattle; and Black Swan from the Willamette Valley. The Ilwaco High School Jazz Band and Vocal Ensemble will also perform.

All-American blend

The Prohibition Jazz Band performs traditional "new Orleans" style Dixieland. Photo from www.prohibitionjazz.com.Dixieland harkens back to the early jazz sound of New Orleans, but is also inspired by everything from turn-of-the-century ragtime songs to swing numbers of the '30s like "Kansas City Stomp," "Maple Leaf Rag," "Everybody Loves My Baby" and other favorites.

The Long Beach festival got its start thanks to Wayne and Francis O'Neal, longtime Peninsula residents and Dixieland fans, who together with Neal and Mary O'Clair traveled to jazz festivals and developed a rapport with many of the performers, said organizer Ruth Ann Hocking. The O'Neals, who owned the Chinook Observer for many years, enthusiastically promoted the festival, and while Wayne O'Neal died a few years ago, Francis O'Neal remains an active part of the event.

Family affair

Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band from Seattle is a favorite at Northwest jazz festivals. Photo from www.uptownlowdownjazz.com.For many of the organizers, much of the fun is seeing familiar faces of fans who return to the festival year after year.

"It feels like family," said Hocking, who will be hosting the music all weekend long at the two Elks Club venues. "They're a wonderful bunch of people."

Another organizer, Kathy Long, wondered what she was getting into when she and her husband joined the festival committee a few years ago. But she's become a fan.

"The songs are so whimsical and fun," she said. "Just to listen to it, it makes you feel good."

Long said she also loves the energy of the dancers, many of whom dress up in 1920s costumes.

"The dancers are just amazing. Everyone has their own style," she said. "It's great to be in a room where people are having so much fun."

End of an era?

Dixieland fans come dressed to party, like these at a previous Ragtime Rhodie festival. Photo by www.beachdog.com.But the festival, like other Dixieland events around the country, has seen attendance gradually decline in the past several years. Long said organizers had hoped that fans of the swing revival might lend an ear to Dixieland jazz, but with audiences continuing to shrink and costs rising, the event's organizers decided the time was right to try something else.

Hocking said bluegrass music draws a broader age range, and also has fans who, like Dixieland enthusiasts, travel from festival to festival to enjoy the music - and patronize local businesses between performances, a key for organizers hoping to bring local merchants some customers during the off-season.

Photo by Lori Assa.If you go ...

What: The 20th annual Ragtime Rhodie Dixieland Jazz Festival

When: 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 16, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday, April 17 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 18

Where: The Elks Club and Chautauqua Lodge in Long Beach, Wash. A free shuttle is available between the two venues.

How much: Complete weekend admission is $50 in advance or $55 at the door. Saturday only is $35, Friday or Sunday only is $25.

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