Saturday was Mighty Uke day in Lansing's Old Town and I never knew ukuleles could be so much fun! All this plus Happy Hour! The place was so packed that the restaurant hosting the open mic had to have had one of their best days ever! (And if Elderly Instruments didn't sell a ton of ukes, I wouldn't doubt that they will!)
My experience with ukuleles was seeing them in movies -- generally with bear skin coats, doing the Charleston and singing "Varsity Rag." Then, of course, there is the Hawaiian sound, ukes on the beach, swaying hula skirts, setting sun, leis. But it is so much more!
The event included open mic periods (that had been scheduled -- more on that later!) and a screening of the movie "Mighty Uke." (You can also hear a Susan Stamberg take on this and some great music from the film at NPR.)
You may or may not be a ukulele fan -- you might be one and not even know you are! But if you watch this terrific film, you may well discover a new passion! You will also discover Jake Shimabukuro (below, courtesy Tiny Goat Films., Ltd./NPR), one of the astounding musicians featured that gives new depth and dimension to the simple ukelele.
You will also "meet" numerous uke players from around the world, including an amazing class of high school students from near Vancouver, Canada, where every child learns the ukulele as part of school. The things these kids do simply defies belief.
Filmmaker Tony Coleman introduced the film and did a Q&A after.
He and Margaret Meagher, his co-producer on the film, then staffed the t-shirt/DVD table. Rick bought a DVD -- on the back Leonard Maltin says everyone should also watch every single on of the 10 shorts after the movie -- they are wee movies in themselves and simply wonderful.
The movie introduced us to a number of uke players and one I was familiar with, Kimo Hussey, who played the Great Lakes Folk Festival last year. I had a chance to spend some time speaking with him and he was such a geuninely nice guy. I was glad he was featured.
Then came the local performances -- in the two-hour mic segment we saw (there was an earlier one) about eight area/regional groups performed. They were all fun and there was a lot of singing along. This one is the MMUGS (Mid-Michgian Ukelele Group Strum).
This MMUG is my work buddy Mike Mihalus.
Rachael Davis is pretty much of a local star in our region of the folk world. (You can see her performance on WKAR's BackStage Pass here -- or perhaps in your community, on your PBS station!)
This isn't the best photo -- but it really captures her joy at playing this wee little instrument!
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Magdalen Fossum. I think she's 10 and had just recently played at the Ark in Ann Arbor, introduced below by organizer Ben Hassenger.
As Mike said, "I wouldn't have wanted to follow her!"
She sang several songs, including a Boswell Sisters scat number called "Heebie Jeebies" and at times sounded just like Billie Holliday!
Another favorite was The Fabulous Heftones with Brian Hefferan and Lynn Hershberger. Lynn is also a terrific knitter, pattern designer and yarn-dyer making some of the loveliest wool ever!
They played old-time, 1920a-style uke -- fast, furious, fun! Dressed to the nines and playing everything from songs like "Shine on Harvest Moon" to ragtime, they were a wonderful way to end the day.
So, was it uke overkill? No way! The thing I learned in the film about the instrument (and also watching the acts) is that almost anyone can play it. Sure, like every instrument, there are degrees of difficulty and if you are fortunate enough to see the Mighty Uke film, you'll see exactly what I mean. (Imagine the fastest classical piece you know on a uke.)
It's the people's instrument. You can play it alone, you can play it with friends. You can teach a four-year-old, you can be like one fellow in the movie still playing -- 101. You can play as easy or difficult music as you choose to practice. You can accompany yourself singing. Add a kazoo or slap the wood of the uke, and you're a band!
And perhaps best of all, it makes people smile.
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