Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Denver Uke Fest: Part 2

Day two of the Denver Ukulele Festival started bright and early at the L2 Culture and Events Center in Denver. A beautiful old building that had been carefully maintained and updated, it was quite a contrast to the previous night's venue.

The weather for the morning was cold and rainy, so I was happy when I finally made it to the center. It turns out an Aloha shirt isn't nearly as festive if you're dripping wet. Once I walked in I was immediately treated to the sight of ukuleles everywhere! Oceana Ukuleles had a booth set up right next to the door and had some beautiful ukes to show. Across from them was Denver Folklore Center's collection of ukes, most of them from Kala and Fluke. I dutifully examined them all and made my way over to the table I was really looking for, manned by Music Guy Mic. If you don't know him, Mike Aratani is a staple in the online uke community. He was one of the top eBay uke sellers until a nasty illness forced him into the hospital and out of business. He seems to be greatly recovered and is now working for Hawaii Music Supply.

I immediately trotted myself over to Mike and informed him how great it was to see him and how important he is to the uke community. He looked positively frightened. My limited experience with Hawaiians is that they tend to be pretty reserved, and I think the Colorado attitude of "every stranger is a best friend you haven't met yet" might be a bit off-putting. No matter, I managed to score yet another blurry picture of another uke celebrity, and then it was time to drool over the ukes.

Music Guy Mic (Mike Aratani). He's truly a giant in the uke community. No, really, that's a tenor he's holding.
He's massive.
Mike brought with him a selection of ukes from actual Hawaiian builders. I finally got a chance to do some side-by-side comparisons with Kanilea, Koaloha, and Kamaka. They all sounded great, but the Koaloha can't be beat for volume, and the Kanilea can't be beat for looks. If you want simple class, Kamaka's the ticket. But here I am comparing the various models as if I could come close to affording any of them. I might as well be a hobo discussing the merits of a '78 Montrachet versus a '45 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

Mike's fantastic selection of ukes included these beauties from Kanilea. When I noticed that the fret markers were inlaid Hawaiian beach sand, I contemplated the distance to the door, but my stupid conscience got the better of me. That, and I wasn't wearing my special uke-thefting sneakers.
At the next table was Mya Moe Ukuleles, with Char and Gordon Mayer answering questions and pitching their wares. Aaron Keim was on hand to explain for the thousandth time how he managed to get a black eye (something about his wife being lactose intolerant and tennis balls...I don't know, I was looking at the ukes).

Gordon Mayer and Aaron Keim show off their Mya Moe ukes and assorted battle injuries.
Either May Moe worked out a deal with the artists or these are the best ukes ever, because almost every artist that wasn't performing with a signature model was using a Mya Moe. My guess is the artist that gets his or her own Mya Moe signature uke will rule the world—a "one uke to rule them all" sort of thing.

At the table next to Mya Moe I'm greeted by an extremely friendly Aaron Nakamura from Ukulele Underground. He tells me I look familiar, and I tell him he looks familiar. (Well of course he looks familiar. Good job, brain.) Aaron was being polite, as I'm about as famous as...well, someone you've never heard of, because they're not famous. Wow, I suck at analogies. Oh wait, that's good—I'm as bad at analogies as I am at being famous.

Aaron was accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Aldrine. Aldrine and I go way back to the night before, when I took the world's worst picture with him. I tried my luck again and scored yet another blurry picture. I'm starting to wonder whether I don't have some sort of nerve condition. I stammer a few words to Aldrine about Ukulele Underground and how awesome he is, see the same look that I elicited from Music Guy Mic not more than a few minutes before, and think maybe I should stop talking to people today. In case you're reading this, Aldrine, I promise at the next uke fest to just give a simple nod of the head from a respectable distance, so please come back for "UkeFest 6: The Ukening."

Aldrine Blurrero, wardrobe assistant to the exceptional Aaron Nakamura
My first workshop was about to start, so I headed into the auditorium and grabbed a seat (yay! upholstery!). I was attending the "Swing and Ukes and You" session with Larry Wyatt from Hapa Hillbillies. Unfortunately, there weren't enough handouts to go around, but I muddled my way through and still learned all kinds of cool things. Well, learned may be the wrong word, because when I got home I tried them and realized that the awesome sound I was hearing during the session was apparently everyone else in the auditorium, because I still suck at playing the ukulele. No matter, it's all about having fun (if I keep saying that, eventually I'll believe it).

That session ended, and the next one started a few minutes later. "Hard Uke Rhythms Made Easy" with Aldrine! As soon as Aldrine took to the stage I walked up to him, threw up on his shirt, and stepped on his ukulele. At least, that's what I anticipated happening, so I acted nonchalant and waited to learn how these hard uke rhythms were going to get any easier. It turns out Aldrine is an excellent teacher, and I got some great tips out of it. I suppose I could tell you all what I learned, but first I'd have to remember it. Nice job, brain, you're really helping me out this weekend.

INTERMISSION—Chipotle for lunch! Folks, I happen to be one of those people who has the genetic makeup that means that, to me, cilantro tastes like slug vomit. If you've ever been to a Chipotle, you know that their menu consists of "cilantro mixed with a few other things." My brain was apparently trying to prove to me just how bad I can be at making decisions.

The next workshop was "Six-Two-Five-What?" with Ronnie Otiveros, also of the Hapa Hillbillies. It turns out I remember a lot of this session. Unfortunately, I don't really understand any of it. Apparently chords are also numbers, and if you're bad at math, you can suck at chords too. There's a reason why this blog is called "Ukulele Newbie" and not "Awesome Frickin' Ukulele Player, Bitches." I guess I still have a bit more learning to do.

The next session with Aaron Keim, "Breaking Out of the Strumming Rut," was awesome. I actually remember a lot of it, and Aaron was a great teacher. He showed how you can play all kinds of different strums to keep things interesting next time you're at your local uke jam session playing "Yellow Submarine" for the 100th time.

At this point my eyes were starting to glaze over, and unfortunately my wrists were complaining. My doctor diagnosed me with carpal tunnel syndrome a few weeks ago (the joys of being a computer tech), but I figured some acetaminophen would get me through the festivities (I'd be damned if I wasn't going to play!). I was holding up pretty well until the final session: "Finger Pickin' with Nellie McKay."

At the beginning part of this session, Nellie made the mistake of sitting next to me and asking if she could tune off my uke. Oh God, here's the part where I accidentally set her on fire. It's a shame, she seems nice.

[I just thought of a joke. Q: What's orange and looks good on a ukulele player? A: Fire.]

My brain, apparently still suffering remorse from its lunch decision, opted to behave, and I politely offered her my uke tuner instead. We exchanged a few civil words, I didn't accidentally put my foot on her dress and disrobe her as she got up, and she tuned her vintage Gibson in time to show us all how we couldn't fingerpick worth a crap. Apparently around pretty, sophisticated girls I can actually be normal. It's possible I may be wired entirely backwards. This might explain how I can blow air out of my eyes (a great trick in the pool, not so much on a date).

Well, it looks like I've wasted another few pages telling you next to nothing about the uke fest, and I haven't even gotten to the concert yet. I promise that the concert coverage will be informative, and I can promise video clips for most of the artists! Yay! Stay tuned, dear reader, and I also promise there are no more blurry celebrity photos.


  1. Replies
    1. virgmck here, I enjoyed the workshops too.. and some of the info even stuck.. but I too still 'suck. The lowly harmonica is much easier than the finger pick'n pluck'n strum'n thing.. but it's still fun playing the uku... . ginny ';'

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