The Big Event at the Denver Uke Fest is the concert, and rightly so. They managed to get some big names to perform, and they did an amazing job.
The opening act was the Denver Uke Community playing "Yellow Submarine," replete with a yellow submarine that swam back and forth during the performance. Alas, my video didn't come out so well, but it was fun and got everyone in the mood.
After they left the stage I started to hear music, but couldn't tell where it was coming from. It turns out they decided to put the in-between acts off to the right and behind where I was sitting. I could tell a lot of people were confused at first, and a few seemed annoyed that they couldn't comfortably see, but it worked out well as it allowed artists to get set up on the stage without being a spectacle.
Chris McGarry was the first opener, accompanied by Danielle Anderson of Danielle Ate the Sandwich.
Next up was Tina and Her Pony, one of the headlining acts. I had never heard of this bluegrass duo before, but I was floored. Tina Collins and Quetzal Jordan (what a cool name) played quite a variety of songs. I heard a few people complaining that the uke was more of an afterthought, but I disagree. They played amazing music, some of which happened to be without a uke, but their pairing of the ukulele and cello was awesome.
During one portion of their performance, Tina unexpectedly ran off the stage, and Quetzal filled the time by bowing some Bach on her cello. It was obvious she'd had a lot of classical music training. I've also never seen someone strum a cello before, but it sounded amazing.
The duo are from Taos, New Mexico (near my old stomping grounds of Santa Fe), and I fell in love with their music. They had an amazing chemistry together and seemed very comfortable on stage. Total professionals.
Victory & Penny were up next, performing what they call "Antique Pop." They were certainly dressed the part. This is one of the great things about the ukulele—that we can watch an act like Tina and Her Pony and go straight to this duo, and the instrument just seems a natural part of it. Victor & Penny consists of Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane, although they were accompanied by Aaron Keim on the upright bass. I wonder how many of these pairings took place impromptu before the show?
Next up were Aldrine Guerrero and Aaron Nakamura. I was familiar with Aldrine through his clips on Ukulele Underground, but I had no idea what to expect in terms of stage performance. I realize this may be sacrilege to say, but I believe that Aldrine and Jake are neck and neck as uke performers. Jake is the Master of Emotion, but Aldrine is the King of Energy. I don't know what it is about these unassuming Hawaiian guys who do everything in a laid-back lazy fashion, and then when it comes to music they go absolutely crazy. Aldrine was moving his hand so fast that it was literally a blur. I immediately dubbed him Aldrine "Jell-O Wrist" Guerrero, and I still don't know how he did it.
Aldrine brings singing to the table where Jake apparently isn't so blessed, but I think everyone was a bit taken aback when Aaron sang for us, as it turns out he has quite a voice on him as well. Another nice, quiet guy who totally rocks on stage. My guess is these guys look tired because they're constantly fighting off Hawaiian wahines.
At one point Aldrine brought a friend up on stage to perform a hula while they played a song they had just learned that morning. They all did an amazing job. Damn, the hula is sexy.
Needless to say, by this time I was having a blast. Aldrine can pump up any crowd, and he managed to get several standing ovations (a faux pas among the classical set, but SCREW 'EM, we're uke players, dammit, and we get excited!).
Danielle Ate the Sandwich had a few minutes to wow us, and she was obviously full of energy herself.
Next up was The Hapa Hillbillies. These guys played some great bluegrass and folk with a bit of swing. The oboe was particularly nice, really adding to their sound.
Char Mayer from Mya Moe joined them for a song at one point, with a little steel lap guitar action to give it a real Hawaiian feel.
The next tweener was Faceman. He's apparently well known in the Denver community, but I wasn't sure who he was or why he was there, since he was playing a guitar. No matter, he surrounded himself with The Quiet Americans and a few other performers and had us all singing along to a gospel song.
"Don't be afraid; go be that man that you are in your sleep." What a great message.
Next up was the last headliner of the night, Nellie McKay. Nellie was another of the artists that spent much of her time not playing the ukulele, but she was such a great performer that it didn't matter (to me, anyway).
Watching bits and pieces of Nellie McKay can't begin to explain what she is as a performer—somewhere between a comedy act and a musical show. A number of her songs had a political bent to them, and she's got a bit of a bite beneath her wallflower exterior.
Her ukulele skills were good, but it was obvious that it wasn't the first tool in her repertoire.
The Grand Finale was grand indeed. All of the performers came out on the stage and performed a couple of songs, with a little choreography thrown in and lots of audience participation (no ukes, thank goodness). It was truly a bawdy spectacle. Danielle's got some gams on her!
Well, folks, that concludes my coverage of the Denver Uke Fest. I hope I was able to give at least somewhat of a feel for the events, and next year maybe I'll take an actual camera with me. Have fun, and Happy Ukeing!