Friday, October 17, 2008

First Annual Wine Country 'Ukulele Festival

I attended the First Annual Wine Country 'Ukulele Festival last weekend, October 10-11, in St. Helena, Napa Valley, California.  My friend, Romy, and I stayed in Calistoga, home of mud bath treatments, but, alas we were too busy with 'uke events and Hawaiian culture to partake of the spa thing!  A dip in the mineral pool was about it.

Before I delve into details I must say, WHAT A POSITIVE AND TRANSFORMATIONAL EXPERIENCE!  The event was well-organized and well-attended.  Too much to do in too little time, so you had to pick and choose but everyone should have such problems, huh?  

We started our afternoon on Friday with a three hour cooking class taught by Keoki Kahumoku, grammy-winning slack key guitarist and ukuleleist!   OK, when I looked in the window of the kitchen and saw people standing around ready to work, I thought "What am I doing here?!"  Cooking doesn't tend to be a fun experience for me.  This class turned out beyond my wildest expectations.  I grabbed a stool and sat back while watching Keoki cook and listened while he regaled us with his wonderful stories of growing up in the islands, hunting on and working his farm, GMO foods politics, you name it!  OH!  And we also got to eat loads of unbelievable foods:  poke ahi, lomilomi salmon (with local heirloom tomatoes), smoked octopus and more.  He was up half that night cooking these and kalua pork for the next night's luau.  The food was some of the best I've ever had and was a treat because Keoki brought many of the ingredients from his farm.

Skinning the ahi

                                        Lomilomi salmon coming up! 

The next day was back to back workshops from 9:30 a.m til nearly 5 p.m.  There were also ukulele performances at the same time outside but I never made it to any of these because I was so busy soaking up knowledge.  Many 'ukulele luthiers were on hand, but since I've been placed on a 'ukulele moratorium by my family, I did no looking!

The first workshop I attended was James Hill's "Ukulele, Pass It On."  Besides being an innovative player, James is devoting much time to the creation of a 'ukulele pedagogy. (He grew up in Langley, British Columbia where the instrument is taught in the public schools.)  The idea is that sooner or later you are going to find yourself teaching 'ukulele to someone else.  James has a rare ability to be able to deconstruct concepts and have people interact musically with one another while mixing it up.  Many players "teach" but James really is a teacher of music in the true sense of the word.  

I was so impressed that I decided to stay on in James' next session, "Swing 'Ukulele, Swing."  James introduced the swing strum and chords (embellishments on more basic chords).  However, the more important musical lesson was about how music is really about "where you put the note" and how a "vacuum pulls the audience along."  There is tension created in the waiting and a satisfaction when we finally get "it."  James took us through a tough exercise where he challenged us to keep slowing down our strumming further and further to create longing and subtlety in our playing.  This lessons are really in line with what I once read about Miles Davis who said that music is all about the silences.  

Next on the list was a workshop called "Strum-cersizes and Ornamentology" with Ralph Shaw.  Ralph originally hails from Britain and plays the true British 'ukulele, or what we Americans would call a banjo uke. His repertoire includes lots of old George Formby tunes, and he has the twinkle in his eye to go along with the humorous lyrics.  I loved this workshop although I'm dubious as to my physical abilities to carry off some of these rapid-fire strums!  But I definitely picked up some pointers on how to add some pizzazz to my playing.  To the left you can see Ralph with one happy workshop participant (me!)

Last workshop of the day was "Fun with your 'Ukulele" with Mark Kailana Nelson. I was really interested in meeting Mark as I'd recently bought his book on fingerstyle 'ukulele picking, and it has some impressive tabbed arrangements and excellent performance notes.  Mark did not disappoint:  we covered a number of simple two or three chord songs that were enhanced with interesting licks.  It also put a lot together which reminded me of how much I've already learned in my short 'ukulele career to date!

Right after 5 p.m. was luau time. Wine was flowing aplenty because, after all, we WERE in the wine country!  Keoki's food was superb. And one of the best parts of the experience was connecting with all my 'ukulele friends (I had more than I thought!)...and I made a few more.  Here I am with Romy and Keoki:

Then we ran off to the concert from 8  to 11 p.m.  Featured were performances by Ralph Shaw, James Hill, Keoki Kahumoku, and Herb Ohta Jr.  The music ranged from traditional Hawaiian (including a lovely hula by Robyn Mahealani Kneubuhl) to Tin Pan Alley to avant garde to just plain humorous.  Ralph Shaw had us rolling on the floor with tears in our eyes.  What a great time!  Here's a sample of with Ralph Shaw and James Hill doing "Yodelele Lady":

1 comment:

Al said...

Lovely write up, Carol. Wish I could have been there. Glad my tactic forced you to write it!