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The Ukulele Musical Adventure!

Me playing my Baritone (“Bari” uke at Burning Uke 2010, Big Sur!). it was my 1st ukulele and my only uke I had until this year. I will always have a special love for my first ukulele!

For me, the new adventure began when a good friend of mine gave me a ukulele a little over a year ago — around May 2010.  I thanked him and was grateful for this “gift,” even though I was in the midst of finishing up my master’s degree in English and working full-time…but I’d been to Maui the year before and found myself fascinated by the ukulele, admittedly not knowing much about it.  I did know that baritone ukuleles were supposed to be tuned like the top four strings of a guitar (unlike their smaller counterparts) and was a little shocked when my musician friend insisted upon putting special strings on the uke, tuning the ukulele like a tenor ukulele.  I already knew guitar chords, and was positive I’d never learn a whole new set of chords.  I’m not a professional musician or anything!  I love music and enjoy strumming a few chords on the guitar, classic rock, folksy stuff, a little classical — but have never seen myself as a “musician” in any sense of the word.  I’m a single Mom with a bunch of kids, most of whom are grown now, sometimes known to be frazzled, with a demanding full-time job, attempting  to squeeze in time for all this other fun stuff…suddenly my life has been transformed and I have more free time than in the past, although my family is still in the picture.

Anyway, I never dreamed in a million years that I’d find myself in this whole new world of music jams or ukulele events.  I had no idea this world even existed — beyond going to concerts and shows as a fan and audience member, enjoying the music and dancing the night away, which I still do enjoy doing.  Just the other night, I was at Don Quixote’s in Felton dancing the night away with the Sun Kings, who channel the Beatles music well.  I’m a Beatles freak and nothing better than hearing live Beatles music — I know not quite the same as the Beatles themselves, but I like to imagine that the Beatles would approve of all of us dancing to their music even 40 something years later.

So, not so sure about the whole ukulele thing, when I had a little time last year I downloaded some ukulele chord charts off the Internet and started learning some of the chords — I already knew the guitar chords, but of course these were different.  I found myself liking the bright happy sound of the ukulele, and I messed with the ukulele a little here and there in between all the other things I had going on in my life.

Until that day in July when I walked into my favorite coffee shop in downtown Mountain View, where I’d been going for many years, and I saw a sign that said, “Ukulele Jam Second Monday night!”  I actually laughed when I saw the sign — are you kidding?  Nick, the owner of the coffee shop laughed too, and said, “Yep, it’s really happening.”  So I thought what the heck, I’ll check it out.  Maybe there will be a few people there — I pictured possibly 10 or 11 people sitting at tables.  You can imagine how shocked I was when I walked into over 75 people stuffed into the coffee shop, and people sitting outside the coffee shop with ukuleles as well, people lined up on the stage — the Silicon Valley Uke Club people.  It was INSANE.  And so much fun!

And that’s how I became swept into this world of ukulele playing, starting at the coffee shop..  There was something about it that I loved, everyone playing music and singing together, reminding me of the 60’s in San Francisco when I’d see people playing guitars on stoops…and folk groups all over the place in Golden Gate Park, and people just joined in…the spirit was there, something I couldn’t quite pinpoint.  Then someone told me about the ukulele jams at the beach in Santa Cruz every Saturday morning, and I was thrilled.  I love the beach having grown up close to the ocean in San Francisco, and I loved Maui and I knew I had to experience this.

So I made the 45-minute trek over the hill into Santa Cruz and found that beach — and was amazed to see over 75 people there too, with ukuleles, a few guitars even, someone playing bass and the conga drums, oh yes!  Just like the ever present beat of the conga drums in Golden Gate Park when I grew up…so that’s how I learned to play ukulele, jamming with all these fun people — no they aren’t perfect down at the beach, sometimes the beat gets sped up or slowed down, you name it…but it was fun and I wanted to play the songs with them.  I was hooked and so excited…and I met all kinds of cool people too…


Just to give you an idea, this is just a small part of the awesome uke jam on the beach every Saturday morn (if you look closely, you’ll see me there!)

One Saturday morning my older daughter called me around 11:30am and I told her I’d have to call her back because I was at a ukulele jam at the beach and she yelled into the phone, “You mean you’re doing something before noon on a Saturday morning??!”  That was unheard of in my family!  That’s how crazy I am about all this ukulele stuff.

I was excited to get my Kala tenor ukulele — a beautiful uke with a pickup (to plug in) and even a built-in tuner! Who knew I’d ever get a ukulele this nice. this was at my Dad’s house on the way to a ukulele festival in Reno (where I got caught in the snow but still had fun, but that’s another story)

Anyway, to give you a quick glimpse into the ever present and continuing ukulele world, just last weekend I began my day at the beach playing ukulele with over 100 people — it was a cool, slightly foggy morning but the fog lifted before we finished singing our songs from old songs to Hawaiian songs to a few Beatles songs even you name it.  Everyone playing and singing from the Santa Cruz songbooks.  Then I “jammed” on ukulele with a few friends for a little while before heading over to Ben Lomand for an awesome “Ukes Gone Wild” event at the Art Center (there’s another Ukes Gone Wild event on Saturday, August 27th!) where I got to be a part of the “ukulele orchestra” at the beginning, so much fun!  This was after I’d gone to the Thursday night monthly ukulele club meeting at Bocci’s Cellar on July 28th (my b-day) and me and other Beatles fans got to sing a few Beatles songs.  (there’s another Bocci’s Cellar Santa Cruz Uke Club meeting on Thursday, August 18th with Sanity Cruz’s very own Rick Duncan teaching a workshop and headlining).

Smouldering Uke last March — loads of fun!

On Monday nights, there’s an intermediate ukulele workshop at the Art Center in Ben Lomand and a beginning ukulele workshop — and I travel far for that one as often as I can — There’s a San Jose Ukulele Club that meets every other Tuesday and of course the awesome Silicon Valley Uke jam on the 2nd Monday night that I never miss because, well, it was my first place…

Then there was Burning Uke Camp Out in Big Sur (Sept. 22-25 this year) that I attended last year along with various other festivals…it’s a whole lifestyle filled with the coolest people you’d ever want to meet at all various stages of musical levels…everyone having fun.

Talk about Ukulele CRAZINESS!  can’t believe I actually bought this tie-dye “Fluke” ukulele, and now I own three ukuleles! (okay I know people open dozens of them…but hey, my collection is building!)

And sometimes you never know — you might just end up in the newspaper!

Beatle Mania LIVES!!

Yes, Beatles Mania is alive and well even now in 2011!  Sometimes I find Beatles Mania when I’m not even looking for it.  And, you’ll even find a little bit of it on Thursday, July 28th at the big Santa Cruz Ukulele Club meeting.  Yes, I’m a lifelong Beatles fan and anyone who knows me at all gets that.  Beatles Mania is all over the place.

When my Grandson was born two weeks ago, his mother, even in her sedated state from having a c-section, insisted that the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields filtered into the operating room via canned music when the doctor pulled my grandson out.  I didn’t expect this, nor did I ask what music was playing in the operating room.  Heck, I didn’t even know music played in the operating room.  So my grandson left the hospital in his little Beatles outfit, which I approved of, but I never declared it to be a necessity.

The Beatles Mania hit again when my friend Rick called me a little over a week ago to let me know that the band Carolee from the Santa Cruz Ukulele Club had set up to open for Celina and the C-Monkeys sort of fell through, so now she wanted to do Beatles songs and would I be a part of it?  Of course I said yes, thrilled that I was thought of to sing and play Beatles songs.  I know they’re not always the easiest songs to sing and play, and I love most music.  I was even more excited to find out that the Santa Cruz Ukulele Club is on Thursday, July 28th this year which happens to be my birthday.  What better way to spend my birthday than to sing and play Beatles songs?  So I’m part of a lively small group who will open with many Beatles songs.  Will we pull it off?  Of course!  Lots of people love Beatles songs, and all of us are huge Beatles music fans.

But the Beatles Mania did not end there, nope.  It hit again unexpectedly this past weekend in Sacramento of all places when I attended a Sacramento Ukulele Club pot luck picnic and ukulele jam at a park in Fair Oaks just outside Sacramento.  I was actually inSacramentoto visit my son, daughter-in-law and grandson, but took some time to check out the Sacramento Ukulele Club scene since I was there.  Fair Oaks turned out to be a quaint small town with a lovely park – the weather wasn’t unbearably hot either, in the 80’s and I found a group of ukulele players sitting in the shade of a beautiful little park with many trees – with lots of chickens wandering around.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay, but I ended up having a great time and staying for pretty much the entire jam.  Songs had been shared via email and we played a bunch of them.  Then we ate lots of food – and I met a lady named Linda who remembered me from when a whole group of us got stranded in Reno after a ukulele festival for an extra couple of days – snowed in, I-80 closed.  It turned out we had more fun jamming together than everyone else had at the workshops that I’d missed because I’d got caught in another snow storm on the way up toReno.  I also met a couple whom I’d seen there and found myself amazed that this whole “ukulele world” is so intermixed – it’s like a culture and you run into a few of the same people no matter where you go, even in Sacramento.

It was cool to hear  these two dudes who call themselves “The Mighty UkeTones” play some cool tunes on the ukulele, including an amazing rendition of Something by the Beatles.  Then there was an open mike, and I went up at one point and sang two Beatles songs, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Eight Days a Week.”  I had the mighty uke tones backing me up on uke bass and ukulele, as well as a cascade of roosters crowing – yes, roosters crowing.  The chickens and roosters were wandering freely about, and sometimes I swore the roosters crowed in time to the music.

The dude on uke bass, Gary Stein, came up to me after the Beatles songs and thanked me, said he was thrilled to get a chance to play any Beatles songs on the ukulele, and then proceeded to go on and on about how the Beatles were the masters.  Like I didn’t know already!  All I could do was nod in agreement.  Then, another guy who claimed that he was in charge of the jams proclaimed, “We need to do a Beatles.  Right here.  Next month!”

“Cool,” I said.  I was thrilled, but I had never once suggested a Beatles jam.  I was innocent (note that if I told this to any of my kids they would not believe me).

After I finally left the merry ukulele tribe I’d discovered – just to add to my already growing group of fun ukulele friends, I found myself thinking about how Beatle Mania seems to follow me everywhere, even in unexpected places – memories of my kids and I singing Beatles songs (among many other songs) at the tops of our lungs in that old station wagon the kids dubbed The Star Cruiser that bounced down the road because it needed shocks, the wind chimes one of my kids had hung in the car adding to the din – and how Hello Good-Bye was the first song that Megan could sing by heart…the Beatles have almost always been in my life…

It all began on February 9, 1964.

OnSunday, February 9, 1964, the Beatles arrived right in our den of the flat we lived in onSecond Avenue in San Francisco. I was six and a half years old.

My Mom walked around the den, into the kitchen and back into the den going on and on about music, waving her arms around – something about the Beatles? I had never heard of the Beatles, but they must have been pretty important to our Mother.

At that time, I thought my Mom was the smartest and most beautiful person in the world. I also thought she was magical, that she knew everything. I wanted to be like her, but I knew there was never a chance.

All of us kids, me, my little brother Michael and little sister Jennifer, sat in our pajamas in the wood paneled den of the old Victorian railroad flat we lived in, watching the big screen black and white TV and waiting. We sat on our own little wooden chairs on the big white shag carpet that covered the middle of the old hardwood floor. Mom sat in the “basket chair,” a large whicker chair shaped like a circle with big pillows, but she kept getting up and walking around.

“Kids, what you’re going to see is history!” said my Mom excitedly, clasping her hands together. “Nothing will ever be the same after tonight!”

I had seen the Ed Sullivan Show before. Mostly, I remembered those people who balanced dishes on long sticks and made them spin around. And that music they’d play while you sat at the edge of your seat wondering if the plates would fall down and break. They hardly ever did. Even when one fell down, which was rare, one of the dish twirling people always caught them. Mom always let us stay up to watch the Ed Sullivan Show on the big screen Zenith black and white TV.

I recognized the funny looking guy who said “really big show” a lot and who always wore the same suit and tie, Ed Sullivan, with big stage curtains behind him. Some other stuff might have happened on the show, but I don’t remember it. All I remember is that night the Beatles arrived right there in our den on Second Avenue inSan Francisco- four guys with weird bowl hair cuts (at least that’s what they looked like to us) played music that would change the world!

Ed Sullivan said something about “The Beatles,” and suddenly, all you could hear was a lot of screaming, and we could see four guys with weird bowl hair cuts (at least that’s what they looked like to us) playing music that would change the world, “Chose your eyes, and I’ll miss you…”

As they started to play, my mother, beautiful and so young looking and dramatic, like an overgrown kid, gasped and yelled and clapped. “Oh, look kids!!!! It’s THEM!!!! IT’S THE BEATLES!!!!! AAAAHHHH!!!!

They had arrived.

I was fascinated, and found myself tapping and swaying to the music right along with my Mom, getting caught up in the spell of the Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo. Only I didn’t know their names then. All I knew was that there was something about the music that drew me right in and made me feel good. It was a funny feeling in my stomach that I can’t explain, and I loved it.

Before it was over, my mother and I held each other and swayed to the music, singing, practically yelling, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!!!” over and over again while my brother and sister stared at us, their mouths wide open in wonder.

I don’t remember having anything in common with my Mother until that night.

We were hooked. By the time I was seven, I knew every Beatles song by heart. We screamed whenever the Beatles showed up on TV. We screamed when the Beatles were mentioned on the radio. We sang along with all the Beatles songs and listened to Beatles records over and over again. We woke up with the Beatles and slept with the Beatles. My Mom made sure we had every single Beatles album right after it came out.

I grew up with the Beatles. It seemed like whenever I changed, the Beatles changed too. I could hear the Beatles change in their music, and see them change on their album covers.

“Look Mom,” I would say, “The Beatles are growing up just like me!” And Mom would smile.

I had a white transistor radio that I carried around with me everywhere, listening to all the Beatles songs.

When Grandma came to visit fromChicago, she looked at all the pictures of the Beatles plastered on the lime green walls in my bedroom. “Who are those men hanging on your bedroom walls?” Grandma asked.

“It’s the Beatles, Grandma! The Beatles!”

The Beatles opened the floodgates for everyone, the British invasion, the rock music. Suddenly, we didn’t just listen to Peter, Paul & Mary and the Brothers Four and the Kingston Trio. Jane’s mom brought home Jefferson Airplane, Donovan, the Doors, Moby Grape, the Rolling Stones,  and many, many more albums. We listened to them all.

That was 46 years ago.

Mom passed away 14 years ago, after John Lennon and before George.  I surround myself with the Beatles to this day.  Their pictures are intermingled with family photos wherever I am, their music always close by, and whenever I hear a Beatles song, I fall in love with my life all over again.

Beatles Mania still lives!

the rutles