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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!