I had the pleasure of playing at Upton Ukulele Festival last weekend and after 3 days camping and performing, I am back to reality. Ukulele festivals are strange places - they occupy a surreal place between being at Glastonbury and sitting in your front room with a load of mates.
So, what is it like to play at a Ukulele Festival ? I was booked to do two 45 minute sets, and a 45 minute workshop at Upton Ukulele Festival. For me, the opportunity to get out and play is much appreciated. I play classical music on the ukulele, and to be honest, its not the kind of thing you do at your local pub or open mic night - so having the opportunity to play to an engaged/appreciative audience is one to relish. Like any gig, you get nervous before hand, but also like any successful gig, once you are into it, you relax and enjoy it. The two 45 minute sets were great fun, people really enjoyed me performance, especially the lively Flamenco pieces I did. Adagio, from Rodrigo's Concerto also went down particularly well. I did some pop pieces in a classical style, a Beatles melody and 'Raindrops keep fallin on my head' which people also enjoyed. The audience were very courteous and listening intently. After the gigs lots of people came up and I had the pleasure of chatting to them about my performance. Ukulele players are all very friendly and I really like the lack of any 'competitive' feelings - its one big happy family. Its the best feeling in the world when someone stops you in the street afterwards and says how much they enjoyed your performance. Playing a uke festival is rather like being transported to another world for three days - one where everyone is nice and everyone is happy. Maybe Jake Shimabukuro is right - the world would be a better place if we all played the ukulele. Upton was transformed for three days - with people walking around smiling, strumming and laughing all the time.
The 45 minute workshop I did on classical ukulele was such fun. Its great to have the opportunity to discuss classical music and how it is played on the ukulele. The participants were all very good players, and they all said they learnt a lot and enjoyed the workshop. I discussed how to get different tones from the ukulele, aswell as going through some flamenco techniques too.
The festival itself was great. I had the opportunity to see some great players and bands. For me, the two standouts were La Bella band and Roland Prakken. La Bella band manage to mix ukuleles with Arabian sounds, great comedy, high musical skills and great humour. Roland Prakken was another highlight. His mixed jazz and pop and played what was almost the perfect set list for me - including Django Rheinhart coupled with Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears - and it worked beautifully. He displayed a very high level of ukulele skills.
I got to camp out in my VW for three days which is always fun. It was hard work and logistically there was a fair bit of lugging stuff around and making sure I was in the right place at the right time. It was thoroughly enjoyable being a performer and I am looking forward to my next gig which is currently at The Uke Rooms on September 22nd 2018. If you want to see 45 minutes of classical/flamenco ukulele and attend a workshop to enhance your ukulele skills, please do pop along. Visit https://theukeroom.com for more info.