There are just soooo many reasons to read a newspaper. Take Wednesday's Edmond Sun, for example. There was a New York Times crossword puzzle. A story about rowing and one about a coincidental trio of moms. An obituary I read even though I didn’t know the decedent. But none could compare to the gem at the bottom of page 8B: Ukulele festival coming up at Arcadia Round Barn.
It’s on Sunday. And I know you’ll be astonished but — I feel a little guilty telling you this — it’s free. I know. I can’t believe it either.
As anyone will attest, my musical taste is varied and let’s call it, uh, eclectic. My collection includes the Grateful Dead, all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies, Hank Williams (senior, of course), Elton John, Louis Armstrong, and Maren Morris. But that’s just for show. Behind that stack, you’ll find Buckwheat Zydeco keeping company with Grammy award-winning polka band Brave Combo (yes, there’s a Grammy for best polka album) and Pink Martini snuggled up against The Zambonis. I have albums that contain nothing but steel drums, nothing but bagpipes, nothing but banjos and nothing but Mormons. There is a lot of family eye-rolling when I’m in charge of road trip music, but really, you have to hear Mendelssohn's “Wedding March” on steel drums and no one should miss “Smoke on the Water” on the bagpipes.
And yet, inexplicably, I have overlooked the ukulele. That’s odd because it’s a lot of fun just to say, “ukulele.”
I blame the oversight on my era. The ukulele — they come in soprano, concert, tenor and baritone — got its start in Hawaii in the 1880s as an adaptation of several small guitar-like Portuguese instruments. King Kalākaua gave it a boost when he incorporated it into royal events and it took flight in the U.S. after its introduction at the 1915 Pan-American Exhibition in San Francisco.
In those days, ukulele music was strictly Hawaiian. The fan base grew through the Jazz Age but as with all fads, it receded. And as with all fads, it made a comeback. A 1990s ukulele revival was spurred by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World."
Honestly, until this moment, I never expected to write the words “ukulele revival.”
I was too young for the Jazz Age and a bona fide adult before Kamakawiwo'ole came around. My perception of the ukulele was limited to Tiny Tim singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on “The Tonight Show.”
As the oversight took hold I made valiant attempt to catch up as quickly as possible, rapidly Googling “famous ukulele players.” I am astonished that it had never before occurred to me to Google that. I’m glad I caught on.
There are many videos of surprisingly entertaining ukuleleists performing for tens of people at fairs and in churches. Among them is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, which should be at the top of the list just for its name. Tuxedo-clad ukuleleists are not plentiful.
That act will not be playing at the Round Barn in Arcadia on Sunday. They would have come, but Arcadia enforces a municipal ban on tuxedos.
Well no, Margey will be there though. And so will the Misspent Ukes, Functional Polly, Jazzbanjorex and 14 other ukulele-wielding acts.
Surely some of them will have merch tables and they’ll be peddling their CDs. I’m pretty sure I still have something that will play those, and it’s hard to get an artist to sign an MP3.
It will be a good chance to freshen up the library. Hank and Tony are due for a break.
And did I mention that it’s free?!
© Ted Streuli 2019