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The Amazing Midwest Ukefest 2005

Midwest UkefestWell, folks, it was wonderful. Prepare for too many photos. Twenty-six photos, to be exact (I promise, I worked at making them small enough to load fast). How can I dare leave anything out???

Midwest UkefestAfter we got our CD shipment on Thursday, we went to lunch and then left for Indianapolis, Indiana. We got there just in time to check in to our hotel and run over to the Indiana State Museum for the “American Novelty” preview concert.

Midwest UkefestAmerican Novelty is a project by the act “Shorty Long” from Austin, Texas, made up of Pops Bayless, Mysterious John and “Just Plain Bob” Guz. It details a fictitious history of American Novelty music. It’s downright hilarious, with great songs and better musicianship. (They did a short version this weekend but will be doing the full script in New York City this spring if I heard correctly… it’s a must-see.)

Midwest UkefestI adore this band. They are musical, tight, and entertaining. Of course, I could be even more biased than a friend might be, because John is an amazing kazoo player. Besides his voice, kazoo is his primary instrument, and he plays it well. I love kazoos, and I love John. (Photo #1, from left to right, Bob, Pops and John.)

Midwest UkefestWe got there just as the concert started, so after the show was the first time we had to say hello to these folks we know and hold dear, and see only at Ukefests. This was our third year at Indianapolis, our fourth Ukefest (including the Pocanos last year). Folks are friends now, and it’s a warm and welcoming community.

Midwest UkefestThursday night we went out to Action Duckpin Bowl for a preview party. Some folks bowled but we just said hello to more friends. Each main stage act that was there, performed one song for the crowd. Here Brian and I are after our song (photo #2 by Jude), and here (photo #3) is Howie, volunteer extraordinaire, and Geoff Davis, creator of the Midwest Ukefest (I bow to his willingness to work).

Midwest UkefestCheck out the photos of a kid bowling, the outside of the building with all its neon, and especially the “Diner” neon sign (Photos #4, 5 & 6). Frequent readers will remember that I am very fond of old neon signs. I took other photos at this same location, the building is just covered in old neon. Unfortunately I was feeling rushed as others waited on me, and the photos are blurry (in a non-artful way).

But the end of the duckpin bowling alley experience was not the end of the evening. We went back to our hotel, and had a jam session in the lobby until waaay past midnight (Photos #7 & 8)

Midwest UkefestMorning came far too soon, as you can imagine! We presented a workshop at 9am on Friday. Mind you, it takes a seriously dedicated ukulele player to be at a workshop on a Friday morning. Not only does it require night-owl musicians to wake up early, but even early birds had to probably get a day off work to be there.

We were very pleased to have a couple of dozen folks there to listen to Brian’s presentation on fingerpicking (Photo #9). Me? I was there, but I can’t say I wasn’t tired. It took a few good strong cups of tea to get me going that day!

Midwest UkefestMy favorite workshop is always the hula class. This year we had hula both Friday and Saturday, with Joyce Flaugher from San Antonio, Texas. She’s a great teacher, who imparts not just the moves but the intent behind them.

Midwest UkefestThe first day of hula class it was really cold, the rumor was that it was in the upper 40’s F (around 8.5C). There we were, outdoors by the canal, in the wind without a lick of sun to warm us (Photo #10). I wore my coat, my wristwarmers, ColorJoy Stole, legwarmers, and hat… and was still chilled. Yet we dedicated ones stuck it out and learned a wonderful song that Joyce wrote herself. (The previous two years, we danced outdoors barefoot comfortably, see hula class pictures from my weblog of 2004.)

Midwest UkefestFortunately, on Saturday they found us a warm spot in a small school cafeteria room at the Museum, and we danced indoors. The space was not fancy but it was easier to hear Joyce and it was just enough more intimate that I think we really did get a better sense of the spirit of hula as well as the specific dance. I loved it.

That night was the first main stage concert. The acts were all spectacular in their own styles. That night we heard:

The Key Strummers (sponsors of the event, a fine kid’s band), Indianapolis, Indiana
Bryan Tolentino and the Side Order Band, Honolulu, Hawai’i
Gerald Ross, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Joyce Flaugher and Bev Gagliardi, San Antonio, Texas
Mark “Spanky” Gutierrez, Omaha Nebraska
Kimo Hussey, Honolulu, Hawai’i
Pops, Mysterious John and Just Plain Bob (Shorty Long), Austin, Texas

Midwest UkefestThe photos (#11, 12 & 13) here are of Mark/Spanky, Gerald Ross, and Joyce (singing) with Bev (dancing). I regret I did not get a good shot of our friend Kathy Gravlin (of Katseye) when she was playing ukulele to back up Gerald on lap steel guitar.

Midwest UkefestOn Friday night, Brian went to the late-night jam session at the Golden Ace Irish pub. I went directly to bed and slept like a baby! No regrets here. Sleep is holy sometimes, and the night before a big show it seems the only answer.

Midwest UkefestSaturday was another day of workshops, plus concerts in the main hall of the Indiana State Museum and late in the afternoon an Open Mic. I’m particularly fond of Open Mic, since we were sort of “discovered” at the open mic two years ago at this very location.

Midwest UkefestWe literally got to the festival on Friday that year, about 10 minutes to 3:00pm, and they were still soliciting performers for the 3:00 Open Mic show. We signed up, ran and changed into our formalwear, and darned if we weren’t a bit of a hit!

The next day they asked us to play again at Open Mic (which we tried to decline so that others could get a shot playing… but there ended up being room for all). Well, Geoff Davis (head honcho of Midwest Ukefest) went in there to hear us and afterward asked us to play the main stage. And the rest, they say, is history… (or something like that).

Midwest UkefestThis year was less dramatic at Open Mic, but Joyce’s students performed their one hula dance. I was one of the dancers and delighted to be! Here are two photos graciously taken by David Smith of Dearborn… the feet of the dancers lined up and waiting for their turn, and we students on stage at the beginning of our dance. That would be me in the front row, second from left in the hot pink turtleneck. (Photos #14 & 15)

Saturday night we had dinner with friends from Michigan at Buca di Beppo, an amazing Italian restaurant (it’s a chain, but they use real ingredients, no fillers, no corn syrup or corn oil which means I am not allergic to their food). Sara, my Goddaughter, and I discovered this chain in Chicago a few summers ago, and now I really look forward to it in Indy when we’re there.

Midwest UkefestAt the table were Brian and I, Kathy Gravlin, Gerald Ross, and our friend (and amazing upright bass player) Steve S., whose last name I do not have any idea how to spell, but who seems to be in nearly every band in Lansing. It was wonderfully relaxing to have this great meal before our performance. (The night before, we’d enjoyed a meal at India Garden with Kathy, her friend Bryan and his wife Meg, who is a knitter, and we had a great time then as well.)

The show was another wonderful set of talented folks. I just shake my head some nights, as I see who we are sharing a stage with once more. How lucky we are. Two of the acts before us, Joel Eckhaus and Pat Monteleone, are folks whose music overlaps ours. That is, we have to trade notes before a show to make sure we are not all planning to sing the same thing!!! Our styles of presenting a song are very different but our love of the genre means we dig out the same gems at times. This is a good problem, for sure. The lineup on Saturday was:

The Key Strummers, Indianapolis, Indiana
Byron Yasui, Honolulu, Hawai’i
The Windy City Islanders, Chicago, Illinois
Steve Kobe and Friends Arcadia, Indiana
Joel Eckhaus, Portland, Maine
Pat Monteleone, Hollicong, Pennsylvania
The Fabulous Heftones (Brian & I), Lansing, Michigan
James Hill, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Midwest UkefestBecause we were backstage most of the time, I gave my camera to trusty ukulele friend Theresa Smith of Dearborn, Michigan who took some great photos of that show for me. The photo here of the Keystrummers I actually took on Friday (they played both nights) and the photo of Brian and I as The Fabulous Heftones was taken by Theresa. (Photos #16 & 17) Check out in the Keystrummers photo, at far right. David the amazing musician/dancer and veteran Keystrummer, is playing a washboard contraption with vigor. He’s a talented young man.

We performed six numbers: Hum Your Troubles Away, Tellin’ it to the Daisies, Shy Little Violets, Ukulele Cha, Valley of the Moon and I Love Me. Two are flower songs from our new CD, In the Garden. Valley of the Moon (download free) is from our first CD, Moon June Spoon. Ukulele Cha is a number Brian composed and which will be released on a CD called Raspberry Rag. The other two numbers we do perform regularly but have not yet recorded.

Midwest UkefestThe audience, as always, was great. I was delighted because even though October is a crummy allergy month, this year I had my full voice with me up there. From the comments I received after the show, other folks noticed as well.

It is the ultimate compliment to a singer, to have a musician say that her performance made him aware of how much can be done with the instrument that is the human voice. Dang! I lived my whole life not anticipating that sentiment. I was humbled and honored. And truly, it did feel as “right” a performance as we have ever given. I didn’t get nervous at all, and I felt the audience out there loving me. It was wonderful.

Midwest UkefestOh, in knitting content, perhaps you can slightly see that I was wearing the purple and turquoise version of my Garden Capelet during our set. I designed this pattern when I found that the ColorJoy Stoles I usually wear would not stay on me while playing bass (with my left arm raised) on stage. Since I tend to knit the first several versions of a pattern as yarn shop samples, I had never worn it before. This one was at Little Red Schoolhouse yarn shop for about 6 months.

It worked perfectly on stage, stayed in place for a 20 minute set with me moving around a lot. It’s a little sparkly and a lot colorful, and it works great under the lights with my turquoise silk dress (which was my wedding dress 9 years ago).

Midwest UkefestBut just because the concert was over, did not mean we were done! Back to the Golden Ace (I went this time) for a “WADSY” (We Ain’t Done Strummin’ Yet) jam session. (Photos #18-23) The tunes were hot and the styles were varied. We had swing, blues, jug band, tin pan alley, original tunes, fake Hawaiian tunes, fake Irish tunes, banjo tunes, and music I do not know how to categorize. There were bands and clubs and individuals all playing what they could, playing along, leading, whatever they could do. It was a scene in the best sense of the word.

Midwest UkefestPlease notice the third Golden Ace photo here with George on guitar and Wendy (from Connecticut) on uke. I took a photo of Wendy in the Pocanos last year! It’s the last photo on this blog page. I was thrilled to recognize her (and, gasp, actually remember her name… sometimes I get it right).

I must confess, I am not fond of crowds. Last year this event was overwhelming. But last year I was not feeling 100%, recovering from a sinus bug, and this year I was happy and healthy and high from a great show. I had a wonderful time!!! We closed the place after 3am. And we had to check out of the hotel in the morning! We got almost enough sleep.

Midwest UkefestSunday brunch is a really special part of the weekend. We go to Shapiro’s Deli and have lunch, whoever is still in town. The Keystrummers and their families tend to populate this gathering well, and it gives us a chance to get to know them. They are so busy working on our behalf from Thursday to Saturday that they don’t have much chatting time. I am a big sucker for relationship, I love talking and getting to know people, especially clearly good people such as these.

Brian was right when he said something like this event gives you hope for the future of mankind. These families are working as a team to support their kids and this worthy Ukefest. Each year the kids in the band are getting older and more accustomed to the event, and therefore are taking on more and more of the actual work responsibilities of running the festival. They do a great job. It was really obvious this year how much they do, and how well.

Midwest UkefestAnd the parents are so fine! I talked to several parents and they all really seemed to have a clear sense of who their children really were, what the kids’ passions and talents were. It is hard enough to just run a household, but on top of that to really know and understand your child’s assets and challenges is such a gift, not only to your child but to the universe. Hard stuff, and these families are doing a bang-up job of it.

Here I end with three photos of only a few of the folks who ate lunch at Shapiro’s (we took up this entire room you see). First a large table shot (photo #24)… notice Carol at front left, who saw my Fabulous Heftones brochure at the “Mass Ave Yarn Shop” (which is on Virginia Avenue, not Massachusetts) and was delighted to see it! (If you ever make it to Indianapolis, go visit Susan there and tell her I sent you. It was a quite spacious shop with a big table for sit-and-knit activity. She had lots of yarn variety, particularly an amazing number of artful handpainted yarn lines.)

Midwest UkefestThen some photos of young folks. First a jam session, just my Brian and Cole (Photo #25). They played for maybe 45 minutes, just the two of them, and it was just plain wonderful. Cole is Dan’s kid, Dan had a vendor booth this weekend. He knew about the Knitlist, so we hit it off right away! I hope we see this family again.

Midwest UkefestAnd the last photo? A young lady in the Keystrummers asked me during the weekend if I’d teach her to knit. She reminded me of this promise late in the lunch event, so we dove in. (Photo #26)

I pulled two needles out of the hat I was knitting, and broke off a few yards of wonderful green alpaca. I taught her the simplest cast on, how to knit, and the simplest bind off I could. She made something like a 1″ square of garter fabric and was teasing that it might work as a nosewarmer! It’s a start, though.

I encouraged her that there are yarn shops in town with classes. In fact, now that I think back, she said that the duckpin bowling was in her neighborhood… which is only a few blocks from Susan’s Mass Ave. Yarn Shop. I’m crossing my fingers for this young lady that she’ll keep it up.

And that is my (much abbreviated, believe it or not) story of Midwest Ukefest 2005. We’ll be back in another year. I can’t wait!

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