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Ukulele Music, Aaaahhh….

Of course, the best part about a Ukulele gathering, is the music. I usually have many words in me, but when I try to describe the music I come up short of ways to say what it is like for me. There is so much talent, and there are such great people playing the music! There are few egos and lots of fun. I believe that the instrument, by its looks, creates a mood of enjoyment and relaxation. You just would not find the same feeling between performers at another type of gathering, in my opinion. All groups have fun and have merit, but I’m glad I’m in the ukulele camp (by my association with Brian, as I haven’t played much ukulele… I have merely one song I can perform on uke, and I only do it very occasionally with the Abbott Brothers band).

But here I will do my best to honor those who fully entertained us this weekend. Understand that music has no words to describe it…

Friday night the lineup was this:

The Key Strummers
Joyce Flaugher and Bev Gagliardi
Steve Kobe and Karen Harkins
Lil’ Rev
Pat Monteleone
Deb Porter
Pops Bayless (Shorty Long)
Jim and Liz Beloff

Wow, just from the list of names I get inspired. The Key Strummers are a school group, led by Geoff Davis, the organizer of Midwest Ukefest. The school is called Key Learning Center so that gave them their name. These kids put on an amazing show. They play out and earn money doing gigs in town, to support the Ukefest event. They play music that is truly fun… a couple of songs about chickens and “I like bananas because they have no bones.” Yet the fun is presented hand in hand with musicianship. The kids are fabulous!

Joyce Flaugher and Bev Gagliardi are sisters who live in Texas. They tend to do Hawaiian and Hawaiian-inspired music. Joyce is a hula instructor (she is the one who taught my workshop on Friday) and a woman who clearly has her personal act together and focused. (We were honored when she came to both of our workshops this weekend.) I love their gentle, focused energy and easy connection with the audience.

Next was our friend Steve Kobe (Brian has known Steve for several years) and Karen Harkins. They are from the Indy area. Steve is in several bands and told me he often plays bass, a sort of low-key position… nobody tends to watch those of us who play bass. But he also plays ukulele. Last year he and his jug band played the stage and did great. This was an inspiration for him to spend a year working on a repertoire of songs he played on uke, where Karen sang.

These songs I adore, they are a bit later than those I sing on stage but they are the ones I often play at home…. 1930s to late 40s for the most point… Nat King Cole, Cole Porter, George Gershwin… some of the songs I learned from the Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle albums she put out a good number of years ago, or Carly Simon’s “Torch” of the late 1970s, which is still my favorite CD of that genre. One of the songs I learned as a child from Barbra Streisand’s “My Name is Barbra” LP.

Karen has just a perfect voice for these tunes. It was just three of them on stage, Steve and Karen and a young bass player whose name escapes me right now. They were playing “my music” and I loved every note.

Following Steve and Karen was the irrepressable Lil’ Rev. He always amazes me with how well he commands an audience, no matter how large, sitting in a chair in the middle of a stage alone. The guy is a pro… knowing when to fill the empty spaces and when to leave them alone. Yet even though he can be very big on stage, offstage he is low key and very approachable. Love the guy. Love his act.

Then came Pat Monteleone, from Pennsylvania. I had lucked out and sat next to him at dinner at Buca di Beppo that night, so I had even more fun listening since I knew him. He’s mellow and relaxed, and plays music we do, want to do, should do, wish we did. This is someone we should hang out with and play tunes with… if we didn’t live ten hours away from one another. Class act. No surprise, the night is full of class acts…

Next was Deb Porter from Texas. She picks all the right songs. Her voice is relaxed and melodious… and she can croon or yodel with equal ease, to my delight. She did a few pieces alone and then a few folks joined her on stage in different combinations… I didn’t take notes but I seem to remember Pops Bayless, Lil’ Rev and Lyle Ritz. I could be missing someone here, and I’m very sorry if I am. On Saturday I bought Deb’s new CD and will enjoy listening to it as I work at home.

Next was Pops Bayless and Mysterious John, also known as Shorty Long. Their songs Flaming Ukulele in the Sky, and Egyptian Ella, get much play on the Flaming Ukulele Radio Hour these days, and for good reason. They were joined by another Texas musician whose name is Bob Guz (who we talked to a while after the concert on Saturday night). Bob also played uke and did a solo song which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The final act on Friday was the incomparable Jim and Liz Beloff. In fact, I’m listening to one of Jim’s albums (The Finer Things, the songs of Herb Ohta and Jim Beloff)while I type this. What can I say? Refined, musical, together, entertaining, with great harmonies… a perfect finale to a wonderful concert.

Both Friday and Saturday, after the show, people went to the Golden Ace Inn (Indy’s oldest Irish pub) to jam until the wee hours of the morning. Brian went Friday night, and I went to the hotel room to rest and get good sleep. However, Saturday night we both went. Since my photos of the show on Friday did not turn out well, I’m showing the Saturday jam photos here. I took the photos by holding my camera as far over my head as I could, to get as much in the shot as possible. That means we have some odd angles here, but I sort of like how the shots turned out… crowded just as the pub was.

And that first photo? It’s my new instrument. I bought a turquoise swimming-pool Fluke from Jim and Liz Beloff. How could I resist? It sounds good, plays easily, and is turquoise. I believe, other than some kazoos and a cheap harmonica, that it is the first time I have purchased a musical instrument for myself. My parents bought me a clarinet or two, my father got me a couple of guitars (the first one cost $13 in about 1971, it was plywood but when I played it for a full year I was rewarded with a “real” one). Once I got a flute which I believe was with money I got from my mother for my birthday and Christmas, my bass is from my father-in-law, and I have played several of Brian’s ukuleles.

But this instrument is mine, bought with my own income and chosen entirely by myself. Doesn’t it look like me? More ColorJoy!!! I’ve been playing it a little today, singing from a Hollywood songbook I got from Fleamarket Music, Jim and Liz’s business. I’m doing OK with When You Wish Upon a Star… well, if I’m looking at the music, that is.

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