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Archive for November 3rd, 2004

Saturday Concert at Midwest Ukefest

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

Saturday during the day, Brian did a fingerpicking workshop, in part using Maple Leaf Rag to illustrate a few of the points. I went with him to play bass with him, a few times when he wanted it to sort of fit into the performing big picture. I did take my new Fluke with me and followed along reasonably well, considering how little I play uke. Thank goodness I have that decade of guitar-playing memory in my fingers. It helped a lot with the fingerpicking, though I have a long way to go.

Before we left the Museum, Brian found some folks to play music with, and I went up to the 3rd floor and took a too-quick look at the Japanese Quilt exhibit. It was wonderful. I probably spent 20 minutes on it, and that was a bit disrespectful to the wonderful quality. Brian’s mother, a quilter, also saw the exhibit, but she did it right. She read every word on every sign, and it took her two hours to do it properly. We both were surprised at how many circles were used in the quilts, in many different ways. Also, one particularly wonderful quilt used buttons as a patterning technique. It was brilliant. I could have spent 2 hours if I had the time, but I had to be glad to have the few minutes I could spare.

Saturday Night at Midwest Ukefest was our time to perform. We were very excited to be part of this fine lineup of performers, all weekend.

The published lineup Saturday was this:

The Key Strummers
Lyle Ritz
Local Yokels Jugband
Joel Eckhaus
The Third Satchel Novelty Jazz Orchestra
Fred Fallin
The Fabulous Heftones (that’s us)
Michelle Kiba

We had another fabulous performance from the unstoppable Key Strummers, led by Geoff Davis. Talented kids, who are quite accustomed to performing… but surely not often at as large a venue as this.

Lyle Ritz was next. This man is without compare. He made a living as a studio backup musician, often playing bass (and he played the actual ukulele sound track in The Jerk, we learned from the Beloffs). His playing is just ethereal in its floating musicality. I was honored to be sharing the same stage with someone who is this fine and refined. He’s also a humble and quiet guy. It’s refreshing to find a humble ego and a brilliant musician in the same person. The world is right, you know?

I was worried about who would have to follow Mr. Ritz. Luckily, the Local Yokels Jugband played, and their musical styles were so different that it worked fine. Local Yokels includes our friend Steve Kobe who had played the torch songs the night before… but the rest of the players were all different. The absolutely best part of this band is the amazing jug player. There are many who play jug as mostly a rhythm instrument, like a drum. This man plays notes accurately from beginning to end (he must have lungs of superhuman capacity). He also has an amazing rolling cart full of jugband rhythm instruments, from a bicycle bell to washboard, kazoo, spoons, you name it. The cart is almost as tall as me and has very serious wheels for getting around.

What was interesting was how many of us play from the same pool of music. Even Local Yokels did three songs we know… Shine on Harvest Moon, Goofus, and Kansas City Star (a Roger Miller song which we play when we are at jam sessions). Three acts shared playlists back stage… The Fabulous Heftones, Joel Eckhaus and Fred Fallin. (It is true that we all would do the songs very differently, but when we all know so many songs we might as well give the audience more variety if possible.) In fact, one of the songs Fred did on stage is one that Joel has recorded. I really love this overlap… it means that we are not the only ones who truly adore this genre of wonderful songwriting.

Joel Eckhaus followed Local Yokels. He has such a relaxed voice, I love to hear him. He did a few songs alone and then he had a bass player and clarinet player join him for a few numbers. He ended with a variation on the Sound of Music song, So Long, Farewell which was altered to have meaning to intermission time. I know he enjoyed that! He likes to do a bit of novelty and humor and it definitely worked.

After intermission, we heard Geoff Davis’ own band, the Third Satchel Novelty Jazz Orchestra. By this time I had to stay backstage, so I did not get the full flavor of their sound… the monitors backstage were useful to know who was next but not to get the whole experience. However, I’ve heard Geoff’s band before and they are very entertaining and very musical. They often choose music that others don’t do, but fits them perfectly. Geoff plays trombone and uses it in this band, which adds a lot to the mix.

Next came Fred Fallin. How can one describe Fred? His business card says “Chicago Speakeasy Style” and that helps a bit. But Fred is a guy who is just bigger than his physical presence. He is so full of history and knows more Tin Pan Alley songs (the genre we play for the msot part) than anyone I know. He knows dates and times, and who played what song when. In a jam session he can go a mile a minute, never stopping for a breath, from one song to another, and almost always one song connected to the next with some theme or another. For his set on this stage, he did songs related to the war memorial. Again, I could not hear as well as I would have liked but he was totally on topic for that performance space.

And watching Fred is a delight. He learned ukulele all by himself, with nobody to teach him. His right hand is beautiful to watch, really like a dance of sorts. He has long curved fingers and approaches the strings in such a way that you could watch for hours.

Then we got our turn. It went so fast! We started with a favorite of ours… What Do We Do on a Dew, Dew, Dewy Day? We very often start our sets with this number. Then I did my version of Tiptoe through the Tulips. I love that song, and almost nobody has heard the intro, nevermind all the words (bless his heart, Tiny Tim made this song famous but he never did all the words as I learned them). I avoided this song for a long time because I believed that in a way, Mr. Tim, may he rest in peace, “owned” the song. However, it is such a sweet and lovely piece of inviting one’s loved one into the garden at dusk, that I gave in when I knew I wanted to pursue the “In the Garden” album. I hope that since I have a female voice and I do it straight as a love song, I do it differently enough that it is not even comparing apples to apples. I was determined to bring that song to this concert, and I thoroughly enjoyed singing it to the audience, who did seem to enjoy it, too.

I won’t bore you with the full set list, but Brian did perform his Maple Leaf Rag which also got many kind comments afterward. (If you click this link, scroll down and on the left hand side you will find a link to download Brian’s recording of this piece.)

Following our set, came Michelle Kiba. Wow, what a lady… what a class act in every way. This woman glows while she is on stage. I snuck into the back of the auditorium so I could hear her play, and I loved every minute I saw. She was joined by a local bass player from the Kupa’a-Pacific Island Resources ukulele group (I posted a photo a few days ago of Michelle doing the hula with this group), and for some of the numbers she was also joined by Lyle Ritz. I tell you, Michelle’s set was refined and musical and lovely in every sense.

All the appropriate and enthusiastic applause came, that you might expect for such a great act! And then Geoff got on stage and announced a surprise. We were joined by none other than Jake Shimabukuro

Jake is a dynamic young man who is unlike any other. He struts around the stage while he plays his electric uke, and really keeps your visual attention as well as keeping your ears engaged. He does his own music sometimes, but one piece that I recognized (and enjoyed fully) was George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

I tell you what… I was very tired by that point but the young man woke us all. The kids from the Keystrummers were just wild with excitement (and I know it was definitely past their bedtimes). They clearly knew who he was, and they knew his repertoire… yelling out requests on at least one occasion. Jake probably got writers’ cramp writing out all the autographs after the show!

Photos today are: Lyle Ritz, Fabulous Heftones (under the watchful eye of General Pershing), Michelle Kiba, and Jake Shimabukuro with the Key Strummers and Geoff Davis (Jake kneeling toward front left, Geoff at top right).