At the Nanaimo Ukulele Festival, attendees start off as audience members, but leave as performers themselves.
The annual celebration of the four-stringed instrument returns to Nanaimo Neighbourhood Church on Sept. 13 with an evening of concerts, followed by a whole day of workshops for beginner and intermediate players of all ages.
“We call it ‘stealth teaching’ in that you show people how to do something but you don’t really explain the complete theory of the music behind it because people’s eyes glaze over when you talk about music theory,” said festival co-organizer and instructor Liz DeBarros of her workshop.
She said festival organizers aim to assemble a lineup of performers who can demonstrate that there’s more to the ukulele than stereotypical Hawaiian music and Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through the Tulips.
Performing this year are festival regulars the Revolving Doors from Parksville, of which DeBarros is a member, while Comox Valley-based string player and teacher Ali Romanow makes her first appearance and Utah trio the Naked Waiters are back for their second straight year.
“They were so good. Everybody fell in love with them and their harmonies, their humour, their energy, their vitality,” DeBarros said of the Naked Waiters.
Newcomer Romanow said it’s been years since she’s performed in Nanaimo. She said she’ll be playing some originals as well as Western swing tunes from the ’30s and ’40s. She’ll be providing 15 ukuleles – “a whole flock” – for her beginner class.
“My goal is to give people the tools to move forward,” Romanow said. “Whether that’s to go and find another teacher, to just be able to sit around a campfire and jam, to sit down with their grandkids or vice versa and play a couple tunes.”
She said it’s an easy instrument to pick up and she hopes to inspire people to play music together.
“It’s a really neat way to create community,” Romanow said. “I grew up in a very musical household, I still play music with both my folks, and it’s a really beautiful way to make human connections. And there seems to be not enough actual human connecting these days so it’s a neat way to share time and space with people. And it brings a lot of joy.”
DeBarros said the Revolving Doors’ repertoire leans towards the folk music of the ’60s, and their shows always end with Hey Jude. She agrees with Romanow that the ukulele is ideal for beginners, noting that they are affordable, portable and “much easier to learn than a guitar.”
“It only has four strings to start off, so there are two strings you don’t have to learn at all,” she said. “And there are so many community groups and ukulele clubs to get involved in that it’s a great community instrument.”
WHAT’S ON … The Nanaimo Ukulele Festival takes place at Nanaimo Neighbourhood Church, 4951 Rutherford Rd., on Sept. 13 and 14. Friday evening concert tickets are $25, Saturday workshops tickets range from $25 to $45. Available online.