This year’s Nanaimo Ukulele Festival features a pair of first-time performers who organizers say take an outside-the-box approach to the four-stringed instrument.
Provo, Utah trio the Naked Waiters and Guelph, Ont. musician and music educator Cynthia Kinnunen are headlining the festival, which comes to Nanaimo Neighbourhood Church July 14 and 15.
“We look for something different and unusual and fresh. Because very often people associate the ukulele with just Hawaiian music or Tiny Tim. Those are the two cliches…” said Liz DeBarros, a festival organizer and performer.
“We like to have something that’s new and fresh and the Naked Waiters, certainly the majority of their songs will at least be from this century. And Cynthia Kinnunen, she loves ’80s music and punk music and she does workshops to play punk ukulele.”
This marks the Canadian debut for the Naked Waiters – Kim Bjerga, Andy Nufer and Clark Holmes – and only their second festival outside of the United States after playing at the Ukulele Festival of Scotland in April. Bjerga described their international premiere as a refreshing, enriching riot.
“One of the coolest things about the ukulele festival in Scotland was how jovial everyone was. It was like a nonstop smile and the whole thing turned out to be almost like one giant hug,” he said.
The Naked Waiters formed four years ago when a friend asked them to be singing servers for a backyard dinner date and as a gag they wore only aprons and bow ties. Later when the trio decided to form a band, Naked Waiters was the first name that stuck.
Kinnunen first learned to play the ukulele in grade school, but “left it behind.”
“It wasn’t until about eight years ago that I picked up a ukulele again and it’s changed my life. I fell it love with it and have just completely immersed myself in it.”
Kinnunen now teaches and performs around the world – in the coming months she’ll be in Michigan and Finland – and she organizes a ukulele festival in Guelph. She even keeps a ukulele under her desk at work. This will be her first performance on Vancouver Island.
“Eight years ago when I picked it up again I was plunking away and I had no idea it was going to go this way,” she said of her newfound vocation.
Kinnunen said the ukulele is an attractive instrument because of its portability, affordability and sociability. She said it’s easy to learn the basics and once one has a few chords down it’s easy to start playing songs with others.
Kinnunen said ukulele festivals are growing around the world and “there are people that are hungry to learn this instrument now.”
“It’s a wonderful instrument for people to engage with each other again in a really positive way.”
WHAT’S ON … The Nanaimo Ukulele Festival takes place at Nanaimo Neighbourhood Church, 4951 Rutherford Rd., on Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July 15. Click here for full schedule and ticket options.