BY JENNIFER LOGUE
Summer is full of possibility and even more so when you’re a uker. It’s the ideal instrument for travel—lightweight, friendly, and capable of fitting in just about anywhere.
This summer, there are ukulele festivals across the globe for players of all experience levels and backgrounds. So update your bucket list, check those frequent flier miles, and start scouring the web for deals cause these six ukulele festivals are not to be missed.
What to Expect: You will definitely get your uke’s worth at the three-day long Paris Ukulele Festival. Taking place at La Bellevilloise, a restaurant and live music venue, attendees can expect ukulele open mics, workshops, special performances, raffles, and—of course—the très jolie ambiance that is Paree.
What to Wear: The weather in Paris is pretty mild in May, with temperatures ranging from 45° to 60°F. Paris is one of the most chic cities in the world for fashion, however, so steer clear of being too casual for this festival. A simple t-shirt and jeans can be instantly dressed up with a smart blazer. Aim for comfort, but with urban finesse.
What to Do: Plan to spend at least a week in Paris to fully enjoy the city beyond the festival. From the Louvre to Musée d’Orsay, the city of lights is an art lover’s dream. If you get hungry, stop by Marché Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement, which was frequented by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast.
Geraldine, New Zealand
What to Expect: Technically, it’s winter in New Zealand, but Geraldine—a picturesque village in the heart of the Canterbury region—is hardly a bad way to spend your summer vacay. The Geraldine Ukefest kicks off a day of workshops followed by a performance by the Te Pahu-based ukulele band Apron Strings and an open mic. Saturday’s big event is the Nukes vs. the Big Muffin Serious Band, a battle between two of New Zealand’s premier ukulele bands.
What to Wear: With temperatures averaging 50° in July, Geraldine will have you reaching for your warmest sweater, but don’t forget to pack your favorite hat, wig, and lei—this is a kooky uke fest, after all.
What to Do: Geraldine is a prosperous farming area at the foot of the wild Southern Alps, making it an ideal place to eat local, then burn off those calories on the ski slopes. It’s also an artistic haven, so save room in your luggage for souvenirs of the arts and crafts variety.
What to Expect: It’s no surprise that one of the largest international ukulele festivals takes place in Hawaii. Every summer, the Ukulele Festival Hawaii draws an average of 20,000 to Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. And though the festival is only one day, the celebration of the official state instrument spreads far beyond as ukers take over the city that entire week. In addition to a star-studded lineup of performers, the festival includes free ukulele lessons, instrument giveaways, and excellent local food. Poke, anyone?
What to Wear: Temperatures reach an average of 80° in Waikiki in the summer and can get pretty humid, so best to keep cool with loose, flowing clothes made of cotton or linen. Be sure to pack a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunblock as well to prevent sunburn.
What to Do: Waikiki is right on the beach so be sure to carve out some beach time to swim in the warm, clear Pacific. If you’re a water baby, try surf lessons, parasailing, and snorkeling with dolphins. If you’re craving adventure on dry land, do a bike tour of Oahu or take the Kamaka tour (see page 58 for a feature on the company’s centennial).
What to Expect: Now in its seventh year, the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain attracts top talent like the Ooks of Hazard, Jane for Tea, Uff & Zaza, the Jive Aces, and many more. Spanning over four days in the beautiful English town of Cheltenham, the festival features workshops, parties, a formal concert at the Cheltenham Town Hall, and an open mic.
What to Wear: With temperatures averaging 60° for June, you can’t go wrong with jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and a hoodie. You’ll be walking a bit, as the festival is broken into different locations, so pack sneakers.
What to Do: Cheltenham is known as the “garden town of England” and in between enjoying the festival, you should take a stroll through a few botanical points of interest including Imperial Gardens, Montpelier Gardens, Pittville Gardens, and Sandford Park. Now you have four more reasons to pack sensible shoes!
What to Expect: Presented by the Ukulele Club of Montreal, this day-long event takes place at the hip local music venue La Sala Rossa and features performances and workshops. While this year’s lineup has not yet been announced, the 2015 festival included uke sensation Julia Nunes, former Ukulele mag cover artist Victoria Vox, and Japanese artist Ryo Natoyama.
What to Wear: Temperatures reach an average of 80° in Montreal during the month of August, but can drop to as low as 60° at night, so be sure to layer. In this fashionable, French-speaking city, you can go from playing uke in Parc Lafontaine to dining by candlelight to dancing till the wee hours at a nightclub. Come prepared.
What to Do: Embrace your inner history buff and check out Old Montreal, one of the most historic urban areas in North America with buildings dating back to the 17th century. There are a number of excellent museums and galleries in this part of town as well. After all that walking, treat yourself to big plate of poutine—fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.
What to Expect: Part of a larger Aloha Festival, which celebrates various facets of Hawaiian culture, the Oyama Ukulele Festival takes place an hour and a half north of Tokyo. Get to know the rising stars of Japanese ukulele with performances by MeiWataru YamaRyo, Tomoki Sato, Gensblue, and more.
What to Wear: It can be unbearably hot and humid in Japan during the month of August and, given the festival is largely outdoors, you’ll want shorts and sandals.
What to Do: Oyama is a small city—by Japan’s standards—with a branch of the Watarase River flowing through the center of the city. Nearby city Nikko boasts ancient Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, but if you’re looking for more excitement, head to Tokyo, which will be buzzing with street festivals and evening fireworks.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Ukulele magazine.