By Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel
Just as there are many different styles of ukuleles (and styles of playing them), ukulele festivals also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Every great uke fest includes a mix of workshops (of all levels), jams, and spectacular performances. Some festivals will have an emphasis on one of those staples to appeal to players yearning for something specific.
The Cairns Ukulele Festival redefines the ukulele festivals by treating it like a world-class music festival. Held in the northeastern Australian city of Cairns, a tropical location near the Great Barrier Reef, this year’s event happened August 25–28.
To start, the performances are top-notch. The main shows utilize park stages holding over a thousand attendees filled with music lovers and curious beach goers drawn in by the music. Groups of students, bands, and solo players from Cairns and all over Australia fill the stages.
While still having events familiar to ukulele festival attendees, Cairns also feature unique experiences, such as the popular ukulele building workshop hosted by KoAloha and intimate concerts in exotic locations (this year featured a backdrop of a gorgeous rainforest, other years included the Great Barrier Reef). There were also several concerts from artists from all over the world, with performances this year from Taimane, Kainoa Kamaka, GJ Lee, Ryo Montgomery, Nicky Bomba, Candra Kirana (an amazing band all the way from Bali), and Sarah Maisel and myself. A community stage also filled the day with over 15 different performances, followed by a parade and fireworks show.
This really is a community event that united local business that showed their support with discounts for festival attendees and tremendous support for the concerts and events. This year, there were ukuleles from companies such as Kanile’a, KoAloha, and Ohana, plus giveaways of GHS strings as well as tuitions to our online school.
Every festival has some amazing and touching moments. And, this year’s special moment came when a young girl who was celebrating her birthday in the park, fell in love with a ukulele on display at KoAloha. Captured by her instant connection with the ukulele, the KoAloha crew gave her the instrument to make her birthday even more special.
While ukulele festivals are becoming more popular around the world, the Cairns ukefest is creating a unique platform for the tiny instrument, and will be one to watch as it pushes all boundaries and redefines all expectations of what an ukulele festival can be.