By Jim D’Ville
In the shadow of the majestic Cascade Mountains in central Oregon, Ukulele University is an annual gathering of those dedicated to higher education on the ukulele. Held at 3,600 feet above sea level, UU6 was once again a sold-out affair with 350 eager ukulele players attending from throughout the western states, Canada, and beyond.
The event was held on the beautiful campus of the Cascades Academy, a private school located just seven miles north of Bend, July 14–16, 2017.Hosted by the BUGs (Bend Ukulele Group), the Ukulele University once again booked a talented and diverse faculty for a weekend of study and entertainment. Seattle was well represented by Neal Chin, Arden Fujiwara, and swing man Casey MacGill. In from his home on the Big Island of Hawaii, Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz founder Andy Andrews was joined by uke stars Lil’ Rev, Danielle Ate The Sandwich, and The Quiet American (Aaron and Nicole Keim). Local artists included Patty Sage, Denise Hinz, Tanya Hackett, Carl Ventis, Kurt Silva, Cinda Johnson, Bill Keale, and bassist Milo Fultz.
The daily curriculum at UU was a mixture of workshops, group jams, open mics, and late-afternoon instructor concerts. One thing that makes this event stand out is the skill level of the participants. As someone who sees a lot of ukulele clubs, this is a direct reflection on the successful club the Bend group facilitates. And according to organizer Bob Rasmussen, “There are probably several factors: returning attendees know what to expect, and self-select workshops appropriate for their skill level. We have a series of workshops just for absolute beginners, and the instructors are outstanding. Another significant factor is that our workshops are paperless. Instructors either do not use handouts (like Jim DʼVille), or they use a projector and a screen, so that folks’ attention is on the instructor at the front of the room, rather than looking down at a handout or book. I know this is true at our weekly Bend Ukulele Group jams.”
The most notable aspect of the Ukulele University festival is the spirit in which the presenters approach the event. According to Bob, “Everyone involved with Uke U, the volunteers, attendees, musicians, and sponsors, understands that we are creating a festival dedicated to fostering the spirit of aloha through friendship, education, and ukulele music. This spirit is infectious, and people leave on Sunday with a smile on their face and a glow in their heart, telling us ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ They aren’t just talking about workshops, or performances, or the playalongs and open mics, they are talking about the feeling they get.”A major benefactor of the UU event is the BUGs’ Ukes for Youth program, which in the last year enabled over two thousand students to play ukuleles in the local school system. Also this year, BUGs members have taken ukuleles to Tanzania, Haiti, Jordan, and Palestine, spreading the joy of ukulele, and demonstrating that music can bring people together, across cultural, ethnic and linguistic barriers. Donations from sponsors of instruments, accessories, and beautiful handmade, one-of-a-kind items were raffled and auctioned off at this year’s festival, raising over $5,000 for the project.” Plans for next year will be announced in late September, with Bob adding, “We may be changing it up a bit, including dates and lineup, so stay tuned to our Ukulele University Facebook page or our website, www.ukeu.info for details.”