Words by Jim D’Ville // Photos by author unless noted
When the glaciers from the last Ice Age ceased their advance in south central Indiana some 12,000 years ago, the geologic upheaval created the magnificent sylvan paradise that is now home to the Ukulele World Congress. UWC X took place June 1–3, 2018, in what is affectionately known as “the Field.” UWC is a one-of-kind gathering of hundreds of ukulele players from all over the world. There are no workshops or concerts at UWC. This convergence of players returns year after year out of their love for the instrument and to renew many serendipitous friendships.
The Ukulele World Congress is the brainchild of Mike Hater of Mainland Ukuleles, based in nearby Nashville, Indiana. So did Mike ever imagine the UWC would grow into such a huge annual event? “Somebody asked me if I had a vision. No, I had a party ten years ago. You couldn’t have planned this.”
What started that first year with about 100 folks showing up has now evolved into a massive ukulele party that boasts several hundred attendees. Another primary reason for the success of UWC is its location in that magical field in the enchanted wooded hills of Brown County. Thom Pallozola, a member of the Flea Bitten Dawgs, offers an explanation on The Field’s mystique. “There was once an old hippie commune here so there has been music in this field since the ’60s. Toots & The Maytals even played here. A cool piece of history is the Dali Lama has a brother in Indianapolis and they got the Dali Lama to come down here and bless this field. That’s pretty good credentials.”
Jennifer Lowe, who has made the nearly 10,000 mile, one-way trip from her home in Sydney, Australia, eight times to attend UWC, explains why she returns year after year. “When I fell in love with the ukulele, I needed to be around other people who loved the ukulele as I did. This place welcomes you and, along the road, you get these friendships that deepen and deepen. One of the friends I’ve met here is as close to being a sister as I could get.”
The jewel in the UWC crown is the Open Mic Stage. The open mic runs Friday and Saturday, beginning at 4 p.m. each day and wraps up some 80 acts and 12 hours later, undoubtedly one of the longest in the world of music. There are individuals, spontaneous groups, young, old, elaborate costumes and every genre imaginable is performed. It’s a hoot!
The Ukulele World Congress is a free event. All you need do is pack a uke and a tent, some food and drink and you’ll be all set to spend the first weekend in June next year in ukulele heaven which, by the way, is just east of Needmore, Indiana.