The four-string Hawaiian box earns its own festival
By Mike Cook, Las Cruces Bulletin
The first-ever Las Cruces UkeFest is virtually sold out, according to Las Cruces Ukes President Cheryl Fallstead.
The only ukulele festival in southern New Mexico takes place Friday through Sunday, May 19 -21, at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, 4100 Dripping Springs Road.
The festivities include a live concert (sold out), workshops for adults (sold out) and children (some slots open), a jam session and prize drawings for valuable ukuleles and accessories, books, artwork, food and an embroidered shirt from Real Man in Mesilla. Vendors will line the museum’s hallway, offering T-shirts, hats and ukulele straps.
The cost to attend all three days of the festival is $110. The Friday night concert and kids’ workshop, which includes the fun and games workshop and a coloring book/music book, are $15 each, pending available tickets.
The event will feature world-class instructors and performers, Fallstead said, including Heidi Swedberg, who will lead the children’s workshop. Swedberg, a graduate of Sandia High School in Albuquerque, is perhaps best known as Susan Ross, fiancée of George Costanza, from the television sitcom “Seinfeld.” She also guest starred on “Matlock,” “Thirtysomething,” “Quantum Leap,” “Northern Exposure” and “Sisters,” and has appeared in numerous film roles.
Instructors Liz and Jim Beloff founded Flea Market Music, Inc. in 1992, which publishes the “Jumpin’ Jim’s” series of ukulele songbooks. Other Ukefest instructors include singer/songwriter Danielle Ate the Sandwich (stage name of Danielle Anderson), Los Alamos native and classical guitarist/ukulele player Daniel Ward, and Las Cruces’ Gorton Smith, a retired minister, active actor and ukulele player.
The UkeFest schedule:
• May 19: 5:30 p.m., registration; 7 p.m., concert
• May 20: 9 a.m., registration; 9:45 a.m., welcome and orientation; 10:15 a.m., workshops; 12:30 p.m., lunch; 3 p.m., kids’ workshop; 5:15 p.m., prize drawings; 7:30 p.m., jam session at Hilton Garden Inn
• May 21: 10 a.m., workshops (including “The Gospel According to Uke” facilitated by Gorton Smith); 12:15 p.m., festival ends.
Las Cruces Ukes, a nonprofit community group of ukulele enthusiasts, has given 60 performances since it played for the first time on June 18, 2014, at the Village at Northrise in Las Cruces, Fallstead said.
The club includes members of all ages, abilities and experience. There is no cost and no audition to join, and no experience is required. You don’t even have to own a ukulele.
“We’re just a bunch of amateurs having fun,” said Las Cruces Ukes Chief Musical Officer Bob Hall.
Las Cruces Ukes has two practice groups for adults and teens: the Strum for Fun group and the performance group, according to lascrucesukes.com. “The main differences are that the songs for the Strum for Fun group tend to be a bit easier and they’re played just to have a good time. The performance group ventures out into the community to perform, so those practices are focused on improving and fine-tuning songs.”
Strum for Fun meets at 5:15 p.m., and the performance group at 6:30 p.m., both on Thursdays, at Good Samaritan Las Cruces Village, 3011 Buena Vida Circle.
“The Las Cruces Ukes Teen Club meets from 3:15 to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays during the school year at Arrowhead Park Early College High School.
Las Cruces Ukes Kids’ Club for beginners aged 6 to 12 meets from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. the second and fourth Saturdays of each month at El Calvario United Methodist Church, 300 N. Campo St.
“Ukuleles, and ukulele festivals, are popular world-wide,” Fallstead said in a Ukefest news release. “The four-stringed instrument from the Hawaiian Islands is easy to play and transport and lends itself to playing as a solo instrument or with a group of friends.”
Many ukulele players are avid collectors. Smith owns 10 ukes, and Fallstead and Hall each own eight. “You can’t have just one,” Smith said.
For more information, visit https://lascrucesukefest.com and lascrucesukes.com.
Mike Cook may be reached at email@example.com.