Nine Reasons a Ukulele Festival Trumps Any Other Music Fest
The Blue Mountains Ukulele Festival was my first uke fest and I can say now that I get it. I mean, I got the Ukulele thing before but now I really get it.
The Blue Mountains Uke Fest is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere and it attracts people from all over the country and all over the globe. With six stages and over a 100 acts, it is big.
I’ve hung out in the music scene. I’ve been behind the velvet rope. I’ve been to musical festivals around the world but there’s some pretty clear reasons why a Uke Fest trumps the lot:
The first one is the positive vibe. It is overwhelming. It is infectious. Cynicism begone. If you know or speak to anyone who has been caught up in the Ukulele wave then this is probably the first aspect they will talk to you about. It is hard to deny.
Some people will say it comes from the instrument itself and that its tone just makes you feel good. It emanates out from the instrument and uplifts anyone who comes into contact with it. I’m not sure if that’s what it is. Having mystical qualities might be stretching it but there is definitely a lack of judgement and a sparkle in everyone’s eyes.
The best quote from the young and very cool virtuoso, Ryo Montgomery, who headlined on Saturday night.
“Can you imagine a guitar fest?” Ryo asked the crowd. “Imagine the ego at that.”
There’s no ego at a Ukulele Fest.
Happiness goes hand in hand with positivity. There is something unavoidable happy about the Ukulele and the Ukulele community.
The key is perhaps in that word, “community”. Social researchers will tell you that one of the keys to happiness is a sense of community and unity with your neighbour. That’s why we love sport. That’s we love live music. That senses of community and being ‘one’ with others makes you happy.
My favourite quote from the Blue Mountains was from a lady who told us, “I didn’t even bring a Uke to my first festival. I was just going to drop in and then go bushwalking. But I stayed for the whole thing. A week later I realised I was still smiling.”
The Ukulele community makes you feel welcome. It doesn’t judge. You are not your job or lack of it. You are just you and your ukulele. That’s all you have in common and that’s all you need.
The Ukulele community welcomes everyone. It does not judge. It does not vet. From Honolulu to Hokkaido. From Hawaiian shirt-wearers to Hipsters. From old rockers to righteous dudes. From vintage to Top Shop. From country to western.
They’re all there.
And it is not ageist. The Ukulele is just as accessible to toddlers, teens and 20-year-olds as it is to those with locks of grey.
If you think Ukulele is not for your niche. Then think again.
Like a stranger, the Ukulele is just a friend you haven’t met yet.
It is not new, this Ukulele thing. The current wave pre-dates Vance Joy. It pre-dates Eddie Vedder and his Ukulele Songs album. Ironically, for a tropical instrument, it is a snowball that has been building since just after the GFC.
I remember being in a music shop in around 2009 and the person in front of me asked to buy a Uke. The shop guy laughed. “We haven’t got any. There’s actually a world-wide shortage in Ukuleles,” he said. “They can’t make them fast enough.”
One of the reasons that the Ukulele world is so inclusive and so desirable to so many is that participation is encouraged. And expected. When you go to a Ukulele meet or a Ukulele gig, you don’t just sit in the audience and watch. You bring your Uke and you can join in if you want.
Performers will often tell the audience what the chords are in the chorus and say ‘feel free to play along’.
And not only play along but sing along. And sing they do.
And there’s a reason it is sooo easy to participate. The Ukulele is very portable. It is light and easy to carry. It is the perfect size for a backpack or a handbag. And it fits nicely in an overhead locker.
If there were 8000 people at the Blue Mountains Ukulele Fest, then it would be fair to say there were 8000 Ukuleles there as well.
If not more.
If you’ve hung around rock n roll at all then you’ll know that being on time is not a thing.
Not so, in Ukulele-land. Across the six stages and the 100-ish acts in the Blue Mountains everyone had a half-hour slot. Amazingly, everyone was on and off in their allotted time
In fact, the first act of the day was on at 10am. They were ready to go at 9:50am and stood onstage until the clock struck the hour. Then, bam, they were away.
7. DREAMS FULFILLED
If you’ve ever had a music fantasy, for instance, playing on-stage to an adoring crowd then this is your chance. Not matter what your level or what your style, the audience is there to cheer you on just for having a go.
You can’t get more Australian than that.
8. THE FASHION
It’s true. Most Uke-players have a thing going on. And it is usually in the form of a hat.
Whatever takes your fancy.
Best of all it is free.
Thanks for the festival Blue Mugs. I get it now.
Some images courtesy: KoAloha Ukulele