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Clearwater festival: All hail the ukulele, small but mighty

Bill DeYoung



The Birdwatchers, from Provo, Utah, headline Saturday's Ukulele Fest in the District evening concert in Clearwater. Publicity photo.

Old-school 20th century entertainers Arthur Godfrey and George Formby strummed ukuleles. Then, of course, came Tiny Tim.

George Harrison was known to be a nut for the lightweight, four-stringed Hawaiian instrument. Eddie Vedder made a whole album of nothing but his voice and ukulele.

From Honolulu, Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole who passed away in 1997, recorded one of the most moving strum-and-sing renditions of “Over the Rainbow,” still heard today, and Jake Shimabukuro is a well-known innovator, known worldwide as “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele.”

“I love it because I can take it anywhere,” enthuses St. Petersburg singer/actress Colleen Cherry. “ I was never as good as I wanted on the piano, and then I picked up the ukulele right out of college – because it was easier to play than the piano, and as soon as I learned a few chords I could accompany myself right away. And I started writing songs on it.”

According to statista.com, more than 1.7 million ukuleles were sold in the U.S in 2021, the most recent year with available data.

Ukulele “societies” have sprung up in communities across the county, to promote musical sharing, learning, camaraderie and regularly-scheduled kanikapilas (jam sessions).

Founded in 2009, the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, does all this and more. Through its educational arm, TBUS has donated ukuleles to schools and libraries in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Pinellas Counties, and members teach free beginner ukulele workshop programs.

The group has a festival Saturday (April 13) on the 400 block of Cleveland Street in Clearwater. in Clearwater. It’s called Ukulele Fest in the District (meaning Clearwater’s downtown district), and it’s a full day of workshops, lessons and performances. Starting at noon, there’ll be semi-spontaneous performances up and down the block (the ‘ol “strum and stroll”) from local, regional and even national performers.

The evening concert takes place at Peace Memorial Church/Roebling Hall, 110 South Fort Harrison Avenue. Admission is $10 to see and hear headline act the Birdwatchers: Kim Bjerga, Clark Holmes and Andy Nufer, on tenor, baritone and bass ukulele. The Utah-based trio (and occasional quartet) also specializes in three-part vocal harmony.

Also performing at the evening concert: Alabama’s Kirk Jones, with Norine and Vinnie Mungo

Find tickets, workshop registration and more here.









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