View Full Version : WCUR Write Up (Very Long)

05-22-2012, 07:43 AM
You can only post 10,000 characters so I had to edit this a lot. If you have any questions or want more information because you think you might want to go next year, send me a PM and I'll answer as best I can.

Checking into Asilomar and WCUR was easy and fast. There were folders labeled with each attendees name. They included a map, a detailed daily schedule and a conference name tag along with the best designed lanyard I've ever used.

All meals were held in the Dining Hall. There were 2 choices at each meal, both with a vegetarian version available. Nothing served was fancy but it was tasty and there was plenty of it. The best thing about the meals was the company. There were 10 seats to each round table and every person at your table was into ukulele so the conversations were great. Of course, uke people in general are awesome so even when we veered off of uke to talk about other things the conversation was sparkling.

The only official activity for the first day was the instructor showcase/orientation. There were some truly talented instructors and we got to see everyone except Elaine perform. In no particular order: Andy Andrews (creator and long time leader of the Santa Cruz Ukulele Club), Dave Egan (sound engineer extraordinaire), Kumu Pomaika'i (fearless hula leader), Gerald Ross (slide guitar and uke), Fred Sokolow (Fretboard Roadmap), Joel Eckhaus (luthier and parodist), Peg Reza (vocals and uke) and Jim D'Ville (promoter of doing everything by ear).

The schedule:
7:30am - breakfast
9am - workshop 1
10:30am - workshop 2
12pm - lunch
1:30pm - workshop 3 and instructor on duty for individual help
3pm - slam jam groups
4:30pm - workshop 5
6pm - dinner
8pm - evening event
10pm - theoretically bed time but really time to find a place to get together and jam
midnight - security comes and tells you that really, you need to quite down and go to bed

The schedule was VERY full. I didn't make it to any of the late jams because I was exhausted and in bed by 10:30pm. Next year I'm going to take vitamins and stay up late the week before in training.

These were some of the workshops I attended. There were between 4-6 sessions scheduled during each slot so there was a lot to choose from. I've been playing for 8 months so I chose beginner stuff. There were more advanced workshops offered.

Moveable Chords for Dummies (3 sessions) - Elaine - This series was perfect for me. Elaine went over how moveable chords work and focused on a moveable version of G, Bb and D7. We practiced songs that featured these chord shapes in various versions and she really took the time to make sure each of us got the concepts and that we could each make the chord shapes and move them. Elaine is patient and truly dedicated to making sure that everyone learns something and has a good time. She also gave each of us a kana-ka-pila clip on music stand and made all of our music into half sheets so we could clip it to our ukuleles and not have to haul out our heavy and sometimes awkward folding wire music stands.

Ukulele Ergonomics - Dave - This is the workshop that changed the way I play. It would have been worth the cost of the retreat just for this one session. Dave has been teaching music for 20 years. He has analyzed how students have problems and figured out solutions. I can finally bar chords comfortably now. I actually had cramps in my fretting hand after the 1st day of Moveable Chords then I took the Ergonomics workshop and had no cramps the 2nd or 3rd day. If you have any pain or awkwardness with the way you fret or strum and you have a chance to take a workshop from Dave, do it. You'll be so happy.

Slam Jam with Andy and Dave - Attendees were randomly assigned to a group. Each group was led by an instructor or 2 and was tasked with creating a 5 minute performance for the final evening. My group decided to do 2 Hank Williams songs. We went with "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and ukulele standby "Jambalaya". We didn't do standard versions of either song and we did some cool instrumental stuff so the more advanced members of our group could show off their fingerpicking. It came together really well and helped us connect with each other and some of the instructors. It was also a lot of fun.

Fingerpicking Basics - Jim - Jim has more energy than any other adult I've ever met. He quickly took us through some basic music theory (circle of fifths, I-IV-V7 chord progressions). He worked on our ear training and helped us be able to hear when the chord changes were coming. We also used the solfege to help us name each of the open strings and worked on different fingerpicking patterns and positions.

Uke-a-billy Jam - Joel - This was a blast! We played music by Elvis and the Everly Brothers and others. Joel showed us neat ways to make our playing more interesting liked breaking up a long line of C strums with some C6 in a rocking kind of pattern. He handed out detailed song sheets and I'm looking forward to adding some of the embellishments he taught us to other songs. Joel is obviously a talented teacher. He was able to patiently encourage us beginners along without bogging down the pace of the class for the more advanced attendees. I don't know how he did it but I was sure glad to have participated!

3-Chord Magic - Jim - This was the 2nd workshop I took with Jim during the retreat and the 4th I've taken with him altogether. He even made a joke that I was probably the only woman to sing his I-IV-V7 song with him in 3 different states. Why do I take Jim's workshops again and again? I take them because I get something new every time. My understanding of music theory and the way that western music works increases every single time I take a workshop with Jim. This particular workshop had us doing a lot of fun 3 chord songs without any song sheets. Once we became accustomed to what the I-IV-V7 chords were Jim could just tell us the key we were in and then shout out the numbers as we came to them. It made me feel almost like a real musician who could jam.

Leading a Group - Andy - I attended this session to learn about how to lead a group in a song and what better person to learn from than the man who started the hugely successful Santa Cruz Ukulele Club? During the workshop, Andy told us that you need to start a song like a dictator and end it like Gandhi. You have to set a beat at the beginning and make sure that everyone is on the beat before you start singing but let things go when it comes to people playing the wrong chord or fubbing the words. He gave some wise advice about creating song sheets, dealing with complaints and structuring a group.

Evening Events:
These were held from 8pm-10pm each evening. I already went over the Instructor Showcase/Orientation so I'll briefly highlight the other 3.

Campfire Singalong - Asilomar is pretty chilly at night. The highs were in the low 60s so it got into the 30/40 degree range at night. Around 40 or 50 people were sitting around a pit filled with wood and newspaper and not a single one of us could light the thing. No one that came smoked or had a lighter or matches. After a bit a facilities guy came with a little propane torch and lit us up. We got started with a rendition of the Pointer Sisters "Fire" and then went on from there with various songs and playing/singing games. It was so much fun.

Group Jam - This event was held inside and we had a small snafu about which area of the dining room we were supposed to be in. We started in one room and when we had to move Peg led us in a very rousing version of "Catfish Saturday Night" to get our catfish feet walking on over to the other room. We were really packed in but we managed to have a great time singing and playing and even dancing.

Student Cabaret - You could sign up for individual or group slots and each of the 6 slam jam groups would be performing. One group did a cool americana themed song with costumes. Another group wrote a song, "The Ukulele Player's Lament", that I am trying to get the words for because it was hilarious. Those taking the hula workshops played and danced. It was astonishing how much talent there was in the group as a whole and people did some really clever things with only 3 days to rehearse.

Before I close this long write up, I want to say something about the location. Asilomar is gorgeous. The grounds are covered with windswept evergreens and the wooden buildings merge with the landscape. I saw a raccoon, a family of deer, squirrels and brash blue jays. It was a short walk between the lodgings and the classrooms and the dining hall and only a slightly longer walk to the ocean. It was great to have everything in one place. It was also a huge asset to have all our meals in the dining hall. The instructors ate with us and they made a point to spread out so you were pretty much guaranteed to have a fount of ukulele knowledge and wisdom at your table. I even ambushed Dave Egan at breakfast one morning because I couldn't remember the finger exercise he had demonstrated at class the previous day. He graciously explained how to do it and didn't seem upset at all that I had interrupted his meal. All of the instructors were like that.

The retreat as a whole was an amazing experience. Elaine is a fantastic organizer and she goes above and beyond to make sure that everything runs smoothly. When problems crop up as they inevitably do she does everything in her power to fix them and make things right so that your experience will be the best it can be. As with most experiences, it is the people that make things special. Both the instructors and fellow attendees were always willing to help out, show you something again or explain a new concept. It was the people I met and the friendships that started that made the retreat something I'll want to do again. If you can manage it, I highly recommend the West Coast Ukulele Retreat to any level of ukulele player.


05-22-2012, 10:20 AM
Nix, It was a pleasure seeing you again in a new state! It surely was a great 86 hours of ukulele mayhem. Look for the camp video up soon on the WCUR site.

05-22-2012, 10:57 AM
I completely agree with Nix about WCUR, this was my second year attending.
Many folks complain about the price, but it is a FIRST CLASS EVENT.
The retreat format makes the event special. The Wine Country Festival is also well done, but different than the retreat.
We will be attending WCUF in September and hope to meetup with many of my WCUR friends.

05-22-2012, 10:59 AM
I completely agree with Nix about WCUR, this was my second year attending.
Many folks complain about the price, but it is a FIRST CLASS EVENT.
The retreat format makes the event special. The Wine Country Festival is also well done, but different than the retreat.
We will be attending WCUF in September and hope to meetup with many of my WCUR friends.

When in September is that?

05-22-2012, 11:05 AM
Thanks nix for the breakdown. I'm going to do my best to attend next year. I wonder if anyone in the forum went to the hula seminars, I wanna hear about that too =D

05-22-2012, 11:14 AM
Great write-up, thanks! I really like your writing style. :shaka:

05-22-2012, 11:28 AM
When in September is that?

Ho, Brah!

Here's the link to the Wine Country Ukulele Festival (WCUF) this coming September 7th, 8th, & 9th:


And here's the link to the WCUF website: http://winecountryukefest.com/

05-22-2012, 07:02 PM
Great write-up, thanks! I really like your writing style. :shaka:

Thanks Steedy! I was pretty wordy and detailed so I had to cut out about a third of my original write up and was worried that it came over as choppy.


05-23-2012, 05:36 AM
Thank-you, Nikol. That was so very sweet.

But I really must say that it was the wonderful energy that everyone brought to Asilomar that created the memories that will stay with us (and haunt some of us) forever. The folks who'd come the year before were not as shy as they had been last year and that opened the doors for the folks who were there for the first time. And all of you, instructors included, were wonderfully willing to take risks....

Just about everyone I've spoken with is already planning for next year's Ukulele Band Slam. We're talking original scores, props, costumes, the whole nine yards. You can bask in your glory this year, Team Eckhouse, but you won't be holding on to your title for long!

We'll be posting Jim D'Ville's retreat video on the website (www.ukuleleretreat.com) shortly. In the meantime, folks are starting to post photos to the Retreat's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/West-Coast-Ukulele-Retreat/310624788975980?bookmark_t=page

We will be doing it again! Hope you can make it! Remember...the early bird gets the worm......

05-24-2012, 07:29 PM
OK. We've got quite a few photos uploaded to the Facebook page. If anyone who was there has any more, let's get them up! Also, if you can identify any of the folks in the pics by tagging them....that will help those of us who have trouble putting names and faces together.


05-27-2012, 10:09 AM
Here's the link to the video. What a great time was had by all!


ukuLily Mars
05-28-2012, 11:25 AM
Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed description of the retreat and for sharing it with all of us! I have not yet attended a retreat or festival and now I really want to. You make it sound both fun and educational!

05-28-2012, 11:36 AM
What is the price?

06-04-2012, 09:13 AM
For info on next year's retreat, the best bet is subscribe to the website: www.ukuleleretreat.com We'll be posting dates and prices shortly andif you subscribe, you'll be among the first to know.....