LA Ukulele Festival My First


Well-known member
Oct 19, 2022
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Redondo Beach, CA
I want to share a brief report on my first ukulele festival. It was exciting, exhausting, and wonderful in so many ways. My wife, Chris, and I have been playing a little less than a year. We came home from Oahu last October with our new love for ukulele and were very disappointed to see we had just missed the annual Los Angeles Ukulele Festival. We have been taking lessons playing for our teacher, and playing with/for one another, but we have never been part of an in-person ukulele group activity of any sort before. So this was a bit of a culture shock, but in a good way.

We didn't attend the Friday night luau meet and greet, but we did have dinner and a nice visit with @rainbow21. As he has been in both our exchanges here and via email, @rainbow21 was most gracious, helpful, and generous. We played a bit for one another and talked story and generally had a great time getting to know one another. He brought books and ukulele paraphernalia to donate at the festival, and we were lucky enough to get first crack at the books. I wanted the Abe Lagrimas Jazz book, and the Lute to Ukulele book, and Chris grabbed an Intro to Fingerstyle book.

On Saturday, we thought we were arriving early, but by 8:40 there was already a crowd. The location has a tremendous amount of parking since it is the lot for most of the Torrance Civic Center. The Torrance Arts Center has a large outer plaza surrounded by several buildings or halls, and then there is an inner plaza with a main stage. The outer plaza was the main marketplace with booths and tables. The inner plaza had a gate where you got your wristband for easy entry/exit after showing your paper or e-ticket. The inner plaza also had a few booths, but it was primarily seating (moveable outdoor chairs) for the main stage. There was also access to several building or meeting rooms from the inner plaza. We were hauling quite a bit: our two ukuleles, plus bags and backpacks with ukulele related stuff (printed downloads, music stand, tuner, ets.), and we also brought two ukuleles to donate. So we were just looking for a place to sit down and park.

As we walked into the inner plaza we noticed Kalei and Corey had an Anuenue booth right next to the main stage, and it was oozing with Moonbirds and Cedarbirds in different sizes. I may have even spotted a Koabird, not sure. Then there was the main stage which seemed extremely fluid. It was part sing-along and part performance, but artists where coming a going song by song. It was kind of amazing, like a realtime jam plus strum-along. Then as we were looking for a place to sit down, I noticed someone who looked like Kimo Hussey. I asked my wife (I am terrible at recognizing people), and she assured me it was Kimo--look at the smile! I'm not kidding, just seeing Kimo in person and my day was already made. As we stumbled further into the plaza we saw @rainbow21 waving us over to where he had saved a couple seats. David (@rainbow21) told me I to go play a Cedarbird and Moonbird before it got too crowded around the Anuenue booth. He watched our pile of stuff while we went over to say high to Corey and Kalei.

I tuned up a Cedarbird Concert and played it a little and then tried the Moonbird Concert, but frankly there was way too much going on for me to have any sense of how they sounded. Of course, they were beautiful and felt great in hand. As I turned from the booth, I almost bumped into Kimo, and I took the opportunity to introduce myself and thank him for all the terrific work he has done, both teaching and playing. He has been such an inspiration to us. We play his tracks endlessly and he is the main reason we both primarily play low-G. He he was there with his nephew, and he said it was strange, but kind of nice to be at a festival where he wasn't either performing or teaching or both. A bit star struck, we returned to our seats and enjoyed the stage performance. About that time the morning prize drawing was being held on stage, and we hadn't purchased any tickets for the drawing, so I circled the whole venue a couple times, finally finding the donation spot. I was amazed to see how populated the outer marketplace had become in just the last thirty minutes. Every spot for a booth or table was being set with everything from plate lunch and shave ice, to clothing and trinkets, to ukuleles and accessories of every shape and size imaginable.

The festival reminded me of a six ring circus, and that was not counting the marketplace. In the outer plaza a large hall had continuous beginner classes, with loaner ukuleles supplied. The beginner venue and outer marketplace were open to the public without ticket purchase. Different artists and teachers rotated through that beginner venue all day long. Then there was the main stage that featured performances and sing-along. And then there were four other meeting rooms or halls that featured workshops, sing/strum-along, and open mic. The first performance on the main stage was Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee. I decided to do a workshop instead, since I had just seen a live performance by Craig and Sarah last month. I did have some regrets when I looked out the window and saw that Kalei and Corey had spontaneously joined in. If I had one criticism of the festival, it was that I couldn't take it all in!

I have developed a number of ukulele relationships here on UU, and I was fortunate enough to meet several UUers at the event. Thanks to the initiative of @hands_on_lanzon, a group of UUers had arranged to meet during the festival Saturday morning. My wife and I were trying to organize a dinner and ukulele gathering at our place on Saturday night, but more on that later. Our meeting spot, suggested by @mitchchang was the Japanese Garden just off the outer plaza, and our meeting time was just after the Craig and Sarah performance. Below is a picture of the five of us, from left to right, @FatherMother, @ailevin, @rainbow21, @hands_on_lanzon, and @Ila.
Though we probably didn't spend more than fifteen or twenty minutes together in the garden, it was nice to meet and associate actual humans with the avatars. It was also very nice that throughout the day we would bump into one another in a workshop, or see one another at a performance. The festival itself was very welcoming and comfortable, but after the garden meeting, I felt was like we were attend with a small group of friends rather than as a couple.

My wife and I did some workshops together and some separately. I picked out a couple jazz and theory workshops, and she did more of the sing-along or strum-along. When we got back together, I could see how pumped up she was. Her sessions were with Lil Rev and Ukulenny, and the were both fantastic. She said they were both wonderful entertainers who really involved/engaged their audience. I was thrilled because, as I said earlier, we had never played with a group before, and she was concerned about her ability to keep up. However, she said the materials were well presented, the keys/chords were generally easy and familiar to her, and it really built her confidence. I think we will be participating with local groups much more after this experience.

It's hard to me to pick favorites, and I don't want to go on endlessly about every workshop or performance but here are a few of my Saturday highlights:
- Meeting Kimo
- Sarah Maisel's Intro to Jazz workshop; she is not only a talented musician, but a brilliant teacher
- Abe Lagrmas's Jazz Improv workshop; Abe provided an amazing roadmap that helped me understand how the chord changes in a jazz standard inform the scale/notes you use to improvise a melody line
- Abe's Trio Performance
- Getting string advice for my soprano from Kalei and Sarah
- Ukulenny somehow being everywhere at once and immensely entertaining
- Corey, Kalei, and Mika playing at the end of day

As I mentioned earlier, we were trying to arrange a get together on Saturday evening, but it was clear from the morning meeting that only a few folks were likely to attend. Frankly, by the end of the day we were so worn out, that we were a relieved that we had no takers for an after party. In the future if we do try anything like that it will be Friday night, not Saturday.

We attended Sunday as well. There was no outer plaza marketplace, and only a few booths in the inner plaza. There were only two venues, the main stage and one workshop area. The crowd was considerably smaller and the vibe was very different--more relaxed and low key. Thankfully, the good food and Kona coffee were still available. I got to do much more sing/strum-along with the main stage on Sunday, which I really enjoyed. The workshops that day did not have as much appeal for me on paper, but a funny thing happened during brunch. We went to get something to eat from the kitchen at the back of the room where Peter Luongo was teaching. We sat at the back of the room eating and were blown away by the last half of his course. After we ate, we stuck around to take his next workshop and it was both wonderful and shocking. He had us singing In the Mood in three part harmony a capella. If you haven't see the documentary The Mighty Uke, it is an interesting history, and it features Peter quite a bit. He is a teacher's teacher.

I can't wait for next year!

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The festival itself was very welcoming and comfortable, but after the garden meeting, I felt was like we were attend with a small group of friends rather than as a couple.
🥰 it was great meeting everyone and seeing the familiar faces around during the weekend. I enjoyed catching up with folks to ask about workshops or performances that I missed... which as you said, can be a lot!

I wish I had that Hermione spell (spoiler alert) where she made multiples of herself so she could learn more. Gimme all the uke neediness and knowlege!!
Thank you for taking the time to share with us Alan. I really enjoyed the read. So glad that you enjoyed and got so much out of it. (y)
Alan, I especially liked hearing this part:
My wife and I did some workshops together and some separately. I picked out a couple jazz and theory workshops, and she did more of the sing-along or strum-along. When we got back together, I could see how pumped up she was. Her sessions were with Lil Rev and Ukulenny, and the were both fantastic. She said they were both wonderful entertainers who really involved/engaged their audience. I was thrilled because, as I said earlier, we had never played with a group before, and she was concerned about her ability to keep up. However, she said the materials were well presented, the keys/chords were generally easy and familiar to her, and it really built her confidence. I think we will be participating with local groups much more after this experience.
There's a group that meets Saturdays 9:00am to 11:30am at the Anderson Park Senior Center (3007 Vail Avenue) in N. Redondo Beach, you should join up with them
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That was a cool read. I've never been to a uke festival and you gave a good feel for what it is like. Thank you for that.
Me, I say bring it on! I want to hear it all, man! 😊

Yeah!! But you know... If you feel like it. No pressure. (Nudge nudge nudge)

What choice do I have if the moderators want more? I don't want to get banned ;). This is pretty much stream of consciousness and thus fairly random.

  • The Festival was truly international. The artists and workshop teachers from Canada, Brazil, Italy, and Germany. A local Flamenco group performed and taught, accompanied by Mitch, and several others. Peter Luongo represented Canada. Jenifer Cabrera and Aline Kelly represented Brazil with a workshop on fingerstyle Samba and like many of the performers where on the main stage regularly with their own set and supporting other folks. Contrary to rumors circulating in our car on the way to the festival, Ukulollo and Ukulenny are not siblings. Ukulollo is an Italian singer, songwriter, and DJ. Ukulenny hails from Oakland.
  • Ukulenny is difficult to describe. He is a musical force of nature who moves rapidly from place to place on a tiny kick scooter carrying many instruments. It might be easier to describe what he doesn't play. And of course he sings. Oh did I mention juggling? I saw him play bass, ukulele, saxophone, percussion. A few times the call would go out, "Where's Lenny?" and he would suddenly appear armed with one instrument or another. At other times, he would scoot by the stage during a set between songs, and ask, "Need a bass player?" On Sunday during a group peformance and audience strum-along of Careless Whisper, he lept off the stage and played a wicked saxophone solo to me for one phrase; then ran to the other side of the audience and serenaded another startled, but appreciative fan. Wherever Ukulenny happened to be, the party was on and people were having a great time.
  • I didn't participate in the Lil Rev Workshop or strum along, but Chris loved his strum along and said it was as entertaining as Ukulenny's, which is high praise. She particularly liked his strum effect for the train chugging down the track in Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues.
  • Saturday night after we knew we were not having a get together, we decided to grab a quick bite to Wahoo's Fish Tacos. It was nearby and is one of our favorites. Wahoo's is usually packed at lunch, but at dinner time there was hardly anyone there even on a Saturday night, which is prime time for most restaurants here. As we walked in, we saw a couple looking at the menu, trying to figure out what to order. They told us to go ahead if we knew what we wanted. The combination of his red Wisconsin shirt and their general confusion about what to order at Wahoo's Fish Tacos, led me to ask if they had been at the festival. Of course, they had. I complemented them on their excellent judgement for both attending the festival and choosing Wahoo. We ordered, demonstrating our preferences, and they pretty much followed suit. After we ate, we had a nice conversation about other ukulele festivals they had attended, our shared experiences of the day, and ukulele culture in general. They were staying with friends in San Diego, so they had a long drive ahead of them. We were glad our commute was only 2.5 miles.
  • We had been iffy about attending Sunday. Even though we had already purchased tickets, it was hard dragging ourselves out Sunday morning. However, we were both very glad we went. I took the opportunity on Sunday to spend more time in strum-alongs and at the main stage, though as I described earlier, we stumbled into Peter Luongo's class as we ate. Saturday was definitely the main event, yet Sunday had a particularly intimate feel. It was like the brunch after a wedding hosted for all the out of town guests before they have to depart. Somehow it felt a little more personal, and the artists seemed to have a little more time to visit with one another as well. I overheard Peter Luongo telling Kalei and Corey that he was a big fan of their podcasts, and never misses them. I gather it was the first time those three met in person.
  • Speaking of Kalei and Corey, everyone wanted a picture with them! I told them next time they should bring some life size carboard cutouts of themselves. They are such nice and helpful guys. They were working on ukuleles and changing string sets at the Anuenue booth in between jumping on stage and performing on a moment's notice.
  • We didn't eat in the outer marketplace on Saturday, but we thought the food we sampled at the kitchen in the inner market was very good and quite reasonable given the quality. I am not sure about the entire menu on Saturday, but on Sunday in addition to dishes with pork, chicken, and beef, they had a nice vegetable stir fry. And yes, all the plates came with two scoops rice and vegetable or salad.
  • Mitch did a terrific job getting this together, getting the right sponsors/talent, and setting the feel of the festival. All I can say is Mahalo Mitch!! The one thing I would add is a map showing which venue is where within the complex.
In my first post, I said I couldn't wait until next year, which is true. Luckily, my teacher, Victoria Vox, and a number of others were at The LA Ukulele Festival on Saturday promoting an Orange County Ukulele Festival that is going to take place in March 2024. I guess we only have to wait six months to see what that festival is like. At our lesson today, when we shared the highlights of our festival experience with Victoria, she mentioned that Ukulenny will be attending the OC Festival.
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Alan, I especially liked hearing this part:

There's a group that meets Saturdays 9:00am to 11:30am at the Anderson Park Senior Center (3007 Vail Avenue) in N. Redondo Beach, you should join up with them
Thanks Mitch, I will check it out. My granddaughters have soccer games there regularly on the weekends.
Wow, thanks for sharing that, sounds like an incredible experience! Just curious, what ukes did you both bring to the event, and what kind of soprano advice did you get from Corey & Kalei?
We actually went back and forth about what to bring. We have two Enya U sopranos that are truly indestructible and inexpensive. Those would have been the choice for safety sake, and they really are pretty decent instruments, just not inspiring or as much fun as our good instruments. The instruments we play regularly are expensive (by our standards), but more than that, they are precious to us. We just didn't feel comfortable bringing them. My wife ended up bringing a Pono ATD and I brought an Anuenue C4. The Pono is an all solid acacia tenor. The C4 is a concert with a solid cedar top and laminate back and sides. The Pono is a fraction of the price of an entry level K-brand, but it gives up very little--it really is a wonderful instrument. In fact, having the Pono out preparing for the festival reminded us of how much we love that instrument (thanks again @Tin Ear). The Anuenue is a good instrument with plenty of volume and a nice tone. I enjoy playing it much more than playing the Enya, but it is just not in the same class for sound or playability as my Pops Okami Wow Concert.

We were very happy with what we brought. We really never worried about our instruments, or wished we had brought something else. Also, we were always playing in a crowd, so I never felt like it was any compromise at all.

I asked Kalei specifically about my Pops Okami Wow Soprano. KoAloha (Pops is KoAloha) uses the same flourocarbon strings for soprano, concert, and tenor. I find the tension on the soprano a little less than I would like and I asked him to recommend a higher tension string for that instrument. He suggested Fremont Black medium or hard tension, he said there was very little difference in how the two sets played on a soprano. The strings are in the mail and I will report back.
I will chime in here to add some of my thoughts on the festival. I flew down from the Bay Area and stayed two nights at a nearby hotel (that also housed Peter Luongo and his ensemble). What attracted me to do this was the lineup of performers from Hawaii. I figured it would be one of the rare opportunities for me to see and meet some of them. Even if you go to Hawaii (which I do), the opportunities to see them perform are rare.

So in looking at the schedule of workshops and performances, the conflict is real. You have to pick and choose and after working out a good looking plan, you see it fall apart in the first hour when Nue goes on stage unscheduled (no complaints though) and all the stage performances run a little late. I had to leave the Nue performance to do our UU group meetup. Consolation is I have their recently released CD and played it today.

It was really good to meet other UU members. Alan and Chris picked me up for dinner and we went to their place to share ukulele music afterwards (Thanks again!). Since I went alone, it was really beneficial to meet other friendly faces that I could just say hi to, even if in passing. It makes a difference. I expect to see hands-on-lanzon for some lunch and ukulele next week.

So my schedule was anchored by the performances and I only did one and a half workshops: Abe Lagrimas, Jr.'s Jazz Improv, which was outstanding as described by others, and the last twenty minutes of Mika Kane's Music Theory on the Nashville system. Sidenote: Mika has his own strings in the Uke Logic line. UL is introducing an "Artist Series" and his high G set takes the standard .19mm A string and replaces it with a second .23 C string to give higher tension (and probably less breakage). I have a set that I will use soon.

On to the performances...

First up was Craig and Sarah... and Ukulenny and then Mika. I wanted to hear Sarah sing again. I heard her twice at the SF Ukefest prepandemic and love hearing her. Ukulenny was on bass. Then they asked Mika to join them and that livened it up even more and was the first take of Mika. Then Nue for a song (sound just like the CD) and the short UU meetup. Corey and Kalei also had the aNueNue booth right next to the stage so that was a must stop to compare the Moonbird spruce with the Cedar Bird.

Around noon, Abe Lagrimas, Jr. came up with a drummer and bass player. Abe is an incredible musician (world class jazz drummer along with his ukulele playing) and he was the premier act I wanted to see. The trio did not disappoint. From here I caught the last part of Mika's workshop. After any workshop, I go to the instructor to chat briefly and thank them... later there will be a recognition which occurred when I went to his table and got the string set.

I did the 2 pm Abe workshop and then Mika was on stage after 3 pm. He started solo and then was joined by Sarah, Ukulenny, and Abe! Another solo, then Corey and Kalei joined him! These are all unscripted and unrehearsed so there is a lot of energy and spontaneity generating some incredible music.

Finally, after a performance by Peter Luongo's Legacy Ukulele Ensemble and some Flamenco dancing and the raffle, Corey and Kalei were there to close out the show. Most of us have seen them on numerous videos and are familiar with how skilled they are. Well, on stage, they have another level as they are playing to project to a live audience. And they are loud and showy. And, of course, they invite Mika up. And they absolutely kill "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". They absolutely KILL IT! Each of the three is showcased and it might go on for ten minutes. (Unfortunately, I did not video any of it because a video was supposed to capture all the stage performances but fell through. A real shame). I will say this one song made the entire trip worthwhile even though the trip was worthwhile even without this performance...

So it was a good trip for a good festival. I am uncertain on future attendance as it is a commitment to go out of town for the event. But another great lineup will tempt me. That is my brief report.
+1 on the lineup... mitch did a great job putting that together!
aside, seems like a whole bunch have moved (back) to Hawaii recently- C&S, CLin, Abe.
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