Last weekend, Lulu and I drove over the Cascades to Redmond, Oregon to attend the 3rd Annual Ukulele University event at the Deschutes County Expo Center (fairgrounds) along with a couple hundred other ukers. Joining us were our friends Shelly & Randy from Moscow, Idaho. Shelly’s been playing the uke ever since picking one of mine up during a visit a number of years ago. Randy wanted no part of uking but had plenty of things planned while we were at the U. He’s a hard-core home brewer and was looking forward to visiting some of Bend’s craft breweries. Lulu even dusted off her soprano uke and started practicing again in anticipation of the weekend.
Shelly and Randy stopped at Cody’s for a visit before the weekend. Shelly and Wyatt are now BFFs.
The original plan was to drive Flipper over and camp in the adjacent RV park. I made reservations a couple of months ago. However, about 2 weeks before the event, I took Flipper down to the mechanic to have new rear springs put on. The original springs had lost their smile and were as flat as my singing. Matter of fact, they were actually starting to sag down a bit on the ends. The bushings were long gone and the whole mess looked like it was ready to break after crossing a tope (speed bump) in Mexico a little too fast. If that happened, the camper would drop down on top of the tires and, depending on our speed at the time, mayhem would ensue. So, new springs it is. As long as she was up in the air, I decided to have a new clutch installed as a sort of preventive measure. I was pretty sure she’d need one one of these days and why not now? I was assured it’d be no problem to have the rig back in time for our trip over the hill. Naturally, that’s not how it went. In spite of me driving the old springs up to the spring guys in Portland and Ed and Dave at Potter’s continually haranguing the spring guys over the phone, the rig wasn’t done until Thursday, which would have been okay if we’d known for sure it was going to be done. But, not knowing, and it not looking good, I cancelled the RV park reservations (and ate $15 doing so) and made reservations at a motel instead. Once we found out the rig would be done in time, which we found out Thursday around 2:00 PM, it would have cost me $52 if I’d cancelled the motel reservations. And, since Flipper gets about 15 mpg and the Camry gets around 25 mpg, it was much more cost-effective to drive the Camry and just stay in the motel.
As it turned out, it didn’t really matter. Shelly & Randy stayed in their trailer at the RV park and we spent all of our free time there.
The first seminar was scheduled for 1:00-2:15 on Friday. Lulu and I checked into our motel and headed to the RV park to hook up with Shelly & Randy. Randy, in what was to be the theme of the weekend, cooked us up some sausage and peppers for lunch so we’d be fortified for our classes. After lunch, we headed on over to the venue. Shelly and I chose Vintage Hawaiian Swing Tunes with Ben Bonham of the Hapa Hillbillies. Ben’s a really funny guy and a very good ukulele player as well as a guitarist and lap steel guitar player. His was the first of the classes where much more material was presented than could possibly be retained. But Ben, along with every other instructor, assured us that the material would be in orbit around our heads ready to reenter our brain’s gravitational pull when it was needed. I hope so. Meanwhile, Lulu attended Cinda Johnson’s Uke Can Do It seminar, a sort of pep rally for beginning ukers.
For the second workshop, from 2:30 to 3:45, I attended Intro To Doo-Wop, taught by The Refreshments. No, not the Roger Clyne band (wouldn’t that have been cool?) but rather, a trio of women from Eugene who perform doo-wop concerts around the area. The class was great and really a lot of fun. It was cool to realize how ubiquitous certain chord runs are in so many hits of the 50’s and 60’s. Tons of songs have exactly the same progression, just played a little faster or a little slower or maybe with a different strum or timing. Lulu and Shelly attended Two Chord Songs and Up by Ronnie Ontiveros, another member of the Hapa Hillbillies. They really liked the class and came back playing Van Morrison’s Moondance, which, as taught, was mostly 2 chords.
There were several merchant displays in the main hall. A couple of ukulele dealers and a couple of ukulele builders. Some really nice instruments were on display.
The baritone uke I bought recently is the largest ukulele I own but it couldn’t hold a candle to this big boy:
We wandered back over to the RV park for a couple of brews and a rest. Then it was back over to the venue to watch the entertainment. Randy’s job was to feed us. Accordingly, he went to the deli and came back with an assortment of meats and cheeses and chips and salsa and drinks for us to consume while we watched the musicians. Where would we be without support troops?
After the open mic session, a couple of seasoned performers played. First was Kurt Silva of Bend followed by the band, Cinder Blue.
The original plan called for a play-along to happen at the stage area after the last performer. The BUGs (Bend Ukulele Group members) had bought a bunch of beer to give away for free during the “jam session” but then found out that they weren’t supposed to do that. Apparently someone has the beer concession sewed up at the fairgrounds and the only beer on-site is supposed to be purchased from them. Well, as one member of the BUGs said, “Let’s all meet over at the RV park for a jam session. I’ll have lots of free beer and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be forced to buy Coors Light!” As it turned out, many of the University attendees as well as a bunch of the instructors were staying at the RV park so it became a no-brainer.
The jam session was well underway when we got there. In the middle of it was Rhan Wilson who was playing electric bass and giving cues to the players to keep them together: “When I raise the head of the bass like this, it means C, when I lower it like this, it means F, and when I do this with it, it means G.” This was really helpful. Along with giving us a steady beat to play to, Rhan really helped keep things as much together as you can expect from a bunch of independent ukers.
We finally wandered back to the trailer around 11:30. The session was still going strong long after we left.
Saturday morning, things were scheduled to start bright and early at 9:10. Adjacent to our motel was a great little cafe named Regio’s. The owner, Carlos, was the nicest guy you’d ever hope to meet. He really made us miss Mexico. I decided to start the weekend off with Eggs Benedict and Lulu had the Breakfast Burrito. Both were superb. Adequately fortified, we headed over to the fairgrounds.
We all split up on session one. Shelly went to Clawhammer Ukulele taught by Aaron Keim of the duo, The Quiet American. Lulu attended Playing Together, taught by Rhan Wilson, and I went to Rockin’ Hits From Your Reckless Youth taught by Brook Adams from Eugene. Lulu and I watched Brook perform the entire Abbey Road album solo on a ukulele when he visited the Salem Ukulele Strummers’ Association back before I retired. I don’t know about Shelly and Lulu but, once again, I got so much material that I can’t even begin to remember it all. I’m really hoping it does, indeed, reenter my brain’s gravitational pull someday.
For the next session, Lulu couldn’t find anything she wanted to go to that she felt matched her skill level so she and Randy went out and played. Shelly went to Be In A Doo-Wop Band taught by the Refreshments, and I attended Stupid Pet Licks taught by Brook again.
After this session we had a lunchtime concert with a number of the instructors and a few other members of the BUG showing off their licks. Lulu and Randy brought us pizza and drinks for the show.
After lunch was the final session of the day. Lulu attended Fingerstyle Ukulele taught by Aaron Keim, Shelly went to Rockin’ Hits From Your Reckless Youth by Brook Adams and I attended the Blues Workshop taught by Jeff Stevens of Cinder Blue. Jeff’s workshop, the first he’s ever taught, was really informative but the room was packed and it was hard for the folks in the back to hear or see what Jeff was doing. Many of the attendees didn’t have the courtesy to quit plinking away while Jeff was talking and a number of attendees were in way over their heads and kept asking basic questions that slowed everything down. Although visibly frustrated, Jeff presented a lot of material that I now need to go over and try to digest. Lots of alternate chord voicings, lots of ways to play chords so that soloing is easier, etc. Later in the evening I saw Jeff and told him that I really appreciated his class in spite of it not going as well as he probably hoped it would. He thanked me and said if I had any questions on the material he’d be happy to answer them either via e-mail or over at his trailer in the RV park. That’s the kind of faculty we had at Uke U.
There was a play-along and an open mic following the last session but we chose to head back over to the trailer and chill. Our fingers were so sore by this point that a play-along just didn’t sound that good.
After a dinner of Randy-made burgers, we headed back over to the tent for the evening’s entertainment. First up was Aaron and Nicole Keim, The Quiet American. These two are great. They play and sing traditional folk songs and songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Aaron is superb on banjo and ukulele and Nicole plays the uke, the accordian, the washboard and has a beautiful voice. They were joined onstage by Ronnie and Ben (Hapa Hillbillies). I ended up buying three of their CDs. Aaron and Nicole were followed by the Hapa Hillbillies, or at least two of them: Ronnie and Ben. They did a bunch of great songs, some of which were hapa haole numbers. They were joined onstage by Aaron for a couple of songs. Next up was Brook Adams who did part of his Abbey Road set as well as a number of original tunes.
The final act was the most surprising. Rhan Wilson and Rick Zeek from Santa Cruz came out and did a few slow, haunting things that turned out to be familiar songs played in a minor key. Apparently this is Rhan’s thing and he’s done something called An Altared Christmas where he does the same thing. The songs take on a whole different persona when played in a minor key. After a few songs, Rick left the stage and Rhan proceeded to show off his uke. It had two pickups with separate leads. In other words, each pickup could plug into its own amp. Or maybe into a synthesizer? He showed us how, with the turn of a knob, the uke could go from sounding like an ukulele to sounding like a saxophone or a church organ. Pretty impressive, but just the beginning. He was also plugged into a looping pedal. He started a song by creating a loop of him making sort of a drum rhythm with his mouth. Once that was playing along, he added some background ukulele chord rhythms. Over the top of that he added a few more things until he had a very impressive sounding band playing. Then he started playing some saxophone solos on his uke. He really had things boppin’ along. Heads were nodding, some folks were dancing, others were rocking in their chairs. Then Rick joined him again and they started to sing. Unbelievably enough, what came out was “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show among others. Amazing. When the show was over, the guys were called back for an encore. Rhan started things off by getting the audience to clap out a rhythm. Then he played some stuff on his magic uke and next thing you know we were all singing “Movin’ On Up“, the theme song the”The Jeffersons”. It was a hoot. After the show, people wandered off. Many gathered back at the RV park for another jam session but, like I said, our fingers were sore and our hands were tired so we bowed out.
The only thing scheduled Sunday morning was a sort of gospel sing-along led by Rhan and Rick and titled Matthew, Mark, UKE, and John. It was scheduled to start about 9:30. Shelly and Randy decided to head out early as they had to drive all the way to Sandpoint, Idaho. Lulu and I opted to sleep in and then have breakfast at Regio’s again. This time I had a scramble named after a customer or a cook, not sure which. Mine was eggs scrambled with salsa verde, sausage and bacon and served with hashbrowns, refried beans and a tortilla. Lulu had a different scramble that used red salsa in place of the green. Both were very good. We visited Lulu’s youngest brother later in the afternoon and then headed home Monday morning after another great breakfast at Regio’s. This time Lulu went simple with just eggs, hashbrowns and an English muffin. I opted for (I think it was) Mike’s Special which was an omelet stuffed with shredded beef along with peppers and onions and then topped with red enchilada sauce and melted cheese. YUM! This was something that Carlos used to make for himself. A customer (Mike) saw him eating it and asked why it wasn’t on the menu. Now it is.
So, Ukulele University 3 was a blast. We will definitely do it again if the opportunity presents itself. Now if I can just conjure up all that stuff I was taught.