Ukes on the waterfront
Belfast — Sounds many associate with the Hawaiian islands will be drifting over Belfast Harbor Saturday, June 7, thanks to the inaugural Belfast Ukulele Picnic at Steamboat Landing and The Boathouse.
“Some people say we shouldn’t say ‘the first annual’ but I am, I think it’s a positive thing,” said organizer Frets Halligan, who helms the city’s Tuesday evening uke strum at Harbor Hill.
The Belfast Ukulele Picnic is patterned after another “first annual,” last August’s NH Ukulele Picnic in Nashua, N.H. The day will get under way at 11 a.m. with Halligan’s “uke from scratch” workshop. From noon to 5 p.m., there will be performances by a number of the state’s strumming groups, as well as workshops by the evening concert’s headliners, plus demonstrations of authentic Tahitian and Hawaiian dance. The free afternoon portion of the picnic — donations gratefully received — will conclude with a mass strumming of all ukists on hand.
“I hesitate to say which song, but it will probably be Hank Williams’ ‘Jambalaya.’ It’s in the key of C and only has two chords,” said Halligan a week and a half before the event.
That’s on page 140 for those with a copy of “The Daily Ukulele.” The creators of that much-relied-upon tome, Jim and Liz Beloff, are among the performers during the evening concert at The Boathouse. There is a suggested donation of $10 for the 6:30 to 9 p.m. show. Also in the lineup are The Edukated Fleas; and Dos Eckies, the talented duo of Joel Eckhaus and Kris Eckhardt. Opening the evening will be the newly formed Bay Chamber Ukuleles orchestra and Frets & Fingers, featuring Halligan and Vic Treadwell.
Eckhaus is a Maine ukulele powerhouse, a performer and luthier who runs Earnest Uncommon Musical Instruments in South Portland. In addition to ukulele, he plays mandolin, tenor guitar and saw … and he has made ukuleles for people far and wide, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and singer/songwriter Neko Case. Eckhardt is best known for his work in King Memphis, Maine’s premier rockabilly band. Dos Eckies purvey a genre they call uka-billy.
The Beloffs own and operate Flea Market Music, Inc., publisher of the popular Jumpin’ Jim’s series that includes “The Daily Ukulele: 365 Songs For Better Living” and “The Daily Ukulele: Leap Year Edition,” two of the largest ukulele songbooks ever published. Other collections focus on country, rock/pop, blues, bluegrass, classical music and jazz standards arranged for ukulele by some of the finest players in the world.
The Edukated Fleas — Greg Doyle and Wendy Matthews — proudly proclaim themselves to be 78 rpm in an MP3 world. Their repertoire includes swing tunes, standards and cowboy tunes from the 1920s through ‘50s.
“Greg plays a baritone and Wendy a soprano; they’re a great team,” said Halligan, adding he knows most of the headliners from the NY Uke Fest.
Both the Fleas and the Beloffs will be traveling to Belfast from Connecticut. Halligan said getting performers to come to the Picnic wasn’t hard at all.
“It was an easy sell — everyone I ran it by wanted to come up,” he said.
The afternoon performing players, although they may prefer the term strumming, will be Maine-based uke groups from Machais to Peaks Island and including ukists from Farmington, Blue Hill, Falmouth and the Belfast area’s Midcoast Ukes. As is always the case with this populist instrument, anyone with a ukulele and mind to strum it is encouraged to bring it to the waterfront.
The event is co-sponsored by Belfast Parks and Recreation and Our Town Belfast. As the name — and Isaac Wright’s whimsical poster graphic — implies, bringing a picnic basket and blanket is encouraged … and there will be food vendors on-site, as well. Also setting up tents will be Camden’s K2 Music, which has become the local uke go-to; and Ohana Music, which Halligan said raffled off some ukes at the Nashville picnic.
It all should make for a full day, rain or shine; if the Maine Celtic Celebration can occupy the waterfront for a weekend whatever the weather, Halligan said the Belfast Ukulele Picnic should be able to pull off one day. And besides, “It’s all about a fun event for all ages,” he said.
For more information, see the First Annual Ukulele Picnic page on Facebook.