After two years of virtual events due to the pandemic, Strathmore’s annual UkeFest returns in person to North Bethesda, Maryland, for five days from Saturday through Tuesday.
“UkeFest is all about the mighty ukulele, that four-string piece of wood and wonder,” artistic director and Grammy winner Cathy Fink told WTOP. “It is an instrument played by everyone from kids up to seniors, and that’s what our UkeFest has. We have classes, we have jam sessions, we have concerts, we have a celebration, awesome community.”
Fink says that Strathmore did “a great job at navigating the pandemic waters” virtually, but she’s excited to welcome 90 ukulele students and 10 staff members back in person to Strathmore for a “masked, vaccinated, indoor, air conditioned experience.”
Morning classes are devoted to developing ukulele skills. Students are divided into different class levels from advanced to intermediate to beginner, while the afternoons are “choice classes,” where students decide which elective styles they’d like to try.
Fink leads an acclaimed faculty including her Grammy-winning partner Marcy Marxer, who will teach the music of Duke Ellington on ukulele. Herb Ohta Jr., from Oahu, will teach Hawaiian ukulele; Daniel Ward, from Los Angeles, will teach Flamenco ukulele, and Eve Goldberg, from Toronto, will turn beginners into intermediates.
“There’s real skill development,” Lauren Campbell, vice president of education and community engagement for Strathmore, told WTOP. “You can come in as a confident beginner and leave an intermediate. We take seriously the skill building and have a really sophisticated advanced track. Or, if you want to just strum, sing, relax … you can do that too.”
It all builds to a Wednesday sing-along and play-along concert on the lawn at Strathmore.
Most students bring their own ukuleles. Fink recommends buying one at Middle C Music in D.C. or The House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park, Maryland. If you can’t afford one, some instruments will be on site, donated by the festival sponsors.
Registration closes Friday at noon.