cairns Ukulele Festival
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Pats adventures at the Cairns Ukulele Festval July 7 & 8,2012.
Woke up at 3.30am on a cold, wet Melbourne Saturday morning to catch the 6am plane to cairns. I asked my long suffering wife Ann and 5 year old daughter Sofia to drop me off at Tullamarine airport. The car was iced over and the temperature 4 degrees. I was carrying the original prototype Maton concert uke and four new ukes in a box as stock for Music City, our main ukulele dealer in Far North Queensland. They are ukulele specialists and one of the largest ukulele retailers in Australia.
Once landed at Cairns Airport (where it was a pleasant 24 degrees) I was picked up by Ted Middleton, our QLD sales representative and taken straight to Music City where I entered into the Ukulele world from which I would not emerge for two days. There were at least 100 different ukes scattered all over the shop and people falling over each other to get at them. We caught up with store owner Rick Montgomery who was holding court in his inimitable fashion. Assistants Rio (one of the best uke and guitar players you will ever see) and Tif (fantastic singer and uke player as well) had everything running like clockwork and kept customers happy. Eventually we were loaded up with ukes, stands and various other uke paraphernalia and sent off to Fogerty Park to set up a stall and see what would happen. I walked into ukulele bedlam with hundreds of people of all ages walking around with all types of ukes, looking at ukes, swapping strum patterns, signing up for the world record uke attempt and generally doing all things ukulele. I answered thousands of questions about Maton ukes both current and past as well as a few questions about our guitars. As the record attempt grew closer the theme changed to one of people buying as many cheaper ukes from the stand as possible as people became more passionate about joining in on the record attempt. There were also ukes available to borrow from the council (that’s what I call an enlightened city council!) The attempt was going to be made by playing along with Nicky Bomba's song “Travellin..”
Ultimately the attempt fell short by a few hundred players, nonetheless it was an amazing scene and the buildup was incredible. During the day the main stage featured all sorts of acts from various ukulele clubs and other bands. Colourful clothes, happy songs, good vibes were the order of the day. One scene I will never forget was ukulele crusader Mike Jackson warming up the crowd and taking them through a few numbers with assistants holding up huge placards with chord symbols printed on them so the crowd could play along. This sort of encapsulates the aloha spirit of ukulele.
At the end of Nicky's song the whole 1400 players waved their ukes in the air in celebration. Unforgettable!!
After a good nights sleep we ventured to the Tanks Arts Centre at the Cairns Botanical Gardens where we set up another stand and went through it all again. But this time it was less frantic and I met with a good number of artists and ukulele people including Herb Ohta junior and Alan Okami, President and founder of K'Aloha Ukuleles from Hawaii. I also spent some time with AJ Leonard (my old friend from Irish Pub band days and now one of Australia's leading ukulele exponents) and Dave Billings from AJ Leonard's Tropical Lounge. I saw ukes painted in all sorts of designs for the painted uke competition, groups of all sizes and ages jamming on uke songs as well as some amazing performances. Stand outs were Herb Ohta Junior and AJ Leonard's Tropical Lounge and there were a lot more great artists I would have like to watched but missed due to interest in our ukes on the stand. One of our concert ukuleles with pickup (rrp $849.95) was being raffled off to raise funds for the festival and interest was intense. I was lucky enough to get up on the main stage and talked about the prize ukulele and our sponsorship of the festival and about AJ's involvement in the development of our ukulele. Eventually I made my way back to my hotel and bed.
It was an exhilarating if exhausting experience and one I am really grateful to have been involved with. A big “hats off” to Gaby Thomasz the festival producer and the many volunteers for a job really well done. It takes a lot of passion and skill to make a good festival and this one is a ripper! I look forward to more ukulele adventures soon and I will definitely be back next year.
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