First Uke NJ fest leaves Morris Township crowd primed for more

By Adam Casadevall

As the first Uke New Jersey festival drew to a close on Saturday, organizer Scooter Ferguson summed it up by borrowing a phrase from Dr. Seuss:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Smiles were in abundance at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in Morris Township after  Celtic Spirit, James Hill and Anne Davison, and “Ukulele Ambassadors” Jim and Liz Beloff left the audience counting the days until the next Uke Fest. (Keep your fingers crossed for an encore show in 2014).

James Hill and Anne Davison perform at the first Uke New Jersey festival. Photo by Adam Casadevall

James Hill and Anne Davison perform at the first Uke New Jersey festival. Photo by Adam Casadevall

Celtic Spirit had the crowd singing along on numbers like Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  and Whiskey in the Jar, a traditional Irish song covered by such diverse artists as Thin Lizzy, Metallica and The Grateful Dead.

“James Hill is able to do things with the ukulele that no person should be able to do,” Ferguson said when introducing the second act of the night. He also let the audience know that James Hill and cellist Anne Davison will be getting married in a couple weeks.

Photos by Adam Casadevall. Please click icon below for captions.

Along with original songs like Assam/Like a Bird, Heart-Shaped Tattoo and Lying in Wait, Hill and Davison did a version of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean that had spectators picking their jaws off the ground afterward.

Davison’s emotion-filled cello solo was a highlight of the piece.

In another song, Hill made use of chopsticks, hockey tape (the duo hails from Canada, after all) and a comb. If you listen to that track without video, it will sound as if there is a drum machine, disc scratching, a Moog synthesizer and maybe even a touch of theremin, à la Jimmy Page (minus the Echoplex tape delay). Intrigued?

Hill is featured prominently in the documentary Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog, which kicked off the festival on Friday night.

Saturday’s third act was Jim and Liz Beloff, co-founders of Flea Market Music Inc. Self- proclaimed “song archaeologists,”  the Beloffs have reworked old classics from the early ’20s like Bye Bye Blackbird, a crowd favorite, while mixing in their original songs. The delicacy and beauty of the ukulele were evident when watching this husband- -and-wife team play together.

The Beloffs called Hill and Davison to the stage to play along on Rare Air, which featured a lovely melodic solo by Hill.

Hill and Davison returned to close the evening with Song for Cheri, a touching tribute to a late friend. Humbled by the experience at Uke NJ, Hills let the audience know, “We’ll be back anytime you’ll have us.”

Victoria Vox and the Beloffs joined them for a final number, There’s Music in The Air, a fitting end to a great weekend of ukulele music.


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