Scott “Scooter” Ferguson of the Folk Project can make two iron-clad guarantees for the upcoming Labor Day Weekend.
You will be all smiles, even if it rains.
And you will master a song on a musical instrument, no matter how hopeless your prior attempts have been.
The magic instrument is the ukulele, and the guarantees apply if you attend the second annual Uke New Jersey festival, dubbed Uke New Jersey Too! It runs from Aug. 29-30, 2014, at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in Morris Township.
“It’s virtually impossible to play a uke without a smile on your face. It’s been called the happiest instrument in the world,” said Scooter, director of special projects for the Folk Project, the volunteer organization behind the Friday night Minstrel concert series.
The festival kicks off on Friday at 7:30 pm with a charming documentary, Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog.
Performances will follow by Uncle Zac, Jim & Liz Beloff and The Stringbusters, better known as Pete and Maura Kennedy.
A day of workshops and sing-alongs starts at 8:30 am on Saturday and culminates with a 7:30 pm concert showcasing Honor Finnegan, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, the Beloffs (whose line of virtually indestructible ukes will be on sale throughout the festival) and virtuoso Stuart Fuchs.
Last year’s inaugural Uke Fest proved so popular–nearly 200 people came for the workshops–that an encore presentation was a no-brainer, Scooter said.
A big turnout for this tiny instrument came as no surprise, however. Ukuleles have been going in and out of style since the Roaring ’20s, and they’re guaranteed to raise a smile once more, thanks indirectly to the group that sent the uke into oblivion during the British Invasion.
A ukulele cover of The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps, played by Jake Shimabokuro, was among the first “viral” videos on the web.
The late George Harrison, who wrote the song, always traveled with a trunk full of ukes for his partying pleasure; Paul McCartney includes a ukulele tribute to his Beatle mate in his concerts.
Pete Townshend of The Who is another uke aficionado. Taylor Swift plays one in her shows. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder recorded an album of uke tunes. And the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole became an internet sensation with his ukulele interpretation of Over the Rainbow/ Wonderful World.
The beauty of the ukulele is its versatility, according to Scooter, who got hooked on the lightweight, four-stringed instrument a few years ago when a hand injury hampered his guitar playing.
“I think it’s the easiest instrument in the world to play, much easier than the harmonica,” Scooter said.
Easy enough for anyone to play?
“Absolutely. No question about it,” Scooter said, citing chords that require just one finger. “Guaranteed, by the end of the day on Saturday you will be able to play a song.”
In more seasoned hands, he added, the ukulele holds its own against other instruments in the pop, classical and jazz worlds. Pete Kennedy’s uke version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is a crowd-pleaser every time.
“It’s accessible, it’s easy to learn– but the possibilities are just as endless as the possibilities on the guitar,” Scooter said of the ukulele, which can set you back $20 or cost you thousands.
LIKE HOLIDAY INSURANCE
Festival admission skews to the lower end of that scale. Friday’s concert is $15. Saturday’s concert costs $20. If you’re coming only for the workshops, they are $50. Workshops and concert are $65. For $75, you get you into everything all weekend. (Stay tuned for announcements about Sunday activities.)
Children 12 and under are free, if accompanied by a paying parent or guardian. Youths 16 and under must be accompanied by a paid parent or guardian.
The Morristown Unitarian Fellowship is at 21 Normandy Heights Road in Morris Township. A food vendor will be on site.
Register online prior to Thursday, Aug. 28, and your name will be entered in a drawing for a high-quality Mainland ukulele.
Festival tickets are like insurance against a soggy holiday, according to Scooter.
“If the weather’s not great, this could be a really inexpensive weekend for a family of four,” he said. “For $150, bring the whole family. And we’ll teach the kids to play the ukulele.”
For more information about Uke New Jersey Too!, call 908-229-1214 or email here.