Four-stringed fun for fourth year: NJ Ukulele Festival leaves ’em smiling

'Strummin' Steve, a watercolor by Mendham painter Fran Wood, inspired by Steve Norwood performing on the Green on the last day of NJ Uke Fest, August 2016.
'Strummin' Steve, a watercolor by Mendham painter Fran Wood, inspired by Steve Norwood performing on the Green on the last day of NJ Uke Fest, August 2016.
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SLEIGHT OF HANDS : James Hill gets help on a solo from Erin 'Penny' McGrane of duo Victor & Penny, at the 2016 NJ Ukulele Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
SLEIGHT OF HANDS : James Hill gets help on a solo from Erin ‘Penny’ McGrane of duo Victor & Penny, at the 2016 NJ Ukulele Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

 

By Kevin Coughlin

Great musicians must be part magician, according to James Hill, headliner at the weekend’s New Jersey Ukulele Festival.

Dozens of aspiring players left the Ukrainian American Cultural Center in Whippany convinced of that, after Hill and fellow performers Jim Boggia, Manitoba Hal, the Kansas City duo  Victor & Penny and Brooklyn band Cousin Earth cast their spells.

But the really cool part about these magicians was they shared some of their tricks, in workshops geared toward players of all abilities.

“Don’t be afraid, just play a note, if it sounds bad, play the next one,”  advised Joey Calfa, whose pyrotechnics on lead uke for Cousin Earth had jaws dropping.

“The best guy can make one note sound better than somebody who can play a million notes. If you’re feeling it and it’s inside of you, one note is all you need. And I guarantee you’ll find a bunch of notes that work,” Calfa said during one of the workshops.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin, Fran Wood and Marie Pfeifer

Watercolor of Steve Norwood performing on the Green, on last day of NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jamming away on the Green, on final day of the  NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Fran Wood
James Hill gives workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Linda Krause of PA shows off her hand-painted ukulele, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Victor & Penny (though not in that order!): From left, Erin McGrane and Jeff Freling, at the 2016 NJ Ukulele Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jim Boggia join Victor & Penny at the 2016 NJ Uke Fest. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jim Boggia at the 2016 NJ Ukulele Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Victor & Penny (though not in that order!): From left, Erin McGrane and Jeff Freling, at the 2016 NJ Ukulele Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Erin McGrane, a.k.a. Penny in Victor & Penny, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Software engineer Karen Siebart of Cedar Grove takes workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Uke-A-Likes Lisa Martin, Beth Bachmann and Dave Codey, a volunteer at the James Hill gives workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Uke-A-Likes reunion: Kevin Coughlin, Lisa Martin, Dave Codey and Beth Bachmann, with guest star Steve Norwood at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
From left: Victor & Penny, Marc Dutton, and Bob Terhune at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Uke virtuoso James Hill with Joe Calfa, lead uke player of Cousin Earth, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Erin Barnes and Melissa Nannen from Philadelphia with their product, the Hug Strap, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Young ukester tries an electric ukulele on for size, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A player on the Morristown Green, on final day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Uking on the Green on final day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Fran Wood
Learning to play, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jam session on final day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jamming on the Green concludes the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Fran Wood
WHAT'S THAT NOTE? Jam session on last day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Fran Wood
Ukesters on Green for last day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Fran Wood
Strumming on the Green, for last day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Fran Wood
Manitoba Hal gives slide uke workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Manitoba Hall gives workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
James Hill give uke lesson in Ukrainian, at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Whippany. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Workshop attendees at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Workshop attendees listen to James Hill at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
An electric uke by RIGuitars & Ukuleles, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Geri Silk shows off a Christmas cookie tin transformed into a ukulele by RIGuitars & Ukuleles, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Hey, is that a Christmas cookie tin-turned-ukulele? Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Yes, it is a Christmas cookie tin-turned-ukulele. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A Star Wars box converted into a uke by RIGuitars & Ukuleles. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Detail of Star Wars ukulele, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jim Boggia gives Beatles workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Young ukester listens to lesson at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Joe Calfa of Cousin Earth give workshop on gear, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Joe Calfa of Mother Earth gives workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
James Hill packed 'em in for his workshops, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
James Hill gives lesson at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Crowd strums along with James Hill at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Audience studies tutorial at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
SEVENTH HEAVEN:  A James Hill workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
IN THE GREEN ROOM: From left: James Hill, Jeff 'Victor' Feling, Manitoba Hal, Jim Boggia and Erin 'Penny' McGrane, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
IN THE GREEN ROOM: From left: James Hill, Jeff 'Victor' Feling, Manitoba Hal, Jim Boggia and Erin 'Penny' McGrane, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Terry Brennan of Cousin Earth at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Tara Lawton and Corey J. Feldman of Cousin Earth at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Joe Calfa and Terry Brennan of Cousin Earth at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'I'LL PROBABLY NEVER GET OVER COUSIN EARTH' : Bob Kammer of Morris Plains, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jammer play on the Green on last day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jamming on the Green on last day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Marie Pfeifer
Uking it up on the Green on last day of the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Marie Pfeifer
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steve norwood by fran wood - Watercolor of Steve Norwood performing on the Green, on last day of NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Many Festival-goers were inspired to show up Sunday morning on the Morristown Green for a giant jam session.

'Strummin' Steve, a watercolor by Mendham painter Fran Wood, inspired by Steve Norwood performing on the Green on the last day of NJ Uke Fest, August 2016.
‘Strummin’ Steve, a watercolor by Mendham painter Fran Wood, inspired by Steve Norwood performing on the Green on the last day of NJ Uke Fest, August 2016.

“It just makes you smile,” explained Linda Krause, a retired illustrator who traveled to the Festival from Scranton, PA.

She took years of classical piano lessons, but the vintage Martin ukulele that her dad gave her made the most lasting impression.

“It’s the happiest instrument in the world. It’s a change from playing a Beethoven sonata…It makes the blues happy!” Krause said.

Karen Siebart , a software engineer from Cedar Knolls, got hooked the same way Calfa did: By seeing a YouTube video of Jake Shimabukuro re-imagining the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps on ukulele.

“It was a long process, but I can actually play it now,” Siebart said of the song. Still, some of her friends don’t quite get her hobby.

“If they remember Tiny Tim, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God…'”

Started four years ago by Scott “Scooter” Ferguson of the Folk Project, the Festival has grown into one of the area’s feel-good events on the summer calendar. Landing Canadian singer-songwriter James Hill, one of the world’s most acclaimed ukulele players, was a coup.

“It went well. There was lots of excitement. The performers all had fun. I had fun. My volunteers had fun,” said Pam Robinson, who ran this year’s festival.

Juggling many moving parts required some magic on the organizational side. Robinson feels she’s learned some tricks to keep the momentum going.

“We think there will be a year five,” she said.

That would please Ron Schneider,  a salesman from New Providence who came away from the festival determined to pick up a uke over the next year.  The magicians made it look easy.

“If I can’t play the ukulele,” he said, “I can’t play anything.”

Stay tuned for video highlights.

MORE ABOUT THE 2016 NJ UKE FEST

 

 

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