Video: Cousin Earth cranks the ukes to 11:
By Kevin Coughlin
…unless you’ve already been abducted by Cousin Earth.
This Brooklyn band amped up the excitement, and the decibels, over the weekend in Whippany at the fourth annual New Jersey Ukulele Festival.
Formerly known as Ukulelien, this group is like a mashup blender.
Throw in your favorite ’90s cartoon themes, a dash of George Formby from the ’20s, a kazoo, a pinch of melodica, a throbbing rhythm section and the fiery fingers of lead ukester Joey Calfa, hit the button, and then pour yourself an energy-boosting musical concoction unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
Calfa started his musical journey on guitar, playing in a Frank Zappa tribute band, a blues ensemble, and a guitar orchestra.
But he changed course after seeing uke god Jake Shimabukuro’s YouTube version of the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
It was a smart move, as these video clips confirm.
Video: At last, a band with the guts to tell its audience: ‘Everybody sit!’
‘YOU CAN DO ALL OF THIS’
Calfa encouraged ukulele novices at the festival, insisting everyone eventually could play like him– though that would be a tragic waste of time and energy, in his opinion. Better to sound like yourself, he said.
“I don’t think I play anything like anyone else could. I’m okay at being myself. That’s what music is,” said Calfa, who has a degree in music performance from the State University of New York at Oneonta.
“If you’re going to cover something, make it yourself. You’ll never play like the person who wrote [the original work] because it came from their soul…Why try to take that away from someone who gave you a gift?”
Still, Calfa admits striving to copy Shimabukuro, note for note, when he was learning the ukulele. Like festival-goers in awe of Calfa, he too once despaired of ever playing complex arrangements.
“I thought, ‘I’ll never do that, that guy’s insane. I can’t believe the ukulele can do that,'” he told attendees at a festival workshop.
“Then I saw some guy do a bad cover on YouTube, and I thought, ‘I can do it better than that guy.’
“So then I found some tabs, and I did it a little bit better than that guy, but I wasn’t much better. But then I got a little confidence. And that’s what it is. You think you can’t do it, [but] you can do it. You can do all of this.”
Look out, everybody. Things are about to get louder around here.