You’ve never heard a uke sound like this…

Joe Calfa of Cousin Earth give workshop on gear, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'YOU CAN DO ALL OF THIS' : Joey Calfa of Cousin Earth gives workshop on gear, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Video: Cousin Earth cranks the ukes to 11:

By Kevin Coughlin

…unless you’ve already been abducted by  Cousin Earth.

Joe Calfa and Terry Brennan 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

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.

Terry Brennan of Cousin Earth 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

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.

Joe Calfa of Cousin Earth give workshop on gear, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
‘YOU CAN DO ALL OF THIS’ : Joey Calfa of Cousin Earth gives workshop on gear, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.

Uke virtuoso James Hill with Joe Calfa, lead uke player of Cousin Earth, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Uke virtuoso James Hill, left, with Joe Calfa, lead ukulele player of Cousin Earth, at the NJ Uke Fest, August 2016. Hill complimented Calfa on his clean notes. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.

MORE FROM THE 2016 NJ UKE FEST

Tara Lawton and Corey J. Feldman 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. Not pictured: Drummer Nate Searing. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

 

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