Uke the Nukes? Kimo Hussey says give ukes a chance, at NJ ukulele festival, Aug. 25-27

Kimo Hussey, headliner of the Fifth Annual NJ Uke Fest.
Kimo Hussey, headliner of the Fifth Annual NJ Uke Fest.


One might expect our fellow citizens in Hawaii to be a little anxious, in light of North Korea’s nuclear saber rattling.

But island native Kimo Hussey, who headlines at this weekend’s Fifth Annual New Jersey Uke Fest, has unshakable faith in two things:

The United States military, in which he served for 30 years… and the ukulele, which he’s been playing since age 5.

“There’s really a lot of magic going on around the world through ukulele,” said Hussey, who saw it first-hand this summer in the Czech Republic, where he taught enthusiasts from 28 countries.

“Ukulele has been able to do what a lot of really good politicians have been unable to do.”

Are you listening, Kim Jong-un?

“It wouldn’t hurt to get an ukulele in Donald Trump’s hands, too,” Hussey added with a laugh.

Laughs, not politics, are what he’s promising at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey, at 60-C North Jefferson Road in Whippany. The ukulele, above all, is an instrument of happiness.

“In a day and age when we live in such an intense world, what a wonderful, wonderful thing it is to pursue an activity simply to have fun,” Hussey said.

Noah and Dan Rauchwerk, a.k.a. The Lords of Liechtenstein, get down at The Minstrel. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Noah and Dan Rauchwerk, a.k.a. The Lords of Liechtenstein, getting down in 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The fun starts at 7 pm on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, with a sing-along welcome from members of the Morristown Uke Jam.

At 7:30 pm, it’s concert time, featuring the peripatetic Danielle Ate the Sandwich and those cuddly Argyle brothers, The Lords of Liechtenstein.

Doors open at 8:15 am on Saturday, Aug. 26, for a full day of workshops, with an open mic contest thrown in.

danielle ate the sandwich, coming the NJ Uke Fest, august 2017Vendors will offer an assortment of ukes and related uke-analia as well.  Buffett meals will be available for purchase, or you can bring your own food.

Concerts follow at 7:30 pm, showcasing Hussey, Rachel Manke of Prairie Home Companion fame, and The Curt Sheller Jazz Trio.

Rachel Manke
Rachel Manke

On Sunday, Aug. 27, ukesters of all abilities will strum together on the historic Morristown Green, starting at 10:30 am.

Admission to the entire festival is $110. The full day Saturday is $95; workshops only, $80; concerts only, $20 each.  Sunday on the Green is free.

Curt Sheller
Curt Sheller

Hussey is scheduled to lead a pair of Saturday workshops: One for right hand technique, one for the left.

“Fortunately, those are the only two hands that count!” he said.

His signature two-finger strumming style, gleaned from what he heard during his Hawaiian youth, blends melody and harmony in ways that have made him a sought-after instructor around the world.

Yet he is no proponent of writer Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hours-of-practice-will-make-you-master-anything theory.

Rather, Hussey preaches kanikapila.

“It’s a Hawaiian version of a jam session,” he said.

The surging global popularity of ukuleles — inexpensive, portable, simple to strum and easy to sing along with — is about making joyful sounds communally.

There is a difference between ukulele as a form of entertainment and as kanikapila — “any group of people, whether it be friends, relatives or whomever, informally getting together just to enjoy music,” said Hussey, 72, whose only prior visit to New Jersey was a stop at McGuire Air Force Base years ago, when he was flying tanker planes for Uncle Sam.

Ukulele, he insists, is easy if you try.

“One of the wonderful things about ukulele” — he pronounces it the Hawaiian way, ook-ew-lay-lee— “is there are no standard ukulele methodologies. Any way anyone chooses to play, or teach, or build an instrument, is fair game.”

Really? No 10,000 hours of solitary toil in the basement?

“No, it takes about 15 minutes!” Hussey said.

See for yourself this weekend.

Meanwhile, we’ll plan on telling the President about this kanikapila thing the next time he flies into Morristown Airport. It’s time for some Ukulele Diplomacy. Uke the Nukes! 



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