They came from Tokyo and London and Kansas City and New York and Philadelphia, for a weekend in Whippany.
The attraction: Ukuleles.
Lots of them. In all shapes and (small) sizes, at the Folk Project’s fifth annual New Jersey Uke Fest.
“I’m hooked,” said Andrew Poretz, 61, who works at a New York law firm.
His lifelong instrument of choice had been a guitar — until a friend introduced him to its four-stringed cousin a couple of years ago.
Ever since, he has suffered from U.A.S., short for Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome. He can’t resist buying (and playing) them.
“You can start right away,” Poretz said, comparing ukuleles to guitars. “You don’t need to build calluses. You can play for hours on a uke—it’s easy on the hands.”
Scores of fellow U.A.S. sufferers did just that over the weekend, playing for hours at Saturday workshops inside the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey, and strumming at a jam session on the Morristown Green on Sunday.
Slideshow photos of the Uke Fest by Kevin Coughlin
Hussey plays and teaches at numerous festivals, and called this one “very wonderful.”
He said he enjoyed watching attendees enjoying ukulele.
“The enjoyment is not as much about watching performers, as participating in the process of making music. That, and not performance, is the essence of it. Just to bring people together,” said Hussey, whose workshops on technique and basic music theory were packed.
Attendance was up by 10 percent this year, to about 130 people, said Folk Project member Pam Robinson, who organized the festival with FiL Wisneski. Robinson was among the few people there in no danger of catching U.A.S.
“I enjoy organizing events more than playing,” she explained.
The festival included a few activities for non-players like Robinson. Lei-making was one; hula dancing was another.
“It was a lot of fun, a great experience learning the tradition of it,” said Anthony Guarneiri, a retired school guidance counselor from Vernon, NY.
He took a workshop with an instructor named Makalina, and performed a dance with his session-mates to open Saturday’s concert.
“It’s a very expressive dance. It’s meant to convey a story, a very beautiful story” about a man dreaming of reuniting with his love on Hawaii.
Slideshow photos of Uke Fest jam session on the Green by Bill Lescohier
‘IT’S NOT TOO BAD’
Louise Martin and her family braved 4 1/2 hours in traffic to reach the festival from Long Island. A couple of Christmases ago, she asked her husband, a high school English teacher, for a ukulele.
Anna Claire Sems, 12, of Bernardsville, said a friend plays ukulele on her school bus.
But the main reason Sems switched to uke from piano and violin a couple of months ago is simpler: “I like the sound it makes. And it’s relaxing,” said Sems, accompanied at the festival by her uncle, Gene Fucetola of Montville.
“I failed at the guitar. But my sister started playing uke, and I liked the sound,” said Smith, who sang Can’t Help Falling In Love in the open mic competition.
Eleven-year old Connor McColgan, 11, of E. Hanover, has been playing ukulele for a year. He ranks it just behind video games and saxophone on his list of favorite things, noting the festival “felt weird. I’ve never been with so many ukulele players.”
Still, McColgan proudly demonstrated his uke prowess, playing portions of Brown Eyed Girl and Beethoven’s Für Elise.
Asked how he got started on ukulele, the youth responded, “I decided to play an instrument, and the ukulele came up immediately.
“I felt it would be easier than most instruments. It’s not too bad.”