NJ Ukulele Fest: Fun, with strings attached

Liam O'Connor of Madison tries a ukulele on for size, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Liam O'Connor of Madison tries a ukulele on for size, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
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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.

Danielle 'Ate the Sandwich' Anderson gives voice workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Danielle ‘Ate the Sandwich’ Anderson gives voice workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

In between, many watched Saturday evening’s concert featuring the Curt Sheller Jazz Trio, singer-songwriter Danielle Ate the Sandwich, and Hawaiian uke master Kimo Hussey.

 

Slideshow photos of the Uke Fest by Kevin Coughlin

Danielle 'Ate the Sandwich' Anderson gives voice workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Connor McColgan,11, of East Hanover at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Teko Ishida came from Tokyo to the NJ Uke Fest (via airplane, not skateboard), Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Kimo Hussey at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Gabe and Louise Martin of Long Island at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Anna Claire Sems, 12, of Bernardsville, with her uncle, Gene Fucetola of Montville, at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Gene Fucetola of Montville with his niece, Anna Claire Sems, 12, of Bernardsville, at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ukulele enthusiasts at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Festival organizers Oam Robinson and FiL Wisneski at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ukulele players at Kimo Hussey workshop, NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Cathy Frahme competes in open mic contest at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Andrew Poretz of NYC competes in open mic contest at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Dee and Tracy attend workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ben Smith, 12, of Glen Rock at open mic contest at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Headliners Kimo Hussey and Danielle Ate the Sandwich at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Cyndee Geoffroy, Gregg Scott and David Sheppard of the Morristown Uke Jam at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Pam Robinson, organizer of the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Curt Sheller performs with his jazz trio at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Hula workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Hula workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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P1610560 - Danielle 'Ate the Sandwich' Anderson gives voice workshop at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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HOOP DREAMS

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.

Festival organizers Oam Robinson and FiL Wisneski at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Festival organizers Oam Robinson and FiL Wisneski at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Teko Ishida came from Tokyo to the NJ Uke Fest (via airplane, not skateboard), Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Teko Ishida came from Tokyo to the NJ Uke Fest (via airplane, not skateboard), Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.

Teko Ishida, 43, traveled from Japan with his ukulele and skateboard for a pair of festivals. One of his New Jersey souvenirs is a scraped forehead, from a skateboarding spill en route to his hotel on Route 10.
 
But the mishap did not hinder him from winning the festival’s open mic contest, with a jazzy finger-picking number he learned with help from prior headliners Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee.
 
Ishida, a television translator, started playing uke eight years ago.
 
“I found a ukulele at my grandmother’s house” and dove into YouTube for quick-hit tutorials. “It’s very easy,” he said.
 

Slideshow photos of Uke Fest jam session on the Green by Bill Lescohier

Liam O'Connor of Madison tries a ukulele on for size, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Liam O'Connor of Madison auditions for the band, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
FiL and Cyndee warm up their kazoos, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Headliner Kimo Hussey, right, of Hawaii, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Beth Bachmann of Morris Township fires up her washtub bass, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
The washtub bass says it all, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Co-organizer FiL Wisneski sings at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Andy Poretz of NYC at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Kimo Hussey trades his uke for a washtub bass, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
A Morristown Uke Jam member at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Mark Dutton, center, leader of the Morristown Uke Jam, with Pre-K and Special K at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
A big crowd of ukesters gathers at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Cyndee of Morristown and player from Kansas City, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Cheat sheet, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Strum-along at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
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DSC_4372 - Liam O'Connor of Madison tries a ukulele on for size, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
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‘IT’S NOT TOO BAD’

 
Kimo Hussey trades his uke for a washtub bass, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Kimo Hussey trades his uke for a washtub bass, at the NJ Uke Fest jam session on the Morristown Green, Aug. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier

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.

 
Now, when they’re not stuck in traffic jams, they jam with their son Gabe, who plays guitar and bass.
 
“It’s a nice, new thing. To me, it’s amazing that I could connect with my family like that. All three of us are playing together,” said Martin, who drives a school bus.
 
Gabe and Louise Martin of Long Island at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Gabe and Louise Martin of Long Island at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Ben Smith, 12, of Glen Rock, also was drawn to the ukulele’s sonic properties.
 
Connor McColgan,11, of East Hanover at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Connor McColgan,11, of East Hanover at the NJ Uke Fest, Aug. 26, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“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.”

MORRISTOWN GREEN COVERAGE OF UKE FEST NJ 2017

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