Uke can play -- 2012 UkeFest boasts four-day summit, free concert

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Cathy Guthrie and her musical partner Amy Nelson play it. So do the Who's Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. And let's not forget Eddie Vedder and Jason Mraz.

Those who attend UkeFest 2012, which includes Strathmore's first Uke and Guitar Summit, may not play the ukulele with the proficiency of the pros, of course, but they'll most assuredly play a few respectable tunes and have fun doing it, too.

"There is a whole community around the uke. It really is like a happy hour," said Grammy Award-winning local musician Marcy Marxer. Marxer and musical partner Cathy Fink teach throughout the United States and are key organizers of the annual Strathmore event. "The hardest part is showing up. As soon as they walk in the door, they'll be met with the 'aloha' attitude. What I find wherever I teach is that uke players really want others to be part of the community. Uke players are so happy to have others come into the community and learn how to play."

That's true for semipros and even novices who don't know a soprano from a baritone or only think of the uke as the instrument Elvis Presley posed with to promote his 1961 film "Blue Hawaii."

Onstage
UkeFest 2012
Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
When: Various times Saturday to Tuesday, with a closing concert at 7 p.m. Thursday featuring Grammy Award winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, the Hula Boys and more
Info: $270 to $300 for summit (check website for details); various free concerts; call for information on instruction for those under age 18; 301-530-0540; strathmore.org

Professional musicians have shown that the formats you can play on a uke are almost boundless. One pacesetter is arguably virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who learned to play as part of a program to help preserve Hawaiian music. He now is internationally known for his wide repertoire -- the George Harrison tune "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a standard -- and tours with artists like Jimmy Buffett.

Georgina Javor, director of programming at Strathmore, said UkeFest motivated her to learn to play. She can vouch that after a few sessions, anyone from age 5 up can play a simple song, and that adds to the fun of the event.

"It's interactive," she said. "You're not just sitting there watching a concert. I don't know how many instruments you can do that with."

And it's working. Although the summit and free concert draw the majority of attendees from the D.C. area, others come from neighboring states. This year, a woman from Taiwan, who has family in the D.C. area, has arranged a trip to coincide with the UkeFest.

If the past is any indication, she's in for a great time. Last year the concert drew 2,500 people.

"We ask people to come early," said Javor, noting there's a "pre strum" starting at 6 p.m. plus vendors and barbecue. "It's a wonderful experience to get to see these talented performers."

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