It was an event entirely guided by one mans karma. Mike, alias hoosierhiver on Ukulele Underground, didn’t organize this event. He just cleared the way to let the cosmos manifest it into existence. Back in January Mike, owner of the recently-opened Mainland Ukes in Nashville, posted on UU that he had a great site for a ukulele campout. There was no planning beyond this. Destiny just took over. Six months later the World Ukulele Congress happened.
And for wow did it happen. If you think the name sounds pretentious, it wasn’t. People came from all over the US and Canada, as well as from as far away as London and Paris. As uke events go, with well over 100 attendees total, this was the big one. But I think more importantly, this was the fun one.
The venue is hard to describe. Mike originally told me it was a “cool field” to camp in. As it turns out, it’s a private festival site across the street from Mike’s house. Toots and the Maytals have played the soundstage here. Mike mowed the grass and brought in a couple portolets and a large tent in case of rain. The weather was flawless with pleasant sunny days and cool evenings by a Burning-Man size bonfire. It was Woodstock without the mud.
The venue for the World Ukulele Congress sits in the town of Needmore, a commune from the ’60s that still functions today. Now more like a landowner’s association among best friends than a socialist nudist colony, there’s a wonderful spirit among the two dozen folks that make up the place. Not only did they lend a great space for the UWC, but they also threw a potluck on Friday night and remained on hand most of the weekend to join in the non-stop music.
When I say it was guided by the cosmos, I’m not kidding. There really was no schedule to stick to or any clear organization to this. And doesn’t appear there’s a need for that when the ukes are pulled out. The open mikes on the stage blared until the sound guy collapsed, and then music continued by the bonfire until 4am. By Saturday night there were 100 joyous people passing around 250 ukuleles in an idyllic field on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere.
There were too many show-stealers to mention the myriad of names who played. I think at some point nearly everyone stole the show. But Dustin Domingo, Monique Macasaet, Jason Arimoto and Wade Johnston should be mentioned. They were flown in for a Bushman Luau nearby and stopped in for some impromptu jamming. Seeso and Alan stayed coherent long enough to emcee. And the guy in the witness protection program brought Tiny Tim’s ukulele for everyone to play and feel the mojo.
Much of what went on is hard to describe if you’re not a regular on Ukulele Underground. (And you should be if you play a uke.) What was amazing about the event beyond the music was the fact that so many people were already best friends, but had never met. Paraphrasing the enigmatic Deach: it’s so weird to see everyone’s legs. Much of the event is available on video shot by most everyone there. A good place to start is at the UWC Aftermath Thread or the UWC YouTube Channel.
I don’t ever recall the fates organizing something so perfectly. Amazingly nothing went wrong. Nothing at all. Friday night Mike dropped off a massive first aid kit on stage, but it was never opened, not even for sunburn spray. Though Woodstock had it’s negative side, Ukestock didn’t. Even after two days of sleeping in tents with no running water, no one smelled. That’s miraculous by any standards. Mike described the mythical quality best when said it best when he said any second now unicorns would come trotting out of the woods. I think a few drank enough to actually witness that.
There’s no doubt I’ll be back. The sense of ukidarity that everyone felt will bring most everybody back next year to join the throngs of envious who didn’t make it (but vowed to quit jobs and dump significant others to be there in 2010.) And, like Woodstock, there will be the 100,000 ukers who claimed they were at the first Ukulele World Congress, but we know who we were. When Mike was asked if there would be one next year, he said it looked like he really didn’t have a choice. Three days later he says his face is still sore from smiling so much.