Lil’ Rev: Milwaukee’s Ukulele King
You began on
guitar and harmonica. How did you become interested in the ukulele?
A fan gave me his
ukulele years ago when I was playing at Nash’s Irish Castle.
It was fun—playing it felt relaxed and happy. The guitar was always more like
work for me.
recently turned up on Train’s hit “Soul Sister.” What’s with the sudden
popularity of the instrument?
At the heart of it,
the ukulele is unpretentious and non-threatening. It can be played
raucously—but there’s still humor in it. It can also be damn romantic,
sentimental and sweet. In some ways it’s got the punk sensibility—anyone who
sees a ukulele thinks, “I can do that.” And you can buy a decent one for $30.
You are one
of the founders of the Milwaukee
Ukulele Club, correct?
Cherylann Kelly and
I were the instigators. We have as many as 45 people showing up for meetings.
People are coming in from Brookfield and Waukesha. It’s not just East Side hipsters. We run from 20-year-olds to
80-year-olds—a real cross-section of ages.
As I traveled around
the country playing ukulele festivals, I noticed that most of them were
organized by local clubs. That was my ulterior motive! Around the country, many
of those clubs are doing good work in their communities. The Detroit Ukulele Club
started an after-school program for kids with ukulele—these are the sorts of
grassroots things that are happening.
about this year’s Ukulele Festival.
We learned a few
things from last year. This time we’re leaving more space in between workshops
on the schedule for socializing and jamming. We’ll have around 15
vendors—ukulele companies and builders, artisans, vintage instrument dealers.
The only return
performer from last year will be singer-songwriter Victoria Vox. The variety of
music will be huge. Ralph Shaw and Joel Eckhaus do vaudeville and doo-wop tunes
on ukulele. Mark “Spanky” Gutierrez plays jazz and swing. The DitchLilies, from
Maiden Rock, Wis.,
play early country, Tin Pan Alley and rags. And the Milwaukee Ukulele Club
plays anything and everything. I’ll be the MC—I’ll do a couple of solo tunes
and try to get everyone laughing and having a good time.
For more information on the Milwaukee Ukulele Festival, which takes place 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sept. 25 at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 631 N. 19th St., visit mufest.com.