Four years ago I bought my partner a ukulele. She asked for one specifically, and enjoyed learning about music for the first time.
After picking hers up and strumming it a few times, I purchased my own about a year and a half ago. Since then, I’ve watched a thousand Uke instructional videos on You
Tube (Cynthia Lyn is my favorite), worked up several tunes, and even purchased a second concert sized uke.
This week, I attended my first weekend Uke Fest at the Ashokan Center New York’s Catskill mountains.
The event, brings together uke enthusiasts from around the country for a full weekend of instruction, socializing and jamming. Top players from around the country lead classes in finger picking, chord progression, style-specific performance (think celtic and flamenco), as well as basic strumming and total newbie beginner classes.
Participants range in age from 14 to 80 plus, and everyone in the camp has a love and passion for this great little instrument. (I’ll also put it out that this crowd is Activist AF!) The camp’s location in the Ashokan region north of New York city offers a nice respite from city life. For once, it’s nice to be focused on music for a few days, while breathing fresh mountain air
“Camp” is a bit of misnomer. We’re not sleeping in tents although a camping area is available. The facility has several bunkhouse style buildings , allowing campers to sleep in a real bed, and sports a professional kitchen and staff providing full meals and snacks to help power the day.
As it turns out, Uke camp is just one of a series of events at this educational nature center. During the school year, the the Ashokan Center hosts middle schoolers from throughout the region, for nature education events. Plaques throughout the camp illustrate the fauna and natural habitat, and illustrate the geological development of the region. A nearby waterfall provides great natural background noise, while also providing a springboard for discussion on the region’s recent engineering history providing water for New York city.
During the summer, the focus turns from nature education to music performance and the arts. Besides, Uke Fest, the Ashokan Center hosts a guitar focused weekend, traditional American western and swing music festivals (think fiddles and banjos) and very popular Family Festival weekend that includes music performance and dancing.
I’ve had great time meeting other uke enthusiasts, and speaking face-to-face with professional players (who knew there was such thing?). The jam sessions have been long and inspirational with lots of chances to solo and sing harmonies. If you’ve have an instrument hobby, it would be well worth your time to find a similar experience.