Mighty Uke Day III — Mightier than Ever!

sir pizza strum for blogWow; what a week­end! Now that I’m finally com­ing back down to earth after all the excite­ment of Mighty Uke Day III and the weeks lead­ing up to it, I’d like share a few thoughts about it all with you.

When we held our first Mighty Uke Day in 2010, I never dreamed that two years later we’d be fea­tur­ing the one and only James Hill in Old Town Lans­ing. Mighty Uke Day I was basi­cally a sam­pling of ukulele music cen­tered around the show­ing of Mighty Uke: The Amaz­ing Come­back of a Musi­cal Under­dog, the delight­ful doc­u­men­tary from Tony Cole­man and Mar­garet Meagher. Local per­form­ers like The Fab­u­lous Heftones, Rachael Davis, Mag­dalen Fos­sum as well as the Lans­ing Area Ukulele Group all pitched in to make it into a fun mini-festival. In 2011, we actu­ally had a bud­get; rent­ing a venue, bring­ing in Lil’  Rev from Mil­wau­kee and Ger­ald Ross from Ann Arbor, host­ing work­shops at Elderly Instru­ments and Gallery 1212, and reach­ing out to more uke groups around the state and beyond. We didn’t lose money and even raised some to sup­port the spe­cial edu­ca­tion music ther­apy pro­gram at the RESA school in St. Johns.

This year was more chal­leng­ing, nerve-wracking, and in the end; bet­ter than ever. I had orig­i­nally reached out to Daniel Ho; a won­der­ful player and song­writer from Hawaii who lives in L.A. (that other one in Cal­i­for­nia). It tuned out that he had a busy inter­na­tional tour­ing sched­ule planned and couldn’t work Lans­ing into the mix. I really had no Plan B and was at a bit of a loss of what to do. Tony Cole­man offered to put me in touch with James Hill and I thought, “What the heck, it’s worth a shot.” James was inter­ested and put me in con­tact with his man­ager, who I met in Toronto to seal the deal. After the ini­tial eupho­ria of “James Hill is com­ing to Mighty Uke Day!”, the next thought was “Yikes; what did I get myself into?” I was look­ing at the dol­lars I had com­mit­ted to, facil­i­ties I needed to secure, per­son­nel to orga­nize and help, and was feel­ing a bit over­whelmed. But, with the help and sup­port of all of you, it was a suc­cess beyond my wildest imagination.

There are so many peo­ple to thank, and I’m sure I will miss some­one, but here goes …

Our spon­sors: Ticket sales and work­shop fees pretty much pay for the com­mit­ments I have to make to head­lin­ing per­form­ers. But there are so many other expenses includ­ing rent­ing a venue, print­ing and other pub­lic­ity, food, open­ing acts, lodg­ing, postage, travel, sup­plies, etc. Our spon­sors help make it pos­si­ble to give our atten­dees and per­form­ers the expe­ri­ence you all deserve. A big shout-out to Mya-Moe and the Old Town Gen­eral Store for their under­writ­ing of our main stage con­certs on Fri­day and Sat­ur­day night; with­out you, we could not have secured the Cre­ole Gallery for Mighty Uke Day III. Thanks to Stan Werbin and Elderly Instru­ments (the finest ukulele store in the world)  for get­ting the word out about our event via their email blasts. Elderly, Lanikai, Kala, Nalu, and the Mighty Uke Movie all donated instru­ments to help sup­port the Clin­ton County spe­cial edu­ca­tion music ther­apy pro­gram and other soon to be announced musi­cal char­ity efforts in the Lans­ing Area. In addi­tion, a beau­ti­ful lit­tle quilt hand­made by Cindy Mie­lock and a paint­ing by CW Snook not only added to the tally for the char­i­ties but added some artis­tic flair to our offer­ings. Aquila donated strings for our Uke Main­te­nance work­shop. Once again, Sir Pizza let us take over their restau­rant for our open mic and strums. Thanks again to all of you for get­ting behind our efforts.

Our peo­ple: The larger this gets, the more impos­si­ble it is to be a one-man show. Through­out Sat­ur­day, I keep say­ing “This is big­ger and cra­zier than ever, but it’s all under con­trol.” I was the least-stressed I’ve ever been dur­ing one of our fes­ti­vals and I owe most of this to our capa­ble, enthu­si­as­tic, and hard-working Mighty Uke Day com­mit­tee and vol­un­teers. Jon Benal­lack was a great sup­port to me in ter­mes of advice, graphic design, and lead­ing the Build Your Own Uke work­shop. Mitch Chang, who just moved here from that other LA, has hosted many uke events in Cal­i­for­nia and Hawaii and helped keep me focused on pri­or­i­ties sur­round­ing our fes­ti­val. Steve Szi­lagyi sort of got dragged into it all at the last minute and served as a stel­lar stand in for me as the spokesper­son for Mighty Uke Day when I couldn’t. Chuck Deyo again did an excel­lent job orga­niz­ing, sched­ul­ing, and run­ning the open mic and pitch­ing in when­ever needed. And, last but cer­tainly not least, Sara Wag­ner who recruited and sched­uled our awe­some team of vol­un­teers (more about them below), helped get the word out to var­i­ous uke orga­ni­za­tions and the press, and basi­cally took on what­ever I threw at her. From a per­sonal stand­point, I want to acknowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tions of Rhea Van Atta who was a great sound­ing board for my ideas and put up with my rest­less energy and sleep­less nights, all in the midst of under­tak­ing the open­ing the Old Town Gen­eral Store; I couldn’t have sur­vived it with­out her. We had a great crew of vol­un­teers who helped us with merch sales, tick­ets, setup/teardown, and more. (A spe­cial shout-out to Terry and Laura Hill for their early-morning help get­ting Sir Pizza ready and to Dave Pas­ant for run­ning the Sir Pizza radio show and morn­ing strum in my absence.) I hope every­one appre­ci­ates the great work this team did to put on Mighty Uke Day III.

The press: The media seems to love our quirky lit­tle fes­ti­val and really helped us get the word out. Thanks to Cyn­thia Canty at WUOMs State­side, Mark Bashore and Cur­rent State at WKAR, Anne Erick­son at the Lans­ing State Jour­nal, Rich Tupica at the City Pulse, and MJ Gal­braith at G-Live magazine.

The music: What an amaz­ing lineup we had this year! Fri­day night, Susan Pick­ing started things off with a uplift­ing set of orig­i­nal music, accom­pa­nied by Steve Szi­lagyi on bass and Mitch Chang on ukulele and per­cus­sion. Julianna and Andy Wil­son of The Spring­tails gave a us a taste of of what to expect from their upcom­ing CD, and we can’t wait for its release. Then, Danielle Ate the Sand­wich took the stage and had not only enrap­tured us with her voice and song­writ­ing, but had us rolling in the aisle with her spon­ta­neous and self-deprecating humor. She’s a great per­former and cer­tainly gained a lot of new fans.

Our open mic per­form­ers and fea­tured artists showed us what a ver­sa­tile instru­ment the ukulele is. There were too many good acts to list them all, but they offered a com­plete after­noon of top-notch music out­side of our evening concerts.

For the big show Sat­ur­day, we were warmed up with the solo stylings of home­boy Ryan Rodriguez and trans­plant Mitch Chang and then were treated to a rol­lick­ing set by Strangers in the Night; led by the Alli­ga­tor Man him­self, Stan Werbin. After a brief inter­mis­sion, James Hill and Anne Janelle took the stage with ukule­les and cello. For the next hour-plus, we were treated to a world-class per­for­mance by the two full of great song­writ­ing, musi­cian­ship, and chem­istry between James, Anne, and the audi­ence. We all know how great James is and he didn’t dis­ap­point, but I was par­tic­u­larly impressed by Anne’s voice, play­ing, and musi­cal arrange­ment skills. The evening wrapped up with James’ sig­na­ture ver­sion of “Bil­lie Jean” and a big strum/sing along with the crowd. We all floated out of the Cre­ole on an ukulele cloud nine.

You: And of course, I want to thank all of you who came from near and far to be a part of Mighty Uke Day III; it’s not much of a fes­ti­val if no one comes! We had peo­ple from New York, Indi­ana, Ohio, Illi­nois, Min­nesota, Wis­con­sin, Alabama, Vir­ginia, Canada, and all around the state visit our fes­ti­val and Old Town and I saw many beau­ti­ful, smil­ing faces. Atten­dance at the con­cert, open mic, fea­tured per­for­mances, and work­shops were above and beyond expectations.

I value your feed­back on our fes­ti­val; we try our best to refine and improve it each year. I will put together an online sur­vey that I hope you take a few min­utes to fill out; your input is very impor­tant to our con­tin­ued suc­cess. (Last year’s responses were invalu­able in our 2013 plan­ning.) My mind is already think­ing of new and cool ideas for next year, so keep check­ing in on our Mighty Uke Day Face­book page and here on our web­site for infor­ma­tion as things start to come together. In the mean­time, go to the Face­book page and enjoy all the won­der­ful video clips, pho­tos, and mem­o­ries peo­ple are shar­ing from the spe­cial days we spent together May 10 & 11.

Uke on,

Ben Has­sen­ger


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One Response to Mighty Uke Day III — Mightier than Ever!

  1. Mark Milazzo says:

    Con­grat­u­la­tions on another suc­cess­ful event!

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