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THE GRAND RAPIDS UKULELE SCENE
Happy Ukuleles In Grand Rapids
Every state in America comes with a nickname: The Sunshine State, The Aloha State, The Big Apple, The Grand Canyon State. To everyone in the United States, Michigan may be better known as The Great Lake State – due, of course, to its abundance of lakes – but ukulele enthusiasts here prefer to call it “The Great Uke State”.
Michigan is no stranger to ukulele clubs, events and festivals. In addition to its nationally famous Mighty Uke Day, which attracts visitors from all over Michigan and the US for three days of ukulele-focused fun, and its Uketoberfest, which features a full day of workshops, concerts, open mics and strumming with ukulele greats like Lil’ Rev and Ben Hassenger, The Great Uke State is also home to a number of ukulele groups and meetups.
In Grand Rapids, the Happy Ukulele Group Grand Rapids (or, HUG-GR for short) meets on the first Saturday of the month for two hours of strumming and singing. In the group’s initial years, HUG-GR was known as HUG – Hudsonville Ukulele Group. They met at Mocha N Music in downtown Hudsonville, but needed to find a new location when the coffee shop closed in October 2013. The group now meets at Marge’s Donut Den (what better place to hold a ukulele meeting than in a donut shop!) in Wyoming and encourages players of all skill level to join in from 12:00pm until 2:00pm. With two large rooms attached to the bakery that are reserved for playing, HUG-GR ensures that there is enough room for anyone interested in the ukulele to join. The group even provides extra ukuleles for those looking to try the uke out.
There are usually 20-25 ukulele players at any given jam and each can be found playing a different uke: Sopranos, baritones, banjoleles, bass ukes and concert ukes are most often present at every meeting. The group prides itself on its addition of singing as well as uke playing, and can often be heard belting out folk, old gospel, The Beatles, and – of course – Hawaiian tunes. One of HUG-GR group leaders, born and raised in Hawaii, has been playing the ukulele since 1959. With his experience and expertise, new players find they are gently led along with little effort.
And instead of asking members to buy songbooks, HUG-GR provides set lists and songs on their Facebook page, which currently holds an impressive 356-strong following. Song lyrics with chords and relevant chord diagrams are displayed on screen at every meeting with the use of an overhead projector. And for those who want to show off their hard work, HUG-GR has open mic time reserved for natural-born performers.
If you’re looking for a friendly, stress-free group of like-minded enthusiasts to paly with, the Happy Ukulele Group Grand Rapids is it.
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