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THE KALAMAZOO UKULELE SCENE
A-Town. The ATL. Hot ‘Lanta. The Big Peach. Whatever you want to call it, Atlanta, Georgia is known for many different things: Its sports teams (home of the Falcons, Hawks and Braves), the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International, and its southern hospitality.
The Peach State’s capital city is also where big-time musicians like John Mayer, Usher and Ludacris got their big break. So it comes as no surprise, then, that Atlanta has a thriving music industry and is considered to be a capital of hip-hop, crunk, R&B and gospel music, in addition to a thriving indie-rock and live music scene. Country, classical and blues are also well represented, and as of late, so is the ukulele.
With the recent influx of popularity in playing the uke, Atlanta has become no stranger to clubs, festivals and meetups focusing on the mighty little instrument. Its Southeast Ukers – a group dedicated to enthusiasts of all levels – meet at the Waikikie Hawaiian BBQ restaurant on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month. Meeting from 2:00pm until 5:00pm, the group conducts friendly sing-alongs and strum-alongs in a no-stress atmosphere. As the Southeast Ukers state in their Meetup.com post, “it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned ukulele veteran of if you’ve never touched one before. Everyone who wants to play is welcome.”
If you’re a uke enthusiast who wants to join in on the Ukers’ community get-togethers, all you have to do is show up. No annual fees are involved.
While Atlanta seems to be lacking in the festival department – its only ukulele fest, meant to be held in September 2014, had been postponed to a later date – its sister city, Athens, does hold an annual event worth driving to. Every September, the sound of a dozen ukuleles being strummed to the likes of the Beatles fills the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia – a one-hour drive away from downtown Atlanta.
From 2:00pm until 4:30pm, the Athens Ukulele Philharmonic, other local ukuele groups and professional soloists take to the stage at the “I Love Ukulele” Ukulele Festival to bring a little bit of happiness to Georgia with their ukulele music. William Tonks, director of visitor services and facility at the State Botanical Garden, also strums along as a semi-professional musician.
The festival, which encourages anyone who loves a good time to come along and play, usually takes place in the Botanical Garden’s Theater in the Woods, a small, outdoor pavilion that has more than enough room for the event’s attendees and their instruments.
If you’re looking for a community that will welcome new ukulele beginners with open arms, you’ll find it in Atlanta, Georgia.
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