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If you play the ukulele, you have a family in Kansas City. The vibrant Missouri town known for its art community, college basketball, and Midwest hospitality is also a hub for uke enthusiasts.
Straddling the border with Kansas, Kansas City is home to a number of ukulele festivals, clubs and famous artists – including the city’s best jazz and swing uke player, Danny Fowler.
Fowler, who plays, teaches and leads ukulele groups, specializes in music stretching as far back into the pre-jazz and blues era up into contemporary music. He’s among a slew of other artists who call Kansas City home, including Grace VanderWaal, the 14-year-old singer and ukulele player who took America by storm in 2016.
Grace, who was born in the Kansas City area and now lives in Suffern, New York, writes her own songs and croons with a distinctive voice mature beyond her years.
In September 2016, at the age of 12, she won the eleventh season of America’s Got Talent, singing her original songs. Simon Cowell – notoriously known for being hard to impress – called her “the next Taylor Swift”. In December 2016, she released her first EP, Perfectly Imperfect, on the Columbia Records label. She’s performed at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden, and the opening and closing of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
In November 2017, Grace released her first full-length album, Just the Beginning. She is set to tour with Imagine Dragons in mid-2018 – with a stop in Kansas City.
But the Missouri town isn’t just reserved for professional ukulele players. Kansas City is also home to a number of uke groups, like the unusually named Ukulele Fight Club. On a mission to spread the ukulele love, the group consists of musicians of mixed experience and welcomes players of all levels. The Kansas City group meets every other Sunday at a pizza restaurant on Broadway.
Another uke group, the Kansas City Ukesters, is aptly targeted towards beginners, with meetings always beginning with focus on beginner basics. The club meets from 6:30 to 8:30pm on the second Monday of each month at St Pius Church in Mission, Kansas. The Ukesters welcome all levels of playing skill, sexes, and ages. Both seasoned players and those who just bought there ukuleles yesterday are welcome.
And the fun doesn’t stop there: Kansas City is also home to UkeStomp, the city’s annual mini ukulele fest. Held at the local pub, UkeStomp is a no-cover, all-ages event where players at all skill levels are encouraged to attend. Open mic and “uke or dare” are two of the fest’s main attractions.
All you need to do is show up at Ollie’s Local (the event is held around March of each year), and enjoy the fun. Spectators, beginners and experts are all welcome.
Whether you’ve been playing the uke for 30 years or you just picked it up yesterday, Kansas City’s uke community has something for you.
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