UKULELE LAS CRUCES
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THE LAS CRUCES UKULELE SCENE
If you want to mingle with like-minded uke enthusiasts, New Mexico is where you should be.
Las Cruces, the city known for its barren desert land and soaring mountains, is fast becoming one of the best-known areas for ukulele communities.
Sitting on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, you’d be forgiven for associating the New Mexico city with the theme song from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly rather than the tin-y tropical sounds of a uke. Sure, Las Cruces may look straight out of a western – and a guitar or harmonica may look better placed in its barren land – but the town is actually brimming with ukulele communities, enthusiasts, and festivals, and it’s helping to change the way America views the tiny instrument.
One group in particular, the Las Cruces Ukes, is sharing the love of ukulele music through a welcoming community. Every Thursday evening, the non-profit organization hosts free adult practices with Strum for Fun (5:15-6:15pm) and performance groups (6:30-8:00pm) at the Good Samaritan Society, a senior living centre in Las Cruces.
For the younger crowd, the group hosts a Kids Club (10:30-11:15am), which meets on the second and fourth Saturday of the month at El Calvario United Methodist Church, and a Teen Club, which meets during the school year at Arrowhead Park Early College High School. They also perform at a wide range of events in the area. By the end of 2016, the group had practiced together weekly for three years and performed 60 times around the community.
Bob Hull, Las Cruces’ magazines chief musical offer said: “Las Cruces Ukes has always had an open-door policy: no auditions, dues, previous experience, musical background. This makes way for anyone who is the slightest bit curious, seeking a new social activity or seasoned musicians who need another outlet with little further investment. What I found, personally, was a cohort that took me well beyond just learning how to decipher a new instrument. The experience reawakened my singing voice and I’ve met such a diverse group of people all due to a little instrument that is anything but a toy.”
To help spread the ukulele love even further, the Las Cruces Ukes also host the city’s annual Las Cruces UkeFest. Held around May every year, the festival boasts workshops, jam sessions, open mics, raffles – prizes have included online lessons with professional uke players, ukuleles, music shop gift certificates, and CDs - and a concert featuring some of ukulele music’s best performers.
Past and future attendees include uke icon Jim Beloff, Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Mark Baker, Lil’ Rev, Rachel Manke, and Danielle Ate The Sandwich. And the best part? Not only do these professionals play at Las Cruces UkeFest, they also teach, so you know you’re learning from the best.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, if you want to partake in the current ukulele tsunami that’s taking over America, Las Cruces is the place to do it.
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