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THE RICHMOND UKULELE SCENE
Ukuleles Galore in Richmond, Virginia
If your only association with the ukulele is Tiny Tim playing “Tiptoe Through The Tulips”, try looking up Jake Shimabukuro, Eddie Kamae, Roy Smeck or 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal, who could all teach even the world’s best guitar players a thing or two about shredding.
The mighty little instrument’s popularity has gained titanic strength within the last few years, making it one of the most popular instruments to own. Children at school are more likely to pick up a uke than a recorder now, possibly because it’s easy to learn, lightweight and so versatile. Or, perhaps it’s purely the star power the little instrument is getting from famous ukulele-playing celebrities like Taylor Swift, George Clooney and Zooey Deschanel. Either way, the uke is taking over America, and everyone – from the youngest beginner to the most seasoned professional – is playing one.
In Richmond, Virginia, ukulele clubs are abundant. The city’s main group, the River City Ukulele Society, was created after founders Ron Gentry and Sandy Stoddart recognized that they weren’t the only Central Virginia fans of the instrument. Now, the group meets regularly with other local uke enthusiasts, but they don’t just get together to sing songs in a circle, they also hold the annual Ukefest Virginia.
Speaking to Boomer Magazine in 2017, Sandy said: “I had gone to a ukulele festival in Northern Virginia at Strathmore. I guess this was in the spring of 2011, and I said, “Wait a minute – that’s a long drive. We’ve got a lot of people here in Richmond. Why don’t we try to create something similar in Richmond?” So that’s what really started the whole effort to have a ukulele festival.”
Held around November of every year, Ukefest Virginia usually features around three different concerts and nine workshops. Three of the workshops are dedicated to beginners, while another three are strictly for intermediate players and cover skills like finger picking, licks and strumming. If you’re an advanced player, Ukefest Virginia has advanced workshops to take your ukulele playing to the next level.
A community stage allows ukulele groups from all over Virginia perform and have the chance to show off what they’ve been practicing, while craft, food and merchant vendors man the rest of the festival grounds.
Of course, Richmond has more than just one ukulele group doing it all. The Midnight Ukulele Society and the Richmond Ukulele Jam Meetup also meet regularly to share knowledge on the uke and play with like-minded enthusiasts.
Whether you’re a beginner looking to begin on your ukulele journey, or a professional looking to fine-tune your style, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for in Richmond, Virginia.
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