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Late in the 19th century, a Portuguese ship set off from the Madeira Islands to the islands of Hawaii. It held 400 immigrants and the key to one of the most important components of the Hawaiian culture: The ukulele.
For over a century the smallest member of the guitar family has been slowly growing in popularity. In 1990, Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole picked up the mighty instrument, playing a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” – and the world fell captivated to him.
Since then, Hollywood mega stars like Zooey Deschanel and Ingrid Michaelson have taken to the ukulele, and the rest of the world has been following suit. Now? It’s gaining strength in Tampa, Florida.
The large natural harbor connected to the Gulf of Mexico is known for its baseball team and retirees, but it’s also making waves as the ukulele capital of Florida.
The state’s largest uke club resides here, holding regular events including workshops, performances, open mic, and jam sessions.
Established in January 2009, the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society boasts over 2,000 members and hosts regular meet ups in the Tampa Bay area at various locations. In November of every year, they host their annual festival, The Tampa Bay Ukulele Getaway.
TBUG, as the locals call it, includes everything a player would want out of a uke festival: Workshops for all skill levels, jams, open mic sessions, auctions and raffles, artist meet and greets, a concert, and – of course – a Sunday luau lunch.
The event’s 2018 lineup includes artists like Jim and Liz Beloff, Rachel Manke, Matthew Kirkland, Petey Mack, Ari Chi, Mim, and Ty Olopai, Mapuana Ebbitt and TJ Weger.
Didn’t think it could get better? TBUG’s host, the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society (TBUS), is a charitable organization. All net proceeds from the event directly fund education, entertainment and community service projects. A weekend of all things uke-related and it’s for a good cause? Who could say no to that?
Through its TBUS Cares program, the group has made cash donations to charities, donated ukuleles to libraries throughout Tampa Bay’s counties, and donated the time of its members to teach beginner ukulele workshop programs.
Hosting meet ups across the city, TBUS regularly welcomes new players to learn all about the small and mighty uke: From the different sizes to how to hold, tune, strum, and play them.
Their Strum and Sing Workshop – the last of three free TBUS workshops (Beginner, Advanced Beginner, and Strum and Sing Jam) uses songs with chords taught in previous workshops to strengthen players’ skills. The songs – specifically chosen for beginner and advanced beginner uke players – are upbeat, fun, and specifically tailored for new uke enthusiasts to gain confidence in their playing.
Oh, and did we mention that it’s free? If you’re looking to learn the ukulele for the first time or want to strengthen your skills to become a seasoned pro, Tampa, Florida is the place to do it.
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