Looking for the perfect way to kick off your summer?
Community members are invited to strum and sing along at the first-ever Ukulele Festival, noon to 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Ramona Garden Park in Grover Beach. The free outdoor festival is followed at 3 p.m. by a free concert by classic rock/soul band The Brass Factory.
The two events mark the official start of the 13th annual Sizzlin’ Summer Concert Series and Farmers’ Market, which runs through Sept. 27, according to Nora O’Donnell, recreation coordinator for the Grover Beach Parks and Recreation Department.
Sunday’s Ukulele Festival will feature performances by several local uke groups: Baywood Ukulele Social Club, Flaming Ukuleles of Grover Beach, Oasis Ukulele Band of Orcutt, Rock-N-Ukes of Morro Bay, SLO Strummers of San Luis Obispo and HUGS (Happy Ukulele Group Strummers) and Kanikapila Sunday of Arroyo Grande. Also taking the stage are the band Island Connection and hula dancers from Hoapili Pomaika’i Aloha in Santa Maria.
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The wide-ranging program includes rock classics (“When I’m 64,” “Heartbreak Hotel”), country songs (“Your Cheating Heart,” “Walking After Midnight”) and folk favorites (“Oh Susanna,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain”), as well as Hawaiian standards.
The purpose of the festival is “to have fun as a group, interest people in the ukulele [and] let them know what’s going on all around them,” said Richard Simpson, a former Lucia Mar Unified School District teacher and principal who teaches ukulele classes at the Ramona Garden Park Center in Grover Beach. He’s played the uke for more than six decades.
Simpson said he approached O’Donnell about four years ago with the idea of offering ukulele classes. “She said, ‘Yeah, we’re interested. Do you think you can get four students?’ ” he recalled. “I was thinking more like two dozen. … We got up to 34.”
Today, so many people are interested in “Ukulele — Simple Strummin’ ” that he’s added a second class.
A mainstay of Hawaiian music, the uke first gained a following in the mainland United States in the 1920s and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following World War II.
“It’s a popular instrument to play because it’s small, it’s compact, it’s portable (and) you really only need four or five chords to play songs,” O’Donnell said. “The songs you end up playing are ones that everyone can sing along to.
“It makes for a good party instrument — ‘Let’s just sit around the campfire and sing ukulele songs.’”
Plus, Simpson added, ukes are relatively affordable compared to other instruments.
“There are reasonable-quality instruments available for modest prices,” he said, as low as $50.
“The bottom line, Simpson said, “is they’re fun.”
Noon to 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Ramona Garden Park, 993 Ramona Ave., Grover Beach
805-473-4580 or www.grover.org