Backstage at Ukekopelli 2017
After having such a great time in Phoenix, Perry and I headed over to Santa Fe to spend a night in one of the most creative cities in the country. We rented a cute little artsy airbnb and had a fantastic dinner at La Boca, a fancy little, crowded Tapas bar in the Plaza. Caramelized steak with paired Sherry, yum! And thus I discovered how much I enjoy sweet Sherry.
The next morning, I was up nice and early putting in my curls so they could set during rehearsal. We met up with Ralph Shaw, Mark Baker, Gracie Terzian and producer Gary Well at the African American Arts Center, a beautiful building in Albuquerque where the entire festival was to take place.
We rehearsed our parts (for the first time in person!) and walked thru how the variety show lineup was going to go. Honestly, we weren’t quite sure WHAT to expect of this show, but we were all professionals and prepared for anything. The backing band (John Bartlit & friends) was I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E. I should have known what kind of caliber they were when Daniel Ward said they were his friends. All we had to do was throw a chart at them and suddenly we were playing along with a perfect musical backdrop. That’s not all that common. A lot of bands are almost together, but someone will sway this way when another flows that way and you’re left with a painful melodic clash here and there. Not these guys. They had what Heidi Swedberg calls “Big Ears”. It was an absolute dream to play with them.
The show went great! Gracie and Mark worked up a Standard duet hours before the curtain dropped, I got a costume change in during intermission to shake things up (cactus dress!), and the color-coded stage plan helped everyone know when they were to go back on stage and who to announce after they were done. We even had ads read between acts that sounded like old cigarette commercials, only ukuleles replaced the cigarettes. Here’s the one I read for my brand Ko’Aloha. This is directly transcribed from a cigarette ad Frank Sinatra read on screen:
“DANI JOY SAYS:
“I COME TO YOU TONIGHT COURTESY OF MY MOTHER AND FATHER AND
KO’ALOHA UKULELES (SINGS WORD “KO’ALOHA”). HAND CRAFTED FROM
GRADE A KOA WOOD, THE BEST YOU CAN GET. IT’S THE SOUND OF GREAT
PLEASURE. IT’S EASY FOR ME BECAUSE KO’ALOHA IS MY BRAND, IT HAS
BEEN FOR YEARS. NO KIDDING. A SATISFIED CUSTOMER, I PLAY THEM EVERY
DAY. BIG FLAVORFUL SOUND, CLEAN, SMOOTH, FRESH. SO PLAY ‘EM AND GET
SATISFIED, FRIEND. AND THAT’S HOW IT’S GUNNA BE AROUND HERE:
KO’ALOHA FOR DANI JOY, AND DANI JOY FOR KO’ALOHA.”
This show was uniquely interesting because generally a show like this has 3 acts; opening, middle, headliners. This was completely different. Producer Gary had a vision for a 1940’s Supper-club style variety show, so the performers and I had gotten together months ahead of time and planned the lineup so that we were jumping on and off the stage like popcorn! I’ll admit I was nervous, wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but it did! The audience loved it!
After the show we basked in the praise of the audience who told us again and again how entertaining the “variety” aspect was. Whew! What a relief!
For me there’s no better feeling than being on the other side of a finished performance. After the curtain closes and the applause dies away, I feel such calm, knowing that whatever I had been worried about was past, everything has gone down without a hitch (or sometimes theres a hitch, but it turns out to be a crowd pleaser; i.e. Toby in Reno. Hilarious!)
That night I slept like a baby, and the next morning I was up again at 6:30am to put my hair in curls so they would have time to set before the workshops began at 9. I had a great view from my hotel room (11th floor). Land of Enchantment. I didn’t understand what that meant until I saw the sky in New Mexico. Purples and blues and pinks and oranges. We happened to be there during one of the strangest thunderstorm seasons, and I was assured by local residents that I hadn’t seen anything yet, what with all these clouds mucking up the scene. But to me it was breathtaking as it was. There’s nothing like standing before a huge sky of thunderstorm clouds and lightning to make you feel that special kind of small. That special kind of peace that says, “we are all irrelevant…. no need to strive… all that matters is this moment….all that matters is this breath….i could crush you…
That morning I looked out my window and, in the far distance, under the heavy, menacing thunder clouds I could see one, then two, then three hot air balloons! I’ve never seen one in real life. These were just specks on the horizon, but I could sense their size even with the distance between us. I could feel the buoyed sensation in the basket and the colossal, weightless mass of heat above, hanging in the air like a soap bubble. Ready to pop! Boy, I thought, these people are brave! I mean, not for nothin’, but I wouldn’t want to be floating a deaths-fall away from the ground, and then under Heavens match stick to boot!
Hair curled, hotel coffee drank, Perry and I headed back to the venue for workshops and chatting with guests and getting to know vendors, trying out new instruments, and all the fun stuff that happens at a festival! It’s a very cool atmosphere. People are milling about, ukulele cases of every size and origin slung over backs and rolled along in totes from room to room as minds are expanded and lessons are learned. You’ll never meet a nicer group of people than you will at a Ukulele Festival. (I’ve also learned you’ll never meet a more relaxed person than someone retired. They have a special kind of calm. They’ve earned it.)
My day began with my new class “Music in the Morning”. Here’s the description:
“Good morning Strummers!
This morning warm up class will bring sunshine to your whole day, preparing you with ergonomic stretching, meditative fingerpicking techniques, deep breathing and finger aerobics to start you off with a little pep in your step!”
My personal teaching philosophy stems from a holistic approach. I believe with my whole heart that inner balance, trained muscles, posture, warmups, breathing and a calm mind are key components to playing music. Most of us begin our days feeling stiff and rushed. We have a thousand thoughts a second about priorities, responsibilities, and worries. It’s easy to begin a festival day this way, and that doesn’t leave much room for absorption.
In this morning class we did yoga. Yep, yoga. No, we didn’t do Down Dog or Chaturanga. We stayed in our seats and we flapped our elbows like chickens. Haha, at least that’s what a peeping Tom would think we were doing. In reality we were slowing flapping our eagle wings through the air up and down, expressing all of our angst and tension with elbows toward the sky, and releasing the worry and strain with our elbows at our waste.
“Breathe in the possibilities… breathe out the doubt…”
Nice, big, Full breathes. That morning the students were reminded how big their lungs were, they were generous with their oxygen, and they were prepped with a clear mind and relaxed posture for the rest of the day. Just like me, most people appreciate being given permission to relax. To roll their heads from side to side, eyes closed. To breathe a heavy sigh without feeling weird. I mean we scrunched up our faces and looked ridiculous! And it felt sooooooo good. I freaking love yoga. I love the permissions it affords me. I love that everyone in a group class is doing the move with you, in tandem. It gives me the feeling of connectedness. Synchronized movements are energizing and community building. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking of a meet up you’ve been putting off or a class you’ve been curious about, do it. Don’t think about it, just do it. You’ll either like or you won’t and then you’ll know. And either way you’ll be happier for having done it.
The rest of the workshops were awesome. Every class was filled with eager students who got so excited to learn the knowledge, it was amazing energy! I assisted Perry in his Baritone/Bass class (Yes, all in one our. He pulled it off with flying colors! Great class.) And I had a wonderful time with Jane during our One-hour private lesson she had won in a drawing.
I could go on and on about how cool it was to play with Ralph Shaw, and meeting Gracie Terzian, one of the most down to earth people I now know. Hanging out with Mark Baker, a very charismatic teacher/performer, was great too! I’ll let the photos below speak about those experiences, as I’ve typed your ear off by now.
A special thank you to Cheryl Fallstead for capturing the great photos of the show! And thanks to producer Gary Wells for making this all happen!
Thanks for reading,
I hope I’ve left you feeling a little Enchanted today, I certainly do.