By Chyrisse Tabone
November 7th-9th, 2014 marked the most anticipated ukulele event of the year among ukulele aficionados– Tampa Bay Ukulele Getaway! The annual event, also known as TBUG, was started by Steve Boisen five years ago, and is so exclusive that tickets are sold on a first-come-first-serve basis. Tickets typically go on sale at midnight on June 30th, while ukulele junkies clamor online to purchase a ticket via Paypal. A cap on the number of attendees is maintained so all of the guests can partake in each workshop held on the Saturday of the festive weekend. This year the tickets were sold within eight hours as people dialed in from not only Tampa Bay but other areas of the United States.
Typically the weekend consists of organized “open mike” sessions, impromptu jams, a luau, ukulele raffles, and workshops taught by well-known musicians in the ukulele circuit. Vendors selling ukuleles and accessories (e.g., straps, small amps, cases, etc.) overtake the Holiday Inn. The grand finale consists of a concert featuring the special guests.
Many unaffiliated observers were scratching their heads as the lobby, dining room, bar, and hallways were invaded by ukeaholics (yes, they use this term for a ukulele enthusiast that owns multiple ukuleles). Ukuleles are kind of like cats. They are happier in pairs and often multiply as stray or unclaimed ukuleles enter the household.
I was in an elevator and three businessmen were chatting amongst themselves. One asked, “I wonder if all those banjos are still at the hotel today?”
I interrupted, correcting him, “You mean ukuleles.”
He shrugged and responded, “Yeah, whatever.” I explained that a convention was going on all weekend in the hotel. He responded, “Is there an organization for this?”
I informed him that the event was sponsored by the “Tampa Bay Ukulele Society.”
He laughed and looked very confused asking, “You mean to tell me there’s actually a society for ukuleles?”
Even though the New Ukulele Wave has been mainstream for awhile (heck’….even Wal-Mart sells them) this poor soul was obviously uninformed.
This Year’s Special Guests at the Tampa Bay Ukulele Getaway
The one and only Victoria Vox! Li’l Rev! Both musical artists have been instrumental (no pun intended) in reviving the ukulele from the depth of its last resurgence in the 1960s. Ukuleles have been the butt of jokes every since Tiny Tim and his falsetto voice came on the scene. Victoria Vox is a well-known songwriter and mouth trumpet performer (yes…she is amazing) whose music has a jazz-swing feel. She is well-known for her “52 Original Song Project” which involved composing an original song every week for one year. Li’l Rev, who actually wrote a lot of the Hal-Leonard ukulele instructional books, plays ragtime, blues, and the Tin Pan Alley music of yesteryear. Other special guests included pop artist Mike Hind, who came all the way from Bermuda and pop-hip-hop artist, Narciso “Seeso” Lobo, who hails from the Chicago area. Local Floridian and Tampa Bay musical artists included Ty & Mapuana, purveyors of classic Hawaiian music, and AmandaLynn, whose original music has a coffee-house-indie vibe.
CHECK BACK for in-depth interviews with Victoria Vox, Li’l Rev, and Mike Hind. They are forthcoming.