Mick Jeffries and Sarabeth Brownrobie are Lexington’s ambassadors for an unlikely cause: ukulele awareness.
You can join them and be among those who are taking up the tiny instrument, which can be played even by beginners and which, according to Jeffries, is far superior for adults who always meant to take up an instrument.
The first annual Kentucky Ukulele Festival is Sept. 16 to 17, and Jeffries and Brownrobie would like for ukulele enthusiasts — old, new and merely curious — to be there.
Long considered an instrument of Hawaiian whim, the ukulele has recently undergone a renaissance. Eddie Vedder recorded a Grammy-winning album of ukulele songs in 2011, and in an interview, he declared it “an activist instrument.” Tampa Bay held its first ukulele festival in 2015.
The ukulele has even produced its first TED talk master: Jake Shimbukuro.
Heidi Swedberg — who once acted on stage in Louisville and went on to play George Costanza’s ill-fated fiancée, Susan, on “Seinfeld” — is, set to appear and teach with her partner, Daniel Ward, at the KyUke Fest in Lexington.
The KYuke festival will feature paid events. Tickets range from $65 for full student admission to $145 for adults, and it covers classes, two meals, concerts, jams and an open-mic session. A free all-ages community concert is to be held at the Lyric Theater as part of its Gallery Hop, 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 15.
Playing ukulele can be a social bonding moment in a way that other instruments can’t, Jeffries said.
“There are no trombone circles,” Brownrobie said. She hadn’t played an instrument since high school, when she played the oboe. Then she took up the ukulele.
“Ukulele is nothing new,” Jeffries said. “It has always been considered a vocal accompaniment instrument. It’s designed not to be the star. ... It adds another dimension to singing.”
Swedberg, he said, “is one of the great evangelists of singing and playing.”
Swedberg and Ward’s musical group, the Sukey Jump Band, has played in Lexington before, and the couple taught a small ukulele class at Mecca Live Studio & Gallery. Jeffries called Swedberg “the most generous person with her expertise and her experience.”
Several years after Swedberg and Ward first visited Lexington, the Lexingtones ukulele group began meeting.
For those who want to play, the Lexingtones meet Monday evenings at The Hive. Jeffries also teaches ukelele in various schools and is in negotiations to add additional schools. One of his methods for teaching the strings on a ukulele is GCEA — “George Clooney Eats Ants” — the method for which Jeffries put into a video.
“Ukulele is exploding,” he said. “Music has always been a part of my life, and I have a soft place in my heart for those who ... didn’t pursue a music career, and ukulele is a way back in for them.”
If you go
Kentucky’s First Ukulele Festival
West Coast performer/educators Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward and other nationally known ukulele performers and teachers will be featured.
When: Sept. 16-17
Where: Campbell House Inn, 1375 S. Broadway
Tickets: $65 for students for the entire weekend to $145 for others, and includes classes, two meals, concerts, jams and open mic.
More information: Kyuke.com