Feature

Ukulele revival is about community

The Corktown Ukulele Jam, of which your author is the co-founder and co-host, along with my pal and partner Steve McNie, celebrated our one-year anniversary recently at Toronto’s historic Dominion on Queen beer parlour.

Roots Music Canada partner Andy Frank and reporter Rachel Hahn produced this marvelous video, and we share it in the spirit of real roots music being made locally.

This caps an extraordinary year of growth and success for the Corktown Ukulele Jam. We’ve done everything from renting a vintage ukulele streetcar to strum down Queen Street en masse, to paddling voyageur canoes to Toronto Island for a late-night ukulele campfire.

The Corktown Ukulele Jam has become a bit of a phenomenon: media personalities show up frequently to strum and sing along with the gang, and we’ve been covered widely on radio, in print, and online. Here’s just a sample of the coverage:

The Gospel According to Uke by Frank Faulk, from CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition

Corktown Ukulele Jam on CBC Newsworld’s “The Weekend Scene” with Jelena Adzic

Tiptoeing through the Tavern with Ukes John Stoddard, Toronto Star

Standing Engagement: Corktown Uke Jam by Maryam Saddiqi, Posted Toronto/National Post

Uke Jam unites a community, Michael Talbot, Citynews.ca

Corktown Ukulele Jam mini-documentary by Mark Holmes/JSD Productions

We’ve spun off related uke groups in Toronto, Cobourg, and Orangeville and helped fuel a revival of the instrument that’s been ongoing for years.

As I write, we’re about to celebrate with 4 consecutive days of ukulele madness in Toronto:

Wednesday night: weekly jam at Dominion on Queen
Thursday night: launch of The Mighty Uke featuring uke wizard James Hill
Friday night: Ukulele Speakeasy with Manitoba Hal and Ukulelezo at Toronto’s Blue Moon pub
Saturday: build-your-own ukulele workshop with luthier Wolf Kater

What we’re really building, of course, is community. And while we make use of very contemporary digital tools to do that, this is at heart a grassroots, organic effort, and that’s part of why it succeeds. In a world where music is too seldom made by hand anymore, too seldom shared among groups, and too often commoditized beyond enjoyment, we offer a simple alternative: music made by people, for people, the old-fashioned way.

Funny that’s somehow become fashionable. We hope it stays that way.

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