By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND — There’s Brook Adams from Oregon: “He’s wild, really wild.”
There’s James Hill from British Columbia, “one of the best players in the world . . . he will blow your mind.”
And Nova Karina Devonie: “The audience always falls in love with Nova.”
So promises Marianne Brogan, a woman who was once burned out on the thing called a ukulele festival. She ran the one in Portland, Ore., for five years, and then stepped back because, as she says, “I did everything.”
Then Peter McCracken of Centrum, producer of music festivals at Fort Worden State Park, called. We’ll do everything for a uke fest here, he told Brogan — except choose the performers and teachers.
Brogan is still immersed in the ukulele world, as founder of the Portland Ukulele Association and a friend and fan of uke players across the continent. She said yes to McCracken. And she got to work assembling the faculty for the inaugural Port Townsend Ukulele Festival, which has its finale with two public concerts tonight and Saturday at Fort Worden’s Wheeler Theater.
The festival began earlier this week with a series of classes at the fort. These workshops and this faculty drew a crowd right away: the 130 spots filled up and 130 more hopefuls went onto the waiting list, Brogan reported.
“It was breathtaking,” she said.
The festival concerts, to start at 7:30 tonight and Saturday, will be fitting ends to it all.
With the festival students in the audience, “there’s this excitement in the air,” Brogan said, “and a lot of love. The public picks up on that.”
Tonight’s lineup ranges from roots-music lover Aaron Keim and boogie-woogie man Casey MacGill to Paul Hemmings, who is known for his jazz-, Latin- and reggae-infused sound. Twin brothers Jere and Greg Canote, players of humorous banjo-uke music, are also on the bill, as is blueswoman Del Rey.
Saturday’s show brings Adams, the aforementioned wild man, who does covers of Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra and Sex Pistols songs; Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, aka the first ladies of the ukulele; Mandalyn May, a Hawaiian-bred songwriter on the uke, guitar and mountain dulcimer, and bassist-percussionist Piper Heisig of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Hill, the Canadian renowned for pushing the uke envelope, will finish off the night with still more variety, including music from his new album “A Flying Leap.”
Tickets to each concert are $15 at www.Centrum.org and at the Wheeler Theater box office at Fort Worden, 200 Battery Way. They will go on sale there 30 minutes before show time, and Centrum will provide parking passes for festival-goers.
These performers “all know each other from all these festivals. So they’re quite tight,” Brogan said. “They love playing together.”
At the monthly get-together Brogan puts together in Portland, about 60 ukulelists gather. They range from beginner to advanced and, she believes, they share the thing that has made the uke so popular. It’s simple, really.
“People need to be together doing something fun,” she said.
“The instrument is small; you can carry it around ... Many people are interested in having music in their lives in a participatory way.
“You start making music with people, and you feel happy.”
Brogan is preparing for another uke event: the Menucha Ukulele Band Camp, a March 24-28 gathering at the Menucha retreat center east of Portland. It has space for about 50 campers, and information can be found at Menucha.org under the Programs heading. The 2014 lineup of teachers includes Brogan’s top choices: Hemmings, Keim, Gerald Ross and the Canote Brothers.