Ukulele Festival Comes to Town

Post by Ross Farnell.

As the fine tuning is applied to the last details of DRUKE – the Dandenong Ranges Ukulele Festival – coming to Burrinja at the end of May, you can almost hear the 4 short strings of a hundred Ukuleles start to strum and hum in beautiful celebration.

So what is a Ukulele festival all about, and who is bringing us this joyous sound?

We tracked down DRUKE Festival Director Matthew Fagan for a quick chat about all things Ukulele and to get the lowdown on the Festival.

Matthew Fagan

Matthew Fagan – DRUKE organiser

Local hills resident Matthew is already known to many in the region for his virtuoso classical guitar playing – especially his ten-string, but he is also a master of the four strings; from fingerpicking, bluegrass and popular-contemporary to traditional folk music. Matthew performs and hosts Ukulele workshops across the country, from the Port Fairy and Illawarra Folk Festivals to numerous Ukulele festivals and clubs across this vast land. DRUKE is the second year incarnation of the Ukulele Festival, with its origins in the Emerald event run at GEMCO in 2014.

So, what made Matthew want to start a Ukulele Festival in the hills?

Kellie and I moved to the hills from St Kilda a few years ago for the environment and cultural life, and this is now very much our community. We had been the music director and administrator team for some large scale cultural community projects known as “Voyages” for the Cities of Port Phillip and Kingston. Since being endorsed as a ukulele performer for Maton, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy extensive touring experience performing in the USA and Australia at Uke festivals, and could see the potential for the enjoyment of a ukulele festival within the vibrant and unique music community in our Dandenong Ranges – a perfect environment to invite uke players to come and experience what there is to offer in our region.

Our first festival “the Emerald Ukulele Festival” was a great success at the Gemco Theatre, thanks to their great volunteer network. The numbers attending surpassed what we had planned for, so a larger venue was required for year two. Having already performed at Burrinja a number of times and enjoyed the range of performance venues there – from café to theatre – we had a chat with the team there and it seemed like the perfect fit.

Ok, so now we know how and why DRUKE was born. But what does Matthew like the most about the ukulele?

The uke is the People’s instrument. It’s the perfect way to experience playing music for yourself the first time, and the uke inspires fun.

UFO band

UFO band

So as a bit of virtuoso of the four stringed mini-beast, what does Matthew like most about playing ukulele?

It’s a fun and inviting instrument. The ukulele asks you to be yourself making music and to enjoy life and TO SHARE music with friends, strangers, everyone!  Also wherever I travel and I carry my ukulele people all want to hear it, it’s the perfect passport to the world.

Sounds like the ukulele would be the perfect extra luggage on a couch surfing adventure. But what has made it such a popular instrument these days? The Ukulele’s revival, especially in the community setting, has been quite amazing…

The ukulele loves nothing better than another ukulele to make music with. Two is better than one, and three is even better…..and so on. The uke says pick me up and play me – you don’t have to be a violin virtuoso and practice for 10 years to sound good, you can learn a song on the uke in 10 minutes. The uke is also a great fashion accessory – the uke can be any colour, shape , Hawaiian , metal, bluegrass, folk any style that suits you, or your shirt!

Lucy Wise

Lucy Wise

So I had to ask, what’s Matthew’s favourite song played on uke? And without hesitation…

Of course it has to be “Somewhere over the Rainbow”. And my favourite uke player is Roy Smeck form the 1920s vaudeville days.

In three weeks DRUKE is bringing three days of ukulele festivities to the Dandenong Ranges – as Festival Director with the finger on the pulse, what are you looking forward to most this year having moved it to the bigger venues at Burrinja in Upwey?

To hold the Ukulele Festival at Burrinja Cultural Centre is an invaluable opportunity to expand the scope of concerts, performers and activities for all uke players attending. The facilities are perfect for festival goers to attend intimate workshops, concerts and perform themselves at the open blackboard cafe events. Ukulele festivals are most especially all about PARTICIPATION – not just watching. Burrinja provides facilities for all these uke activities in an environment that reflects the earthy feel of our environment in the hills- thus a unique feel and ambience for the ukulele enthusiast. Music, great food and catering are also right here in the festival centre – especially good coffee, an essential for music festivals!

Black Orchid band

Black Orchid band

The Dandenong Ranges Ukulele Festival – DRUKE takes over the entire Burrinja Cultural Centre for three amazing May days of festival fun for everyone from May 29 to 31, 2015.

It’s time for to break out your Hawaiian shirt, dust off your grass skirt and join in as the world of all things Ukulele travels from the sand and shirts of Hawaii to the lush forests of the Hills. From the theatre to café, stages, workshops, gardens and galleries – it’ll be humming and strumming.

The festival line-up features a diverse range of world class ukulele performers, massed ukulele groups, workshops, ‘Women in Uke’, blackboard concerts, competitions, stalls and more!

Highlights include Tomoki Sato (Japan), Paul Jonson (NZ), Lucy Wise (Aus), Sarah Carroll (Queen of Bellarine), Alex Burns (Aus – UK), A.J Leonard & Jenny Rowlands (AUS), Amie Brûlée (France… almost), Matthew Fagan (Aus) and many more.

Tomoki Sato

Tomoki Sato

Sarah Carroll

Sarah Carroll

And if you want to strum your own stuff, check out the competitions and blackboard open stage.

All Festival details are on the DRUKE web site. 3 day Festival Passes get you to every single wonderful event including the Friday festival launch party and the Gala Saturday night concert. But if you can only make one day, then there are day tickets too.

Book online or call the Burrinja Box Office on 9754 8723 for details.

Dandenong Ranges Ukelel Festival poster

Burrinja logo


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