Picture of BanjoUke SideKick Tattoo

Paul’s Epiphany


Paul was a difficult child. He hated school. He was not interested in sports or music. He couldn’t read well or do math. He lived in the fog of childhood and cartoons. I didn’t know what to do and neither did any of his teachers.

I signed him up for soccer, arranged tennis lessons, hired an academic tutor and took him to piano lessons. Nothing caught his interest, except explosives. He wanted to know everything there was to know about armaments and how bombs were used.  I was afraid he was destined for the military, or worse becoming an arms dealer.

Then one day when he was 10 we went to a school ukulele concert. Some kids from a neighboring school were putting on a concert and I dragged Paul kicking and screaming into the auditorium.

The middle school aged kids began by performing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) by Mozart, plucking the familiar notes on their ukes. In that instant Paul’s world changed. He sat on the edge of his chair and leaned toward the stage, hanging on every note. When the song was over, he turned to me and said, “I want to do that!”

I bought him a ukulele the next day. All he wanted to play was classical music, which was fine with me. I found a teacher, Doug Johnson, who knew exactly how to motivate Paul and selected arrangements that were challenging but do-able for a beginner. Paul changed over night. He carried his uke with him everywhere, including to the dinner table. When he was 14 he switched to piano for his formal music studies. He eventually graduated magna cum laude from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and has continued with a career in music, writing scores for movies and more traditional music for symphony orchestras.

The ukulele changed Paul’s life. Although he still plays the piano, Paul’s favorite instrument is now the BanjoUkulele. He loves it. So do I!

A picture of the Duke of Marlborough Hotel

It All Started When…


I went to my first ukulele performance in Russell about five years ago at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, a lovely restored Victorian edifice situated along the waterfront. Uke at the Duke! All on his own, my business partner, Ed Ackman, inspired about twenty adults in our small community to learn how to play a ukulele and to perform in public. It was amazing to see my friends and neighbors, tennis mates, kayaking buddies, schoolteachers and fisherman strumming their ukes and singing songs in front of the whole community for over an hour.

Since then, Uke at the Duke has become a tradition in Russell with free periodic performances to a standing room only audience. It is a very sweet community affair and everyone who is interested can come to rehearsals and get a chance to perform. The rest of us relax with a glass of wine while we watch and listen to our friends and neighbors do their thing.

A few years later, Ed and Curt invited me to join them in Kerikeri to hear the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra perform at the Turner Center. We got our tickets as soon as the event was announced and that was a good thing, because it was sold out long before opening night.

Russell is a small town on a remote peninsula in the Bay of Islands. We have a few thousand residents all year round and a much larger holiday population between Christmas and Easter. Most people come and go from Russell over the water, on a car ferry to Opua or a foot ferry to Paihia. That works fine most of the time, but not after 10:00 PM. You just can’t get to Russell late at night unless you want to drive the long way around over a not very good metal road. I do NOT recommend it!

The New Zealand Ukulele Orchestra’s performance did not end until after 10:00 PM so there was no way we could back to Russell that night. Instead we had to book accommodations and spend the night in Kerikeri. It made for an expensive evening, but it was worth it. That concert was so uplifting and fun, I would not have missed it at twice the price.

It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought the performance repertoire would be classical – because Orchestras play classical music, don’t they? This one did not, unless you consider “Rains Down in Africa” or “It’s a Heartache” to be classics. The musicians were dressed in outlandish costumes that looked like they were scavenged at the local Op Shop (Goodwill or The Salvation Army for US readers). It was a visual cornucopia. But the most impressive aspect of the performance was the virtuosity of the twelve-member orchestra. They were outstanding!

It was at this performance that I saw and heard my first Banjo Ukulele – and I was hooked! There is no going back.

Ukulele Festival Hawaii

NZ Ukulele Festival

nzukefestivalThe 2015 NZ Ukulele Festival will be hosted on Saturday 28 November at the Trusts Arena in Auckland.

The NZ Ukulele Festival is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world. Last year a record crowd gathered to enjoy non-stop entertainment from international and local musicians and to have fun making music together.

This year’s festival is the grand centrepiece of what is shaping up to be a ‘grand slam’ ukulele weekend in the city with related events happening on Friday and Saturday evenings.

What will it  cost?

It is FREE!  Music is for everyone, but  If you are able to make a gold coin donation it helps us to keep it that way.  Our hungry buckets will be grateful for anything you can manage. Look out for our lovely volunteers holding them.  If you would like to make a bigger donation (awesome!) visit us in the Big White Tent and well give you a receipt.  Donations over $5.00 are tax deductible and earn you a festival badge.   Our fundraising festival t shirts cost $20 for kids sizes, $25 for adults. You can order through your Kiwileles school or buy on the day.


We some great food vendors on site – but you are most welcome to bring a picnic too. Please note this event is strictly alcohol, glass and smoke free and we ask you to be kind to the grass and take all your rubbish home

For further information visit the festival site.