What makes the ukulele such a beloved instrument? No one knows better than MIlwaukee's own Lil' Rev, coordinator of the annual Milwaukee Ukulele Festival, the second edition of which taks place Saturday, Sept. 25 at The Coffee House, 631 N. 19th St.
"The ukulele, as an instrument is small, easy to hold and handle, you only have four strings to tune and the chord shape are easy enough for most to grasp, relatively quickly and that is appealing to so many," says Rev.
"There is also an intimacy in that you have to hold it close to your bosom, you strum it with your hands and not with a plectrum so there is a cool human connection to the instrument. On top of all that, the ukulele is not only a cheap buy, but it is highly portable for your next beach party, camp outing, church picnic and more!"
The festival debuted last year and was a big success, says its organizer. More than 200 people were on hand for the main concert.
"The turnout was stupendous! People came out of the woodwork. The local media stepped up and jumped on board, I was interviewed by almost everyone and I cannot tell you how thankful I am to the Milwaukee media for helping to spread the word. It makes all of the difference. The performers were some of the best in the land, including: Gerald Ross, Brian Hefferan, Victoria Vox, Frogwater, Boulder Acoustic Society, among others; all outperformed our wildest expectations."
On tap this year at the event, which runs from 9 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. are workshops for all skill levels, uke vendors, jam sessions, raffles for new and vintage ukes, refreshments, an after-party at Miss Katie's Diner at 11 p.m. and, of course, a host of performers.
Among the talent on hand are The Milwaukee Ukulele Club -- which sponsors the event -- Rev himself, Mark "Spanky" Gutierrez, Ralph Shaw and Joel Eckhaus, The DitchLilies and Victoria Vox. The evening concert kicks off at 7 p.m.
"We have a lot more experience running a festival," says Lil' Rev, and while we received nothing but compliments last year, we expect it to be a 100 times better! I am certain this year will once again blow everyone aware! Look! If you can't have a good time around ukulele music, even Prozac ain't gonna help you!"
Admission to the festival is $65 for the full day, $45 for the workshops only and $20 for just the evening concert. Organizers expect the event to sell out quickly, so they encourage you to visit mufest.com and purchase tickets in advance.
Then, hop on board the uke express and have a blast.
"We are now in the Third Wave Ukulele Revival, first (was) in the teens and ‘20s, then in the ‘50s and ‘60s and now in 2010," says Rev.
"We are full force into a worldwide ukulele revival.
The ukulele represents something real, yet unpretentious, it is an underdog instrument and its lack of cockiness makes it alluring to the general public. People see the ukulele and they think, man! I can do that. ... You just can't sing a sad song on the ukulele!"
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.