A look back at the 2010 Milwaukee Ukulele Festival (and ahead to 2011)

Calling All Ukulele Festival Goers: (From The Directors Perch)

A look back at the 2010 Milwaukee Ukulele Festival (and ahead to 2011)

The 2nd annual Milwaukee Ukulele Festival was held in downtown Milwaukee on September 25th 2010, and by all accounts was a huge success. After a year of planning and organizing, things came together masterfully in large part due to our highly efficient planning committee and a large legion of Ukulele Club volunteers!

As a performer, I am always looking at Ukulele Clubs and Camps,
asking myself, in what ways could this experience be improved upon?
Sometimes, there are minor tweaks, and other times it is highly obvious what didn’t work. (I have watched many uke fests die a hard death for oh so many reasons, with the most obvious being pure exhaustion, but that’s another story!)

For example, the first annual Milwaukee Ukulele Festival ran workshops back to back all day and there was little time for jamming, socializing or shopping and the vendors travel a long ways to showoff and share their wares, so I could understand their frustration around this issue. Anyhow, this was an obvious blunder on my behalf the first year and we easily corrected this on our 2nd attempt by making a schedule that was porous and open throughout the day. It is awesome as a director to see a whole year of hard work unfold before your eyes and run smoothly…it is even greater when everyone expresses to you that they couldn’t believe how well organized it all was.

Our committee met once a month to plan the festival and as the festival drew closer we met a little more. As director, I logged 636 hours (take note all you future Uke festival planners). Some of our featured performers included: Victoria Vox (a favorite and a repeat from our 1st annual), Ralph Shaw and Joel Eckhaus, Aaron Keim (teacher), The Milwaukee Ukulele Club, Lil Rev (MC), The 4 Strings of Swing, The Ditchlillies and Curt Sheller (teacher) to name a few. Everyone played well and the workshops were a huge hit with attendance running a good balance between the two classes we ran off and on throughout the day.

The headliners, Joel Eckhaus and Ralph Shaw definitely stole the show. Ralph Shaw is not only a great singer, dancer and strummer, but a consummate showman in the finest Vaudeville traditions…his animated shtick took Milwaukee by surprise with laughs galore! People really want to be entertained and instrumental music only goes so far no matter how good it is…so to have Ralph step in and deliver the goods with Joel (also a consummate performer), it was a highly memorable evening. I have seen Ralph many times over the years as we work together, but I ain’t lying when I say he was on fire in Milwaukee in 2010.

Workshops ran the gamut from Beginners classes with Curt Sheller, to Novelty Songs with Aaron Keim and yours truly. Other great classes included Victoria’s Mouth Trumpet Class and Ukulele Building Talk with Todd Korup to name but a few. Oh! Everyone packed in to hear Joel Eckhaus discuss the Techniques of Roy Smeck and many left determined to learn Ain’t She Sweet A La Smeck!

One other aspect I thought was especially wonderful was a dinner time jam/concert with Jon Prown, Dominator and Seeso. Together they displayed unparalleled talent and skill, weaving a variety of songs and styles with an intense progressive bent to it all. Jon is on our planning committee and this was his baby, I am grateful that he had the vision to think up a dinner time concert, because it offered lots of folks a chance to hear some really progressive playing as well as sit and relax during the dinner hour and not have to run out somewhere for something to eat (Milwaukee Ukulele Club Member Cherylann Kelly catered with a scrumptious meal option for all…thanks Cherylann!).

We plan to do this dinner concert again in 2011, and all agree it should be better promoted ahead of time so everyone knows about it, also those who want to come for the evening concert would be welcome to come early and catch these guys as well in 2011.

While I have never been more exhausted as I was after the 2011 Uke Fest, I must also say that everything from Registration to the raffle was handled by our team with such professionalism that I stood in awe! I am grateful that so many have invested their heart and energy into helping The Milwaukee Ukulele Festival to become one of The Midwest’s best little one day Uke events.

We also had a ton of Ukuleles to give away from Kala, Mya-Moe and Todd Korup to Ohana and Mainland Ukuleles. We are thankful to all of those who helped us raised quite a bit of money. Perpetuation is our goal!

We set up the Milwaukee Ukulele Festival as a 501c3 non-profit, so funding this festival and pulling it off takes a lot of work and sales savvy, in a recessionary economy. Again, thanks to all of our sponsors (visit: MUFest Link to see who our sponsors were).

2012 brings with it a few changes. First of all we will be moving from our funky, soul-filled, old, downtown church space to the suburbs of Milwaukee by way of Elm-Grove’s Sunset Playhouse. The playhouse will offer us a tech crew, ample space for vendors, jamming and an actual Theater for performance as well as a legit box office and concession space for food and alcohol. This is a classy little theatre with a great team in place, so there will be a lot of opportunity for us to help them realize some new customers as well as the theater can help us connect with some new attendees as well. Lastly, the Sunset Playhouse is located in close proximity to many restaurants, hotels and shopping on Blue Mound Rd. so it is a win-win choice we have made in deciding to move the festival to the outskirts. I am sure you will all agree.

Our website (thank you Tim Sverlong of www.ukeeku .com ) has many pictures and info so please check it out http://mufest.com/ . Also there is a great You Tube Video about our club at, YT ink. You can also find The Milwaukee Ukulele Club on Facebook at, FB link.

Our 2011 Festival Lineup will include: Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Craig Chee, The Lil Rev Blues Quartet Featuring Jon Simmons, Peter Roller & Steve Cohen (W/special guests: Robyn Plurer and Dave Fox) Harmonious Wail, Marianne Brogan, Rob Bourousa, The Barnkickers, Dominator, Seeso & Jon Prown and MC Mark Peterson (Plus possibly one more act!)

Hope to see you all there!


Lil Rev
1/5/2011 Written in Tarpon Springs, FL


  1. Hey Rev... It sounds so fantastic. I REALLY would like to make it next year. I'm planning on it! You mentioned 2012 about an Elm-Grove Playhouse. Is that really 2012 or 2011?

  2. Hey Lil Rev...It sure was a pleasure to hear you play, sing , tell stories and bring tears to my eyes with a couple of em. I’m following you and with any luck will make it to the show in Alta Dena. Wishing you and your family warm wishes from the Sunny State... I’ll keep you Posted when I do my blog post of ya...


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