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Ukulele Extravaganza Plays For Maui Fire Relief in Franklin

by Rich and Laura Lynch

The Ukulele Extravaganza took place August 26th, 2023 at the Williamson County Performing Arts Center located at 112 Everbright Ave, in Franklin, Tennessee (just south of Nashville). The event was a concert that could have also been considered a workshop as the idea was to showcase artists who bring innovations to the instrument.

Andrew and Jay Molina play for Maui Fire Relief in Franklin. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Lawson)

The ukulele is a member of the lute family and is of Portuguese origin. However, the uke became an important part of Hawaiian culture and music when King Kalakaua (1836-1891) - a patron of the arts - incorporated its use into performances at royal gatherings.

The four-string instrument does not always get the same respect as some of its bigger siblings but the folks at the Ukulele Extravaganza were ready to prove any naysayers wrong. In an addition to an afternoon of quality music there was a silent auction with ukes from Koaloh and Rebel along with other goodies up for grabs. This event was also a fundraiser for the Maui Food Bank to help folks impacted by the recent catastrophic wildfires in Hawaii.

Sayaka, UkeMele, Christina Hogarth and Amy Kucharik in Franklin. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Lawson)

The Uke Fest opened with performances by Sayaka and Diego Cotabato, followed by Kirk Jones from Huntsville. Alabama. Kirk calls himself a "Professional FUNsician" who entertains kids of all ages with his inventive approach to the instrument. We have had the pleasure of seeing Kirk Jones before. At this occasion, Kirk shared the stage with Amy Kucharik and Lisa Webb during his set. He uses an arsenal of ukes to play songs on the four string that you might not expect and his medley of rock classics is often the highpoint of his sets.

After a break, organizer UkuMele pointed to a Maui Strong sign to remind us that some of the proceeds from the auction and the event would go to the Maui Food Bank. She also mentioned that they are planning another Ukulele Extravaganza to be called the Music City Uke Fest (MCUF) and held August 2nd and 3rd, 2024 at Liberty Hall, The Factory at Franklin. UkuMele also declared that the uke is a bona-fide instrument while emcee Stephen Lawson (a uke player and local friend of the arts) thanked the crew at WCPAC for their support of the concert.

Lisa Webb is Maui Strong at the Ukulele Extravaganza. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Lawson)

Christina Hogarth who goes by the stage name Chrissy Ukulele was introduced by Mr. Lawson as an award-winning film maker. She currently lives in Los Angeles but is originally from Australia. Chrissy's set was packed with observational, witty songs punctuated by the uke. Chrissy shared some of her journey from the land down under to the U.S. while encouraging people to follow their dreams. Her closing number "Architect" was an uplifting call to build our best lives.

Chrissy traveled quite a distance to be a part of the Ukulele Extravaganza but the final act of the afternoon - Andrew and Jay Molina came all the way from Hawaii. Andrew started strumming the ukulele when he was 13 years old. His passion for the little instrument shows in his songcraft and style.

Kirk Jones and Diego Cotabato played solid afternoon sets of originals and covers. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Lawson)

Andrew's first CD, entitled "The Beginning", on which he composed eight of the 11 songs was a finalist in the "Ukulele Album of the Year" category at the 2014 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards (Hawaii's version of the Grammy awards). Andrew continued to build on that momentum with his next two albums with a fourth due out October of 2023. His father Jay is basically a life-long musician who plays bass and guitar. Jay has been touring with his son since 2015.

Their set was generally upbeat but they mentioned that they had lost friends in the fires and know of musicians who lost their homes and instruments. They themselves had been ready to evacuate but were spared. Andrew played a mix of originals and covers. Being Beatles fans, we thoroughly enjoyed their bright take of "Here Comes The Sun" and later a creative twist of "Come Together". Andrew also encouraged folks to follow and write down their dreams.

A post-fest feast took place at Party Fowl in Cool Springs. (Photo courtesy of UkeMele)

He shared that he dreamed of Jake Shimabukuro (aka the Jimi Hendrix of the uke) performing on one of his albums. It came true on Andrew's sophomore effort on a delightful tune called "Dancing Strings". Molina also paid tribute to Jimi while advising players to move out of their comfort zones by exploring "uncomfortable keys" which he demonstrated on a number of tunes. They concluded the festivities with "Maui is the Best" as UkuMele danced hula and then all the stars came out for a quick uke jam.

Ukulele Extravaganza was a celebration of the versatility and vibrancy of the uke. In addition to the main event on Saturday there was a workshop & house concert with headliner Andrew Molina the next day and on Friday a number of the players from Uke Fest were at Homegrown Taproom in Nashville spreading the good news of the uke.

The Williamson County Performing Arts Center in Franklin.

Related Links: For more information on the UKULELE EXTRAVAGANZA and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Andrew Molina | Chrissy Ukulele | Amy Kucharik | Kirk Jones | Williamson County Performing Arts Center | Maui Food Bank


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