Ukulele World Congress Primer


June 11, 2011 by Tim

A week ago I was getting ready to head off to the 3rd Annual Ukulele World Congress, better known as UWC. I was going to do a recap of all the great things that happened this year, but I have found that there are plenty of wonderful video, pictures, and posts on the whole thing. In a nutshell it was awesome, if not better than last year. So what am I going to write about?

I have noticed that a lot of people have been asking “What is Ukulele world Congress?”, “Who goes to it?”, “Is it family friendly?”, and “What does it cost?”. So I have decided to write an article in hopes that others who have experienced it can just send them to this little primer and they will just come and join us in the best ukulele experience in the world, if I say so myself.

Please note that this is an open discussion and I encourage you to comment at the end. If you make a good point or remind me of something I missed or overlooked I will add it. Just like UWC, it is only as good as the people that participate.

What is Ukulele Would Congress?

UWC is a yearly festival put on for free in Needmore Indiana by Mike and Tootka Hater of Mainland Ukuleles, along with a group of volunteers and everyone who comes helps in their own way. The point is to bring as many ukulele enthusiasts, from around the world,  together to celebrate the little four stringed instrument that we all love, the ukulele (Yes, I know, there are 5, 6, 8, 10 stringed ukuleles). For the past 3 so far they have been the first weekend in June.

The format is very loose. The only things that are scheduled to happen is that on Friday there is a big Potluck that the surrounding neighbors and people at the event help put on to feed everyone dinner, and the open mic that goes from 5pm-ish to 2am or more.  Saturday the only things scheduled are the group picture around 5 or 6pm and the open mic. Anything between and during those things is open to whatever you want to do. Seems so simple right? I can tell you that looking back at the pictures that I feel Like I missed so much. I will elaborate more about what people do during the fest as I talk about the people that come.

Where Do you Stay at UWC?

The festival is held in a large open field with a large fire pit, a stage, some event tents, and some port potties. The rest of the field is for people to setup tents and other temporary dwellings to stay for the weekend, and it is free to stay at the field. There are no electrical or water hookups for campers, and no showers. People staying at the field are welcome to go use the YMCA or the Lake Lemon marina to shower.

Some are not brave enough or just don’t like to camp, and there are plenty of inns and B & B’s within driving distance. Also there are several cabins that can be rented for larger groups, but I know they get swooped up really far in advance. Later I will talk about the different people and groups that go to UWC, and the Cabin people are one.

I have done both the camping thing and the cabin thing. I have found that both have their pros and cons. If you stay at the field it is free and there is no shortage of people to hang out with 24 hours a day, but the lack of running water and being subject to the elements can be a bit much if the weather gets extreme, but you also don’t need to go far if you have consumed to many adult beverages. On the flipside, if you stay in a cabin it costs money, but you get many of the amenities like lights, a flushing toilet, a real bed, showers, and air-conditioning. It is really a different vibe. If you stay in a cabin you know most everyone there and it is just different, but you have to drive (Or have someone to drive you) to the field. I think they both are good and fun, it is just a decision on how you want to do it. I will elaborate on this a little more as I talk about who goes to UWC.

Is It Family Friendly?

Yes, maybe, no, I guess it depends on your family. This is not Disney world. It is not setup for kids. There were kids there, and they had a good time, but if you don’t think your kids should be exposed to some adult things, like swearing (So sorry Yopp for swearing in front of your kids like 20 time), people drinking in excess, or people enjoying various things that they can smoke (Cigars, pipes, cigarettes, whatever is hand rolled and passed around a circle) then I would not bring the kids. This year there was a great moment where one of the MCs gathered a bunch of kids and got them to do a couple of songs on stage. It basically stole the show and was the cutest thing ever.

To be frank, it was not until 10pm that the songs get kind of adult themed. Also by that time the beer has started to kick in and it does get a little looser and more adult. I don’t want to come across as it turns into a bunch of drunk, stoned, naked people having sex in some kind of crazy orgy out in the field(Although, all bets are off at the cabins). Or that it gets crazy rough like at a biker bar. If you don’t feel comfortable with your kids in a neighborhood bar, where you know everyone, but it is not a place for kids, then I would not bring them to this. It is a bunch of ukulele players, how bad of an influence can they be?

Who Comes to UWC?

One of the key ingredients that makes UWC so awesome is the diversity of the people that come from, literally, all over the world. It is also the diversity of the types that come too that make it a great event for any type of ukulele person. I will try to break it down into types I have seen, and many people are many types and belong to many groups.

The Musician – These are those people that we all know as players, Such as David and Thom of the flea Bitten Dawgs, Seeso, Dominator, I can name a bunch. These people are by and large professional musicians. They come to hang out and play with everyone, and usually end up teaching people some new stuff. The musicians that come know that there are a ton of us that are not that good, but they love to play with us and lead songs and blow us away when they get on stage. I made it a point to get on stage after Dominator, I don’t know what I was thinking, but it was fun.

Makers/Sellers – Although Mainland Ukes puts this on, other makers and vendors are welcome to come. There are no seller booths or anything so it is hard for them to sell anything. These are the people I come to talk with. This year there were several that came and had a really goodtime playing with everyone and talking uke. They are part of the uke world too and add a lot to the community. This is a great place for them to hand out swag and get their instruments in players hands.

Clubs/Groups – I would say that UWC is a major reunion event for Ukulele Underground members. A lot of the people that come are part of the UU and come to hang out with and play with all the crazy people they chat with throughout the year. One of the sub-groups that meet up there is the Poho’s, a group that has a huge running thread on forums. they talk all the time in almost real-time on the thread and know each other like family. While groups like the Ukulele Fight Club of St. Louis come together. I have noticed that these people tend to group together either in cabins or make little tent cities. The great part is that they do not exclude anyone from hanging out, but they do have history and it can seem scary to try and talk with them as they seem to know each other so well. My first year I was so scared to talk with some of these people, but they always welcomed me in when I would actually go up and talk to them. This year it was like seeing family that I had not seen in ages. Moral of the story, stay in contact or become part of a group that is going. it makes it more fun the more people you know.

Players – I am not talking about playas’, although there are a few, I am talking about those that come to sit in large circles and play group songs with everyone. While at the field it is a constant group jam. Someone picks a song and everyone plays and sings. Sometimes they play uke or dare. One person sings then points to the next person to play, if they don’t , they have to do a dare (Everyone plays usually). at some point this is what you end up doing if you play ukulele.

Spouse/friends – People that do not play ukulele…..yet. Since this is a haul for some they bring a friend or a loved one on the trip. They don’t play ukulele when they get there, but I would say about 50% do when they leave. They usually are standing and watching or in the crowd waiting for their person to get on stage to make sure they clap the loudest.

Kids/Young/Old – There is an age range from 7-97 that come. It is a different experience for all of them. The Young peeps and the blue hairs (Old people) mingle and intertwine. If you are a young shy person or a loner old goat, you will not hang out or meet a lot of people, but if you are a crazy energetic young thing like Bonita, then you stay up til 4am.  Age makes no difference at this thing.

What to Bring

If you are camping then I would suggest a tent that can withstand hard rain. Every year there has been a big rain storm at some point. I would also bring gear for hot and cold weather since it is the Midwest at the beginning of summer, we have freak weather. We go from 90 during the day to 50 at night (Fahrenheit for all you weirdos who use Celsius). Also bring a ton of sunscreen and bug spray. if you can get them in one bottle, do it. You are outside all day. The bugs are not bad all the time, but the flys can bite. Also since there is not food provided except dinner Friday night, bring food and be prepared to share it. It is kind of a communal thing where people will make a ton of food for each other. Some drinks are out and are for everyone, but water seems to be in short supply after a while. Beyond that, bring a uke to play, and money to buy stuff like t-shirts and ukuleles.

Final Thoughts

I cannot convey a 10th of what UWC is in this article. You have to experience it to know what it really is. It is like capturing lighting in a bottle (Although I had some moonshine that came close). All you need to know is that if you come, be open to new people, play as much as you can, and bring water and food. other than that be prepared to have fun.

Please comment on this article.

Some videos and links

3rd UWC memory thread on
Tons of videos of the performances
Best performance in a cabin


19 thoughts on “Ukulele World Congress Primer

  1. DeG says:

    Also, there is a UWC YT Channel. that has almost 100 vids on it right now.

  2. Jon says:

    As much as there is to say about UWC it still doesn’t get the message across – though you did a great job, Tim! I’m one of the PoHos that Tim referred to – UWC is a chance to connect with old friends, but every year I’ve made new friends, too. It’s a real eye-opener what a great group ukulele players really are…

  3. Tim says:

    “or a loner old goat” well I guess you have to take your notoriety where you can get it.. 😉 Pretty good summation Tim. To be honest, I am surprised how unexplainable UWC is. When I saw the design that became this years logo for the shirts I didn’t like it. But after going to UWC, I get it, it was perfect. I have never been to Burning Man but I suspect UWC has some commonality there.

  4. Great commentary, Tim. YogaJen’s video on YouTube of her walk across the field early one morning gives a good sense of the scene. I stayed in Nashville at a little motel south of town. Mike told me about a short cut, so it was only about a 6 mile drive. I missed out on the late night jamming, but it was nice to get a shower and bed-and a good breakfast at the Muddy Boots Cafe. I was already planning my camping set up for next year as I was driving home.

  5. Good job on this summary Tim-
    I am a “player loner old goat” and had to insert myself into groups, but like you I was always welcomed. Since I like playing mostly Tin Pan Alley era music I did find a subgroup to hang with. I did have fun with the play alongs in the tent too.
    This year I tented Friday night and left Saturday night but next time I’ll get a room somewhere. Being an old goat I wake up at the same time of morning no matter what time I get to bed (I went to bed early at 1:30 A.M. and was awake at 5:30). Having a motel room would let me have a little more freedom without feeling like I’m waking anyone else up.
    My wife grew up in Indianapolis so I have been to Brown County a few times before. For those of you who are not familiar with Brown county- This is the beautiful, wooded, hilly hideaway of Indiana. (I apologize to the rest of Indiana, but you all know it too!) When I was up early Saturday morning I went for a bird watch walk with my binoculars. I saw deer, Scarlet Tanagers, Common yellow throats amongst many others as well as a box turtle. All kinds of wildlife. A Tanager flew right across in front of the stage on Saturday.
    The town of Nashville is a town of crafters/artists/commercial shops literally covering all of the city limits. If your significant other likes to browse/shop – there is plenty to look at.
    This was my first time to UWC. I hope to be back again- except I’ll probably get a comfortable bed, hot shower and air conditioner. Besides… I got a hug from ukulelezo so how could I not want to go back!
    Thanks for hosting this Mike and Tootka- you are great… hope to see you in Milwaukee!

  6. Joni says:

    Great job, Tim! This was our second year, and it was even better than the first. I was one of those parents with kids in tow, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My kids had a blast, got on stage with Bhatman, and made new friends. I take them with me to music events every chance I get. They know how to go with the flow, and I don’t think they were exposed to anything inappropriate. Everyone was good to them. I got there late Friday, after the rest of my family–and the memory of my arrival still brings tears to my eyes. It was great to see you, and everyone. Hugs abounded, and the sound of ukuleles filled my ears. It is like a family reunion, Christmas, and everything good rolled into one weekend. We all ride on the wave of ukulele love, goodness and friendship for months. I learned a lot, passed out some vintage sheet music, and came home knowing some new tricks. Next year seems too far away. Thanks for the summary.

  7. Jeffery Smith says:

    Best weekend ever! Your writing is spot on.

  8. ukulefty says:

    Sounds like a great event!

  9. I’m just back to Sydney Oz after my second UWC. I’m not sure that I can find words to express what is a magic experience, but I will say I will do everything I can to return again and again. For me it is soul food. For me my first UWC was an absolute milestone in my life. After years of being held back by fear of performing solo in the limelight, I did my first open mic, and that has changed absolutely everything, not lying if I say that now my life dreams are coming true.
    Last year I stayed in a cabin and it was fantastic. You can find my video of that on my yogajenny YouTube channel – Strawberry Fields. This year I had the cabin option but at the last minute grabbed myself the tiniest tent. I realized that I wanted to spend more time at the field and without my own independent transport this was an issue. I had absolutely no idea how unbelievably blissful camping on this field would be. My video is UWC according to Jen … I love the fact that this field and this stage have been hosts to music festivals since the 60s. I love the fact that the Dalai Lama has been to this field. I have met such wonderful people, kindred spirits at UWC, I have sung and strum till 5.30am, and that’s more commonly the time I get up not go to bed! The folks at UWC have been so incredibly kind, I just have so much fun and feel so much love, it buoys me up for the 51 weeks I have to wait till the next time. See y’all in 2012 🙂

  10. Patrick K. says:

    Man, that sounds *really* awesome. I’m new to ukulele, but I hope to make it next year. I’ll have to keep that in mind! I’m trying to get my wife to start playing, maybe something like this would help. We love camping!

  11. Thom says:

    This is really spot on Tim. I must say that even tho I’m one of the people you list as a Pro, UWC has always been a learning experience for me. I went away knowing how they played kazoo in the 20’s as well as trying a ton of different ukes and weird string instruments…. some of which I’ve now made for myself! I leave this date off my bookings so I can attend!

  12. Scott Wilder says:

    Is there going to be a UWC 2012? Having a hard time finding info.

  13. Terry Hill says:

    UWC 2011 was AWESOME…and it was HOT. It was AWESOME and it RAINED like crazy! It was AWESOME and the bugs carried us off. It was AWESOME and the porta Potties were SMELLY. It was AWESOME and we sang and strummed until 5AM and were totally wiped out for 2 days after. Its was AWESOME and Big Mike from MAINLAND UKE’S and his wife are absolutely the BEST hosts ever! I met people from all over the world and from right down the street. I sang ON STAGE and OFF. I met BATMAN!!! Facebook friends became real friends. My wife is not convinced……but I am HOOKED. Looking forward to UWC 2012,13,14,15,16,17,18……………………………….

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