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 UkuleleUnderground.com 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.
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.
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