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Melbourne Ukulele Festival 2012

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by Geraldine Massey (subscribe)
I'm an experienced corporate communicator and editor with an eye for interesting events and an attachment to my trusty Oxford dictionary.
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Love them or loathe them there's no doubting that little instruments are big business these days. Once the butt of jokes and considered the province of sailors, indigenous Hawaiians and the infamous Tiny Tim it's even been said that sales of ukuleles (a.k.a. "bonsai guitars" or "jumping fleas") are currently outstripping sales of guitars in the UK. The third annual Melbourne Ukulele Festival 2012 runs from Thursday 8 March to Sunday 11 March and will showcase these little pluckers in all their glory so why not go along for the musical mirth and mayhem?

Headline Artists
The durable and hugely popular Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain kicks off the festival at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne on Thursday 8 March. These guys are the top drawer of ukulele artistry, having performed sell-out shows around the globe, including London's Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York, and they're touring Australia for the first time this March. Tickets are available here but you'll have to be quick, they're almost sold out.

The rest of the festival action will happen in one convenient location - the historic Trades Hall, corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton, with events spread across its Bella Union Bar, Old Council Chambers and New Ballroom. The full program is available here but I've listed a few highlights to get your fingers strumming in anticipation.

International artists are plucking everywhere at the festival. They include Hawaiian jazz virtuoso Benny Chong, Canada's Ralph Shaw, The Old Spice Boys, the "strum master" Maitake from Japan, and France's U.K.E featuring Lionel K Hubert, creator of the Paris Uke Fest.

U.K.E's Lionel K Herbert. Image from MUF website.

Australian talent provides huge variety, from the swinging sounds of the Irwell Street String Band to the inclusive open group Melbourne Ukulele Kollective (MUK), and from the melodious Renee Searles to Rob Clifford, who holds the unique distinction of being the first student to study ukulele as a VCE music subject.
Performer profiles are available here. Events staged in Bella Union are FREE. Performances in the New Ballroom cost between $30 and $50 and tickets are available through Bella Union here.

Ukulele Workshops
Ukulele players are keen to spread the love so workshops are an important feature of the festival. Full workshop details are available here. You can be tutored by international masters, learn about songwriting, performing and arranging, or hear all about interesting programs like New Zealand's Ukes in Schools. Uke4Kids and MUK will present FREE workshops for newbie players, kids and parents. Other workshops cost $18 and tickets are available through Bella Union here. .

Exhibition of Custom Painted Ukuleles
These are great fun. Artists, illustrators and ukulele aficianados are invited to submit custom decorated ukuleles by 7 March for the festival's exhibition. Check out the details on the Facebook page here
AAAAAAARRRRRGH!!! BERNARD'S SINGING AGAIN! by Bernard de la Coeur. Image from MUF

Heading South by Mitch Vane. Image from MUF.

Historic Instrument Display
Handmade and vintage ukuleles, uke memorabilia and other stringed instruments will be on display, courtesy of Zone of Tone. Visitors can touch and play them and some will even be for sale.

It seems to me that a common thread runs through the festival, its performers, and ukulele playing in general. It's all about fun - genre-jumping, friendship-finding, ego-exterminating fun, and the world could certainly do with more of that. Leave your inhibitions and your pretensions at the door of Trades Hall and enjoy yourself at the Melbourne Ukulele Festival. Everyone else will be doing the same.
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Why? Because it's plucking good fun.
When: 8 to 12 March 2012.
Where: Trades Hall, corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton.
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