PORT TOWNSEND — Get a flock of ukulelists together — from Maui, Boston, Seattle, Wisconsin, Alabama, Oahu — and you’ve got yourself a houseful of rhythms and personalities.
Thursday night at the first of two Port Townsend Ukulele Festival Bonanza concerts, Stu Fuchs is one of the six solo and duo performers. Coming from Vermont, he’ll offer a set awash in Brazilian samba rhythms and peaceful sounds to accompany the words of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. To balance things out, he’ll stir in nimble comedy as he plays the uke with his feet.
Friday night brings another half-dozen acts, including Del Rey, formidable blueswoman from Seattle. She’ll pair up with Adam Franklin, her musical partner from England’s south coast, for harmonies, blues and jazz.
Then there’s Danielle Ate the Sandwich — her own chosen name — with pop-folk music on her uke.
This eighth annual festival includes workshops that have drawn 135 players from across the planet. Artistic director Marianne Brogan of Portland, Ore., is adamant about keeping a 14-to-one faculty-student ratio; registration opened in November and the workshops were sold out by Christmas.
Fortunately for the public, the two Ukulele Bonanza concerts are open to everyone at the fort’s Wheeler Theater on Thursday and Friday night.
“Prepare to be amazed at the wild variety,” said Fuchs, who first picked up the uke during an especially dark winter of 2001 in Buffalo, N.Y.
On the No. 20 bus, he’d sit in the back and play his highly portable soprano ukulele, hoping to bring warmth and happiness to himself and others.
It worked. Fuchs, pronounced like he has “a few ukes,” has since become a world-traveling teacher and performer.
It’s all about music as a balm and a way to connect, he said. At Fort Worden, he finds this in full flower.
“The ukulele community is so jubilant. People are coming out,” Fuchs said, “and being with each other in a really heartful way.”
Fuchs began his musical life playing classical guitar; similarly, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, whose given name is Danielle Anderson, wrote songs on her acoustic guitar.
“The first time I picked up a ukulele, at a friend’s house, I wasn’t able to set it down,” she recalled in an email.
“I started noodling around my way around it, discovering chords and similarities to the guitar, but finding so many more fun notes and tones … sweet, unexpected, versatile and really wonderful to play.”
She, Fuchs and Rey are part of the worldwide ukulele movement. Port Townsend, for one example, has a vigorous community of players in Ukuleles Unite!, which meets for classes and an open mic night every month. All players including beginners are welcome and details are at www.UkulelesUnite.com.
The galaxy of performers in this week’s festival, Rey added, are “interesting musicians. No one is just being cute. They play interesting music in many styles, not just charming novelties,” though she noted that if called upon, she can certainly provide charming novelty.
Rey was a 13-year-old guitar player when she stepped into the world of traditional acoustic music; three decades later she fell madly for the ukulele. These days she’s known on several continents for her genre-hopping style and her concert-lecture titled “Women in American Music.”
Resplendent in her vintage attire, Rey plays a custom-made resonator ukulele while telling tales — about blues legend Memphis Minnie as well as that nutty neighbor who borrowed everything in her home.
This Friday, Rey looks forward to performing alongside Franklin, writer of swing tunes. They will do some of those together and harmonize on some more old jazz and blues songs. There will be stories, of course, told from Rey’s particular point of view.
As for Danielle Ate the Sandwich, the name came from her desire for “something a little more fun … [It] doesn’t really make sense as a stage moniker,” she acknowledged, adding “that’s also something I like about it. I like being weird. Luckily, the ukulele community is very accepting. I think they understand because they’re a little weird too.”
When Danielle Ate the Sandwich takes her turn in the limelight, she floats her set list on the vibe of the festival attendees.
“I like to give people a dose of feelings, but I also like to have a little fun,” she said.
The festival concerts show off “what you can do with the ukulele.
“I like to incorporate singalongs and bring some of my fellow ukulele players on stage with me.
“One thing’s for sure,” she quipped: I’ll look and sound fabulous!”
Ukulele festival schedule set for this weekend
The Port Townsend Ukulele Festival’s Ukulele Bonanza concerts start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday in the Wheeler Theater at Fort Worden State Park, 200 Battery Way.
Tickets are $30 via Centrum.org, 800-746-1982 or at the Centrum box office just inside the Fort Worden entrance.
For information, call 360-385-3102, ext. 110.
Thursday’s lineup includes Lil’ Rev, Eve Goldberg, Neal Chin, Sarah Maisel & Craig Chee, Stu Fuchs and the Canote Brothers, Jere and Greg.
Friday’s Bonanza also brings the Canote Brothers plus Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Aaron & Nicole Keim, Jason Arimoto, Del Rey & Adam Franklin and Abe Lagrimas.
Ukuleles Unite!, Jefferson County’s organization for ukulelists of all levels, welcomes players and listeners at its “happy hour” at 5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at the Highway 20 Roadhouse, 2152 W. Sims Way, Port Townsend.
The Ukulele Rendezvous, with loaner instruments, a variety of classes and a song circle, runs from 11 a.m. to about 3 p.m. the third Saturday of the month at Grace Lutheran Church, 1120 Walker St., Port Townsend.
For details, see www.UkulelesUnite.com.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.