Mighty Uke Day is one of the quirkiest, fastest growing, and most fun festivals to come to Old Town and Mid-Michigan. Founded four years ago, Mighty Uke Day was centered around the showing of the documentary film “Mighty Uke: the Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog” and initially was a low-budget affair featuring local musicians playing at Sir Pizza. About 100 ukulele players and fans showed up, having so much fun that an encore was demanded and, thus, the annual Mighty Uke Day festival was born. The following year we had Milwaukee’s Lil’ Rev as our headliner, rented a venue, had a variety of workshops and other activities, and drew around 200 people from a five-state area and Canada. In 2013, we took a major step by featuring James Hill as our headlining performer. James is one of the top players in the world and I never dreamed we would have someone of his stature here at our humble festival. He and his cello-playing wife Anne Janelle were a huge hit and brought between 300 and 400 people to Old Town. We also expanded Mighty Uke Day to 1-1/2 days with our first Friday night concert, featuring the engaging Danielle Ate the Sandwich.
This year, for Mighty Uke Day 4, we are pulling out all the stops! The weekend starts with the popular WLNZ Radio Diner broadcast, live from the Sir Pizza Cafe at noon. There are two workshops during the day, and then we celebrate Michigan’s finest ukulele musicians with our “Michigan: The Great Uke State” evening concert at the Creole Gallery. This special show features Ann Arbor’s Gerald Ross and Magdalen Fossum, and Lansing’s own Strangers in the Night, The Springtails, and The Fabulous Heftones. Saturday is when everything cuts loose: a morning strum and sing at Sir Pizza, workshops, open mic, featured performers, jams, ukulele museum, children’s lessons, and more. In the evening, the fabulous “Queen of the Jazz Ukulele” Sarah Maisel will perform with Hawaiian-born Craig Chee. A special treat will be The Spirit of Aloha Entertainers, a group of musicians and hula dancers from the Motor City. An “Afterglow Strum” will be held at Sir Pizza when the concert is over.
Last year, Mighty Uke Day and its parent organization, Music is the Foundation, raised money to help out a number of local music programs. It helped support an ukulele program for students at Sheridan Road Elementary School in Lansing, kickstarted the Prime Time Strummers seniors group in East Lansing, helped a special education music therapy program in St. Johns, and aided a Guitars in the Classroom program that gives Lansing classroom teachers skills and confidence to enhance lessons and have fun with their students using guitars and ukuleles. This year we hope to raise even more funds to expand these programs and add others in Mid-Michigan to bring more music to the area schools and community.
Many such festivals are located at inclusive hotels where all events and meals are in one enclosed place, but we hope to avoid that with Mighty Uke Day. I love the variety and energy of Old Town and have a deeply personal commitment to keeping Mighty Uke Day here. Our numerous events are scattered throughout the business district, including Elderly Instruments, Sir Pizza, the Creole Gallery, MICA Gallery, the Old Town General Store, and Preuss Pets. Our attendees love visiting all the shops and restaurants in Old Town and I get many positive comments on the eclectic and friendly nature of the district.
This year’s festival is May 9 and 10. It’s great fun for the whole family. You can find out more about the festival at: www.mightyukeday.com and www.facebook.com/groups/mightyukeday/. Feel free to contact me with any questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (517) 896-4025
by Ben Hassenger