By ALAN DALE Editor-in-Chief
It looks like Mexico Music’s first ukulele festival, 101 North Washington Street, was a real hit last weekend.
The event, held at Hickory Ridge Orchard, had a full lineup of musicians playing over the course of a good six hours with an emphasis on ukulele.
David Reetz, who owns Mexico Music and teaches ukulele lessons at the Presser Performing Arts Center, orchestrated the event and said he thought a strong turnout came for the first time.
“The shelter chairs were mostly full throughout the day,” Reetz said. “There were points where they were filled in and there were also several people standing watching. As the day progressed, people came and went, so different groups there were different audiences. I can only guess how many people stop and listen at any given time.
“We were very pleased with how the festival went. The enthusiasm of our performers and the audience was very pleasant and encouraging. We had a wide variety of performers of all ages. We had soloists, small groups and large ukulele choir groups. Musical styles including pop and country covers, blues, jazz, gospel and contemporary Christian. We wanted to show how the ukulele can play different styles and play with other instruments in different types of ensembles.
Reetz noted that the ukulele workshop was a highlight of the day.
“We brought in extra ukuleles and several of them wanted to join in and learn some simple songs and play together,” Reetz said. “We had a lot of fun.”
Don Belcher, who was the headliner of the festival, said he was very proud to be part of the event. He specifically noted the emphasis on youth participation in the festival.
“It’s great: any way to encourage young people to get involved in music is always good,” said Belcher, who is from Mexico. “Music has really enriched my life in so many ways. To get them started at a young age, David has done a great job of getting the kids to have interesting music and the ukulele is a good way to start because a lot of parents don’t don’t have much money for more expensive instruments.
“The ukulele is an inexpensive way to start. Many children write their own songs and perform in front of an audience. They are working on their self-confidence and this can help them for the rest of their lives.
Belcher has been playing the ukulele for six years and has been playing musical instruments since the age of seven.
“I love the peace and serenity of this one: it’s a very soothing instrument,” Belcher said. “Even electrified, it’s soft and soothing.”
Sandy Lavy from Auxvasse brought a child to participate in the festival in favor of a family with multiple commitments.
“I think it’s great: I’m on the North Callaway School Board, and they introduced the kids to the ukulele at such a young age,” Lavy said. “I think it’s great. I don’t know much about the ukulele, but I think it’s so versatile to transition from kids to adults and they enjoy it. Kids love it. The girl I brought here said it makes her happy when she plays it.
Now let’s move on, according to Reetz.
“We have scheduled our second Ukulele Festival at Hickory Ridge Orchard next year for Saturday, October 7, 2023,” he said. “The improvements we hope to make to the festival are to have a sound man instead of directing the sound from the stage and to engage the audience more.”