About ukulele.café, the squid, and the future!
He’s not a squid. He’s an orange Octopus. (You’ll see when you get to the registration desk.) And no, we’re not a restaurant. We are, at our core, a music-education corporation bringing the joy of PLAYING ukulele (and a few other related instruments) to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible.
The world of ukulele seems to be made up of two types of groups: Those for whom making music is part of a larger social experience, (like a book club but with joyful music instead of reading), and those who want to make music for the experience of being the best musician they can be. Both groups are equally valuable to the overarching ukulele community and we want to serve both to the best of our abilities by offering a menu of flavors for various tastes…different ways to enjoy the uke.
Throughout this website you’ll see the words “we,” “our,” “my,” and “I” sprinkled about. It’s not improper grammar. It’s because part of this project is from one person, me, Douglas Reynolds, and the other part is a team effort. I do all the booking and promotion and much of the brainstorming of new ideas, but the rest is a collaborative team effort by family and friends. I could never produce our events alone. I’m just the “chef de cuisine.”
Next, why an octopus? Because I like them! (And squid too!) Octopi are fantastically intelligent, cunning, contemplative creatures with eight tentacles. I’d like to think an octopus could strum four ukuleles! In fact our orange octopus at registration will be wielding four ukes!
Finally, why ukulele.café? Well, partly because when “dot cafe” came out as a website domain extension, the word “ukulele” was still available, (unlike “dot com,” “dot net,” and so many others). But it also fit because we’re not just offering one thing. I want to continue to expand our menu of fun, educational, entertaining events for the ukulele community. Currently we offer the Reno and Palm Strings Uke Fests, the Luongo Ukulele Experience Adult Ensemble, Maximum Ukulele™, and occasional concerts. Each offers unique options for the ukulele loving individual and I hope to offer more goodies in the near future!
Oh, one more thing…below you will see the history of Play Uke, LLC, if you’re interested in how it all got started!
The Play Uke, LLC Timeline
ABOUT PLAY UKE, LLC
Hi, my name is Douglas. As a lifelong guitar player who was frustrated at not having the time to keep my chops up, I first looked at the ukulele as a time-saving “cheat.” It had 1/3 fewer strings and frets, so I figured a little practice on a uke equated to more practice on guitar.
In 2005, during my family’s weekly, “have coffee and buy books,” morning at Borders Books (RIP), I came across a copy of “Frets” magazine. The cover article was “Jake Shimabukuro is the Jimi Hendrix of the Ukulele.” I read the article and went back to the CD department in the store and listened to his CD. All I could think was, “You can do THAT on a ukulele?” (Of course, HE can do that, but I digress.)
I bought a few ukes on eBay to get acquainted. Well, like many, I fell for the little critters rather quickly and found that, not only was it very different from guitar, the community that supported it was much friendlier! I’d been to guitar events. Everyone seemed to be stuck up and in competition with each other. At uke gatherings, everyone seemed to be incredibly happy. Being a concert promoter on the side, I booked Jake to play the following summer in Carson City, Nevada and then went to Hawaii and spent an afternoon with his brother Bruce. This cemented my love for the instrument.
One morning over breakfast, my wife Melinda asked me what I would do if I could do anything. I told her that I would create a ukulele festival, so I could have fun and go to a few workshops. (HAH! In 7 years of running festivals now, I have been able to attend MAYBE 1 1/2 workshops!)
So I planned and launched the “First Annual Tahoe Area Uke Fest” in our hometown of Minden, NV, to be held in June of 2009. Minden is only 20 minutes from Tahoe, and my intention was to move the festival to Lake Tahoe at some point. But John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, (Reno’s neighboring city), invited me to move the festival to their resort and my options at the Lake were limited. Tahoe Area Uke Fest II therefore took place in Sparks, in March of 2010, with another ukulele virtuoso, James Hill of Canada, and a grand finalé collaboration concert featuring as many as seven uke stars on stage at a time. Aldrine Guerrero of Ukulele Underground even hopped a red eye to take part in the big show.
I renamed the event the, “Reno-Tahoe Ukulele Festival” in 2011, following the lead of the nearby Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
In 2012, I decided to simplify, so the Reno-Tahoe Ukulele Festival was finally renamed the Reno Ukulele Festival. I won’t change it again! And it still has never been held in either Reno or Tahoe, but Sparks is surrounded by Reno, so…
For several years, my friend and fellow guitar player, Rich Dann, was an integral part of my efforts. He helped me launch Play Uke, LLC as a real company and he handled all the boring taxes and licenses and bureaucracy. Rich has since moved back to New York and is now a James Hill certified uke teacher!
In 2014, I decided to determine Play Uke’s true identity. We tried a lot of things, including producing FIVE festivals or uke retreats. After learning a lot, I decided to stick to what I did best, run the Reno Uke Fest, and add one more. So our first annual Palm Strings Ukulele Festival took place in February, 2015. Assembling these two festivals now takes nearly the entire year. It’s sort of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge or doing a Rose Parade float… as soon as one is over, you start all over.
Our festivals are truly a family effort, with Melinda handling a zillion duties once we actually get started and our daughters Jessica and Kelly and sons-in-law Ryan and James doing much in support roles.
Ukulele.Cafe is the new home of Play Uke, LLC’s festivals and also is the new launchpad for all of my ukulele ideas. There are many yet to come, including the amazing new Luongo Ukulele Experience!
Feel free to contact me anytime!
Your hosts, Melinda & Douglas Reynolds