What a pleasure to be asked to share a little of Craig & Sarah’s not-so-mini ukefests with fellow BUMS!!

Who?

Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel, are known to many as the ukulele world’s most loved couple. Who would have thought a jazz singer and cellist would  combine to make such applauded ukulele music? Craig is a Hawaiian from Oahu, and Sarah a mainlander from Alabama.

I felt privileged to meet them in the Kanile’a ‘Ukulele’s showroom. “We are so excited! Craig and Sarah are dropping by,” shared Kristen and Joe Souza, Kanile’a owners. Then in response to my puzzled look, “They’re amazing world class performers.”

Introductions done, Joe asked for a song —it’s pretty much mandatory if you drop into the showroom … even I was asked — and so they did!

There was little doubt that the couple planned something more than being a performing duo. They were visiting to design their custom Kanile’a ukulele.

Why a mini-fest?

Craig & Sarah decided that they wanted to give back to the worldwide ukulele community that has given them so much. What started as a small idea blossomed into an international, multi-part virtual festival. A shout-out to members of the ukulele community across the world provided a festival billing that has never before been achieved. It quickly necessitated two separate events.

Who was “at” the event, and how did it work?

The list is too long for here, but you can access each of the programs for the two mini-fests online. It is an absolute who’s who of ukulele players across the world.

One special performance that you will not see elsewhere was the Souza family of five. They performed as a family in Madeira last year where Kanile’a was invited for the 140th anniversary of the introduction of the braguinha (or machete) to Hawaii and the birth of the ukulele. Check out their story.

It was a YouTube Live performance. Simple to watch! Over 23,000 enthusiasts viewed the seven-hour 41-minute Not-so-mini Ukefest #1 AND the 9-hour Minifest #2 events. Craig and Sarah produced, directed and delivered the entire 17 hours from their living room with glimpses of their new arrival, Cameron, and support from the many sponsors. This was a super-person task and they are certainly that!!

The events were broadcast live from the West Coast of the USA. So many people across the world were up early or very late to be part of the live event, including the artists!!! Cameron was an angel!

How much did it cost?

There was no charge to (virtually) attend the not-so-mini ukefests. For a nominal charge of $5 (but you could give more) you receive documents for each festival, and most importantly there were virtual tip jars (accepting “not-so-virtual” money … via PayPal mostly). These artists are without income due to lock downs, so the tips are invaluable. In closing Minifest #2, on behalf of the artists, Craig conveyed their thanks for the community support.

What was the program?

Not-so-mini Ukefest #1 on the 11 April featured performances,free lessons, demonstrations, play-along songs, Q&A sessions and prizes.

Not-so-mini Mini Ukefest #1 program

The billing for Mini Ukefest #2 identified 15 performances, six play-alongs and ten workshops.

Mini Ukefest #2 program

Any highlights?

There were very special performances that you might not see elsewhere – The Souza Family, and husband and wife Bruddah Sam (Spunks) and Lina Girl (Langi) in a rare performance as a duo. Kristen Souza explained and taught some traditional Hawaiian Hula (that’s probably another first) and there were some names you will likely be familiar with, like: Aldrine Guerrero, Cynthia Lin, James Hill, Victoria Vox, Herb Ohta Jr, Kalei Gamiao, and Brittni Paiva.

What about the documents?

Exceptional!!!  46 and 44 pages of absolute ukulele gold containing support material for workshops and for play-along jam songs. Many easy chords, and some challenging. Many basic ukulele charts, some lead sheets, and some with notation and tablature. Songs varied from 3-chord “Lava” to 9-chord (with a few diminished) “Summertime”.

Bryan Tolentino explained the Hawaiian Vamps, Neal Chin added colour, Daniel Ward showed how to Rhumba and Sarah released her inner jazz sharing some chord variations to embellish your jamming. Craig delivered a lesson on “Muting and Scratching” (which he has since prepared as a longer session available via an “Artistworks” subscription). Diane Nalini introduced vocal Scatting and Lil Rev shared secrets of the triple Strum

How did it end?

Uku Lenny took it out with a play-along uke, saxophone and looper. It was a blast!!

I missed it!

You can catch up online. Watch the entirety of both minifests, and obtain the supporting documentation from http://www.cheemaisel.com/minifest

Will there be more Minifests?

Sarah said possibly, but a little more ‘mini’ in size!

I really wanted to help. How?

Yes, to help support artists during covid downtime, you can buy merch or hit the tip jar. Simply, go to Craig & Sarah’s virtual merch site. They’ll pass it along. Check out their CDs available for download. Many are originals deserving of mainstream recognition. You’ll enjoy them.

(PS You can also check all the artist profiles from this one page!)

And lessons from specific artists?

Watch the Minifest video. Many of the artists advise how to contact them. You can also subscribe to the Artistworks website for lessons direct from Craig or Sarah.

The last word?

As well as being awesome people, with their not-so-mini ukefests, Craig and Sarah have set the bar high for future virtual and face-to-face ukulele festivals.

On behalf of the many virtual attendees I say to Craig and Sarah; “Mahalo Nui Loa” for the Aloha you have brought to the world’s ukulele community.

Jim Bills