THURSDAY, August 11 — At 13 feet tall, it dwarfs its 20-inch counterparts. Dimondale local Larry Stump’s monstrous to-scale ukulele is likely the largest playable instrument of its kind, and weather permitting, it will make an appearance tomorrow at the Great Lakes Folk Festival — along with about 100 regular-sized ukes. A group of Lansing ukulele enthusiasts will usher in the festival at 6:15 p.m. with a group strum on the City Hall Stage.“All levels are welcome,” said Ben Hassenger, one of the founders of the Lansing Area Ukulele Group, better known as LAUGH. “We will have loaner ukuleles for people to borrow, though we won’t really have time to teach too much. We have a songbook of 20 songs that we are going to go through in about an hour and 15 minutes.”
Teaching time or not, Hassenger urges even novice players join in the event.
“Someone will probably come up and say, ‘Hey you need help? Here’s how you play a G chord and this is how you play a C chord,’” Hassenger said. “That’s the thing about the ukulele; it’s a very communal instrument. You rarely see the one person sitting in the corner by themselves. It’s usually a group of people sitting together, playing together, having a good time.”
Part of the ukulele’s recent resurgence, said Hassenger, is its immense accessibility. The instrument’s four strings make it easier to play than a six-string guitar, and its portability doesn’t intimidate. He calls it “the most folk of folk instruments.”
This weekend will be LAUGH’s fourth appearance at the Great Lakes Folk Festival, and Hassenger expects it to be the biggest version yet.
“Last year we had at least 150 people, all playing ukuleles, and we expect to blow that wide open this year,” Hassenger said. “Ukulele people are crazy, they come from everywhere.”
This is LAUGH’s goal, uniting uke players from across the state. Founded in the fall of 2009, the group has steadily grown in size and reach.
“We have monthly strums at Sir Pizza in Old Town, and we have 50 to 75 people at those,” Hassenger said. “It’s become an incubator for other groups. Because people are nuts, they’ll drive for a couple of hours to go play with a bunch of other people. We got a lot of people coming to Lansing and they say, ‘This is so fun, we’re going to start one in Grand Rapids, or we’re going to start one in Clare or in Detroit.’ Little by little, we’ve grown this whole network grown of ukulele groups.”
Hassenger hopes that tomorrow's community strum will introduce even more locals to the group.
“I’ve worked with 5-year-olds, 85-year-olds, special ed kids and all different groups,” Hassenger said. “For a lot of people, whether it’s 5-year-olds or seniors, this is maybe their first chance to make their own music. The joy you get out of that, to help facilitate that and to see them say ‘Wow, I can play this song I’ve always wanted to play,’ it’s really nice.”