Strum away on Saturday

By Rich Tupica

Find your inner Hawaiian during Mighty Uke Day

Back in 1938, musician Andy Cummings was nearing the end of a long tour with the Paradise Islands Revue when he arrived in Lansing on an icy winter day. After his performance, the temperature had dropped to 5 degrees. Cummings walked back to his hotel and began to reminisce about the crashing waves and sandy white beaches of Hawaii. In that Lansing hotel room, he picked up his ukulele and composed “Waikiki,” one of the most legendary songs in the history of Hawaiian music.

Perhaps Ben Hassenger, a veteran local musician, was in a similarly tropical state of mind last year when he founded Mighty Uke Day, a one-day ukulele festival held in four spots across Old Town: Elderly Instruments, Sir Pizza Grand Café, the Mustang and Gallery 1212. The second annual fest on Saturday features concerts, group strums and two screenings of the “Mighty Uke” documentary (filmmakers Tony Coleman and Margaret Meagher will be on hand for the 12:45 and 4:30 p.m. shows at the Mustang).

“The larger picture of Mighty Uke Day is to spread the joy and aloha spirit of the ukulele and uke groups,” Hassenger said. “In this hectic world and in the midst of so many uncertainties, the ukulele brings people together, no matter what their differences, to connect and make music.”

Hassenger is hoping the event will attract at least 300 people. “There has been quite a proliferation of ukulele groups in Michigan in the last few years; we´ll have representatives from the Ann Arbor and Detroit Areas, the Tri-Cities, western Michigan and other areas. If it´s anything like last year, we´ll also have attendees from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Canada. Many of the people that come aren´t even players — they just enjoy the music and vibe of the day.”

The 7:30 p.m. concert at the Mustang features Lil´ Rev (from Milwaukee), Gerald Ross, The Fabulous Heftones, Magdalen Fossum (an 11-year-old uke player and singer) and Hassenger’s own trio, The Ukulele Kings. Also on the schedule: open-mics at Sir Pizza throughout the day, workshops, an art exhibit, a ukulele museum and a children’s concert and workshop.

Hassenger, a former member of the defunct band Mystic Shake, said his passion for the uke was born in Waikiki in 2009, when he stumbled upon a ukulele festival. Along with Dave Pasant, Hassenger co-founded the Lansing Area Ukulele Group.

“We have something like 175 members and regularly get 35 to 40 people at our monthly ‘strum and sing’ at Sir Pizza,” Hassenger said of the group, which performs at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at Sir Pizza. “We meet once a month to sing and play 12 to 14 songs together. We also have an open-mic during our get-togethers for members that have a song to share.

“You rarely see a person playing a uke by themselves. It lends itself to a shared musical experience and is truly the people´s instrument.”

Mighty Uke Day

10 a.m.-midnight, Saturday, May 5

Elderly Instruments, 1100 N. Washington Ave.; Sir Pizza Grand Café, 201 E. Grand River Ave.; The Mustang, 1215 Turner St.; Gallery 1212, 1212 Turner St.

Some events are free. $12 for documentary showings;

$18 for the concert, or $25 for movie/concert combo.

For the complete schedule, visit