After two years of online festivals, the 12th annual Mighty Uke Day, a festival celebrating the ukulele, returns as an in-person event in Old Town Lansing. This year’s roster includes sets from Victoria Vox, Ukulenny, The Birdwatchers, The Springtails, Jen Sygit, and The Ukulele Kings. Along with indoor and outdoor performances, the event hosts a group ukulele strum, an open mic and workshops across Old Town.
Event organizer Ben Hassenger talked with City Pulse about the event. Hassenger became enamored with the uke after a music-filled 2009 visit to Hawaii. Since then, has become known as “Michigan’s Ukulele Ambassador” and a fixture at the Lansing Area Ukulele Group.
Why do you continue to love the uke?
Ben Hassenger: The ukulele is truly the most accessible and versatile instrument there is. It’s easy to start playing. You can learn three chords in minutes, yet some of the finest musicians I’ve ever heard play the ukulele. You can get a very playable uke for under $100, yet can spend many thousands on high-end custom-made models. The ukulele is rhythm, melody and harmony all in one tiny package, allowing you to play everything from Bach to The Beatles and beyond. It has no boundaries. I’ve met the most wonderful people by way of the ukulele.
What is your past in Lansing’s music scene?
My musical career began in the early 1970s when Gene Hayhoe and I were arrested for playing “Smoke on the Water” on accordion and singing in animal sounds in the cafeteria at Lansing Community College. It was the start of something special, for sure. I began writing my own songs, and in the early ’90s I had the opportunity to join the local world-beat band Mystic Shake, which was just what I needed to express myself. We played together for over 20 years.
How has Mighty Uke Day evolved over the years?
In May of 2011, The Lansing Area Ukulele Group (LAUGH) hosted a showing of “Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog,” a documentary that nicely captured the supportive and shared experience the uke creates and nurtures. Filmmakers Tony Coleman and Margaret Meagher drove in from Toronto and presented the movie. Afterwards, we wrapped up the day with an open mic and strum at Sir Pizza.
I was happy that it all went well and then someone said, “That was so much fun, what are we going to do next year?” From this first “Mighty Uke Day,” a tradition began. Each year since, Mighty Uke Day has grown from its humble beginnings to one of the premier ukulele events in the country. Mighty Uke Day’s success brought about the creation of Music is the Foundation, a nonprofit that underwrites music programs in Michigan classrooms and communities.
Is there anything you’re most excited about for this year’s event?
For Mighty Uke Day 12, we’ve worked hard to put together a festival that’s inclusive, features some of the finest players on the planet, and allows all to participate as safely as possible.
I’m looking forward to it all, but above everything else, after two years of online gatherings, it’s exciting to finally be able to roam the streets and establishments of Old Town Lansing, gathering together and sharing the aloha spirit of the ukulele.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here