For ukulele lovers and jammers, all roads led to the covered parking lot of the Marianas Business Plaza in Susupe last Saturday for the 5th Annual Marianas Ukulele Festival.
Festival organizer Larry Lee, who himself has been playing the ukulele for over 40 years, said the festival is a way for lovers of the instrument to perform on stage and get together with other members of the public who love playing the four-stringed instrument.
“The ukulele is a very popular instrument now, and it is very easy to play. A lot of people are learning how to do it, how to play, and you know, it’s fun to play. It is fun to have the chance to perform live on stage; it is a big thrill for the children,” Lee said.
The festival, which opened at past 2pm with a cover version of Disney’s Lava from the students of Saipan Community School, featured live entertainment until 9pm that showcased the talents of professional ukulele master Blues Lee from South Korea, his wife, Vivian Kim, and the Korean Women’s Ensemble. Local performers included Marvin and Jay, Ed Johnson, and Alana’ia, Da Kine, Jose Carreon and Juan Ichihara, the Marianas High School Hui Ukulele Club, Domatsuri Warriors, and the Ukituki Band.
Aside from the free concert, 10 ukuleles that are priced at almost $200 each were also raffled off, as well as 20 scholarships for ukulele lessons that are worth $50 each.
The festival is a brainchild of the Marianas Ukulele Festival Association, which has partnered with various community based ukulele instructional programs, such as the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs/Arts Council, Joeten-Kiyu Public Library, and the Carolinian Affairs Office to provide greater access to formal ukulele instruction.
“I teach at Saipan Community School. I also teach at [Northern Marianas College] and do private lessons. I also teach at the [Joeten-Kiyu] Public Library, and we have those classes open to the public,” Lee said. “There are a number of places that offer ukulele lessons that are open to the public, like the library, [the] Carolinian Affairs Office, the Arts Council, Marianas Music Association…so there are lots of ways to learn.”
Festival partners/supporters included the Marianas Visitors Authority, DCCA/Arts Council, Island Training Solutions, IT&E, Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan, Triple J Saipan, Tan Siu Lin Foundation, Robert T. Torres Law Office, Marianas Variety, Island Image & Motion, Marianas Business Plaza, Hertz Rent-a-Car, Hyatt Regency Saipan, R&M Printers, KKMP radio, and Pacific Development, Inc.