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Festival benefits firefighters

By Promise Yee

SAN MARCOS — The third annual San Diego Ukulele Festival brought together professional musicians, ukulele groups, and fans for a day of spectacular entertainment June 7.

Headliner Taimane Gardner was flown in from Hawaii to perform at the festival held at Cal State San Marcos. 

At age 25 Gardner is acclaimed as the best ukulele player in the world.

Gardner joined Don Ho’s band when she was 13. The opportunity came about when she was playing with her street band, and a performer in Ho’s band invited her to join Ho on stage. The performance led to a job with Ho’s band.

Gardner is now a well-recognized musician. Her musical range on the ukulele spans from Mozart, to Beethoven, and Led Zeppelin, all in flamenco style.

“It’s phenomenal what she does with the ukulele,” said Wendy Robinson, executive director of the Fire Resource Foundation, which was the beneficiary of the event.

“She’s the best player in the world hands down,” Dennis Huls, Xceptional Music production company director of operations, said.

Other top musicians included Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, and Troy Fernandez.

The annual uke festival is organized at a grassroots level. Xceptional Music uses social media to reach out to fans and ask who they want to hear play.

“We look for artists the audience is interested in, and chase them down and find them,” Huls said.

This is the first year the festival was held on the university campus. The campus provides a tiered outdoor amphitheater, grass lawn, and indoor classrooms to accommodate the festival.

The Moonlight Beach Ukulele Strummers played on the lawn stage during the festival. 

The group is a mix of professional, experienced and novice players. 

Herb Pililaau heads up the group that meets on Wednesdays at Today’s Pizza in Encinitas. Everyone is welcome to join the group for weekly jam sessions that include hula dancers.

“It’s definitely Hawaiian,” band member Frank Primicias said. “When we all play together it sounds so good.”

Band members are then invited to perform with the group at events regardless of experience. 

Band member Bill Kornik described the beauty of the collective sound the band makes.

“It’s neighbors getting together singing, sharing,” Kornik said. “If there’s mistakes nobody is going to buff you on it. There’s no ego, no shame.”

The festival also included “how to” workshops on ukulele playing, which were geared from beginners to advanced players.

Ukulele music covers a wide range of genres from flamenco, to jazz and percussion.

This year the festival took up the cause to benefit the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation. 

Event producers thought it would be a well-suited cause after county fires forced the university to be evacuated in May. 

The San Diego Fire Department served as one of the largest support units during the county fires, sending more than 15 engines and crews to help. 

The foundation helps raise funds for needed equipment for San Diego first responders.

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