TRAVERSE CITY — It started with one diminutive four-stringed ukulele, a purchase prompted by Marshall Music’s sign: “Get Your Uke Here.”
That was 18 months — and eight ukuleles ago. Now Jody Brown, his wife, daughter and granddaughter all play the instrument, swept up in what Brown calls a uke “craze.” It’s easy to get caught up, as the instrument is friendly, handy and makes people smile when they hear it.
“A uke is something you can just pick up and play,” Brown said. “People love it for its ease of playing, its convenient size and it’s such a unique, fun sound.”
Anyone can strum, he adds, even if you’re not familiar with the chords.
Brown invites strummers of all levels to join him tonight at Traverse City’s First Annual Mighty Uke Fest. It kicks off at 7 p.m. at the State Theatre downtown. The event features a showing of “Mighty Uke; The Amazing Musical Comeback of a Musical Underdog” and a uke play-along/sing-along in which anyone with a uke in their hand will take a stab at classics like “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Traverse City’s Mighty Uke Fest is a product of worlds colliding. Brown’s daughter, now 31, was diagnosed with juvenile, or Type 1 diabetes, and Brown sits on the board of the Ryan Dobry Diabetes Charity. Tonight’s festival is a fundraiser for the charity, and while admission is free, a $5 minimum donation is appreciated. There will be raffle prizes, including a chance to win a ukulele package from Marshall Music and a commemorative “Mighty Uke” ukulele from the film.
The documentary tells the story of the uke’s rise from obscurity to popularity — one Brown experienced personally. Guitar was his Brown’s first passion, but the plucky uke’s power grabbed hold. The love of uke is no fluke. The National Association of Music Merchants reports ukulele sales jumped from 581,000 in 2010 to more than 1 million in 2012.