Midland Uke Fest 2019 – A Different Way to Spend a Long Weekend


This past weekend was the first of Canada’s long weekends, Victoria Day Weekend. We spent most of it doing something we love, and the last day recovering! For those of you who are not musically inclined and/or have never tried playing a ukulele, you might not understand, but you’d be amazed at how many people have taken it up. Jim and I have been involved for about six years, having begun our first winter in Arizona because free classes were offered at our RV Park. In my last post I wrote about going to a one-day ukulele workshop in Salt Lake City on our way home, but we’ve never attended a full weekend festival before.

It began with us packing some belongings and a bit of food into the motorhome and then striking out on a three-hour drive to Midland, Ontario, a small city north of Barrie. This trip was uneventful; well, after we stopped at the first stop sign at the end of our street and we heard a crash and I looked back to see the closet door swung wide open. Upon inspection I discovered that the clips that hold the mirror into the door had disengaged, allowing the mirror to slide down far enough to prevent the door catch from working. While we sat blocking traffic behind us, Jim got out a screw driver to remedy the problem and we were soon on our way. It wouldn’t be a motorhome adventure without some little glitch!

Once we arrived at Smith’s Campground and got set up, we contacted the rest of our group, who were arriving by cars and staying at the nearby hotel. Donna, Linda and Michael picked us up for the drive downtown to the Midland Cultural Centre (MCC) where we met with Julie and Lynda, who had opted to walk. After we were all registered and made a few purchases at the Vendor Stand, we quieted our rumbling stomachs at a nearby restaurant, and then walked down to the Warf where the Miss Midland was waiting for ukulele enthusiasts from near and far to fill her seats and share some music while enjoying the tour around some of Muskoka-Georgian Bay’s 30,000 islands.

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On board we met three lovely young women who sported ukuleles shaped like fruit – pineapple, watermelon and kiwi. They call themselves the Fruity Ukuladies and are YouTube stars. Jim taught them Spanish Melody. We would see much more of them over the next two days.

Thanks to Linda for doing the video. I think she got a little too into the music!
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Nearly three hours later all seven of us members of the Hastings Ukulele Band (HUB) squeezed into Donna’s little red car to return to the hotel, where a Pyjama Jam Session was taking place. On the way we made a stop at our campsite so I could pick up my ukulele. I’m sure our neighbours, who were sitting outside, couldn’t believe their eyes when we all climbed out of the car, and then back in with a couple of bags in hand! We never did get to talk to them to explain what we were up to.

The Pyjama Jam was loads of fun, even though many of us got lost on some unfamiliar chords. It was 12:00 am by the time our friends were ready to call it a night and let us retrieve the belongings we’d left in their room. Then Jim and I had to walk what seemed like a mile or so back to our spot in the campground. The air had turned cold and we hadn’t turned the furnace on before we left, so it took a while to get settled down to sleep, and we had a full day of challenging workshops the next day.

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Pyjama Jam

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Michael and Linda Enjoying the Jam

We were a little slow getting around in morning and missed our ride back downtown with the rest of our group. They were out early and down to the waterfront for a walk while we ate bagels in our motorhome before starting our trek down the hill. We were about half-way to the MCC when a mother and her daughter took a chance and offered us a ride. They figured that two older people carrying ukuleles should pose no threat and they were heading to the same place. We were very grateful!

The morning was filled with a welcome and introductions of our workshop leaders, followed by Uke Mania – a mass jam session for all attendees, and finally an hour and a half workshop presented by a Canadian Uke legend, Chalmers Doane and his daughter. What a source of knowledge and inspiration!

Chalmers Doane and Family (don’t know why this shows upside down, but if you  click on it it will right itself)

After lunch at the in-house Café Roxy, we each ventured off to our chosen 3 or 4 workshops throughout the afternoon. There was so much to choose from – simple chord music, playing by ear, more complicated chording, scales and tabbing and strum styles. It was difficult to decide what would be most beneficial to each of us, but we gave it a shot, and came away with many new things to practice. The biggest lesson was to practice, practice, practice, something that I don’t do nearly often enough. Most of us skipped the fourth workshop and relaxed in the lounge to wait for the diehards, Jim and Donna.

After dinner, we (HUB) performed two songs at the Open Mic and were pleased to be well received, but many of the performers who followed (some young school age kids) blew us away with their talent. Made me wish I’d been introduced to ukulele at that age.

HUB at Midland

If that wasn’t enough, from 8:30 to 10:30 there was an All Star Concert for us to sit and enjoy. These semi-professional to professional, and Emmy Award winning ukulele players, who had been our instructors throughout the day, showed us just what can really be done with a ukulele! You had to be there to believe it!

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There was another Pyjama Jam back at the hotel on that, the last night, but I was happy to learn that Jim was just as tired as I was. We asked to be dropped off at our campsite, where we weren’t long climbing into bed with lights out. zzz

We heard from Donna that she’d stayed at the jam until 2:30 when it finally broke up.

On Sunday morning there was one last jam back at the MCC, lasting only an hour and ending with picture taking, hugs and goodbyes to all our new friends.

A big thank you to all of the many volunteers who make the Midland Uke Fest an annual event. We hope to see you again next year!

Get a Free Travel App and Hear About an Amazing Young Performer


There is nothing like listening to some great live music to take your mind off of the political turmoil for a while. Late Thursday morning we drove into downtown Mesa to do just that, at the outdoor noon-hour concert series sponsored by the Mesa Arts Centre. I think I’ve mentioned these wonderful free concerts before. The performer this week was highly promoted by our neighbour Jan, and our expectations were high.  We weren’t disappointed!

After picking up a take-out lunch at our favourite little café, Sweet Cakes, we walked to the Arts Centre to where the stage and seating were set up. It was only 11:30 and the concert didn’t begin until 12:30, but the best seating was already filled! We managed to grab a couple of chairs that weren’t too far away from the stage, but sadly not facing it. While we waited for the show to begin, we enjoyed our very thick turkey-on-(freshly baked) sourdough, side salad and still-warm chocolate chip cookie. Yumm.

At 12:30 the Honky-Tonk Rebel (a.k.a. Mario Carboni) appeared on stage with his keyboard and trumpet. With a bit of introduction, he started to play and he blew our minds.  This young man, who started to play at a very young age, had his fingers speeding across the keys in a blur; and then his rich country voice filled the air. The sound system was perfect; no problem hearing every note from wherever you sat. I wish I could remember all of the songs he performed, but I was mesmerized by those fingers on the keyboard. He has an eclectic play list, everything from honky-tonk country, to truck driving songs, rock and roll and classical. I’ve never heard “The Flight of the Bumblebee” played so perfectly and fast! He did many cover rearrangements and many of his own songs, with a tad humour thrown in once in a while. For a couple of numbers he played his trumpet and keyboard at the same time, without missing a beat. The crowd roared, and at the end of the one-hour performance gave him a standing ovation. The host invited him to do an encore, much to our delight. When the show was over, Mario greeted fans with a smile and a chat while we lined up with our newly purchased CDs in our hands, looking for an autograph. He’ll be on tour across the US and back up to Alaska, where he spends his summers performing, most of this year. Check him out at www.honkytonkrebel.com/    .

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Mario on the left with one of his buddies, Jimmy Phillips

Jimmy Phillips, former drummer with Merle Haggard, Red Simpson and several other “Bakersfield Sound” Country stars, joined Mario on stage for a couple of songs.

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