Flower City Ukulele Festival looks to spread the joy of the ukulele

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Events feature workshops for learners of all experience levels, and performances.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — This weekend is the second year of the Flower City Ukulele Festival. Before that it was “Raining Ukuleles.”

This year, just like last year, the event supports Rochester Interfaith Housing Network; a non-profit aimed towards helping the homeless live sustainable lives. The festival features a reception at Bernunzio Uptown Music on October 25th at 6:30 p.m. and then a performance from the Rochester Ukulele Orchestra at The Little Theatre Cafe at 8 p.m.

The next day is a full day of workshops for any experience level, a flea market, and it’s all followed by performances from local singer-songwriter Cammy Enaharo, and touring ukulele players Amy Kucharik, and Peter Pashoukos.

It may seem niche, but everyone can relate to the ukulele.

“Accessibility,” said Randy Pollok, a music teacher and one of the festival’s organizers. “It’s one of the more affordable instruments. Ukuleles you can spend $100 and be in the game pretty easily.”

According to Pollok, the instrument originated in Portugal, then it made its way to Hawaii, where it became the ukulele we know and love today. The instrument’s popularity exploded in the 1920s, then again in the 50s with the “tiki movement,” and then again in the 2000s with soft rock musicians like Jason Mraz.

Bernunzio’s at the flea market last year. Photo provided by Carole Teegarden.

“It’s pretty easy to play,” Pollok said. “It’s very fun, it’s very portable, it’s very light, it’s very relaxing. This is just about relaxing, and laying back with friends, and getting together with other people to sing.”

Bernunzio’s aims to be “the best ukulele stop” in upstate New York. They work to accomplish this by doing “full service ukulele.” It starts with having good products, a wide selection, and accessories for sale.

Co-owner of Bernunzio’s, Julie Schnepf, started to play classical violin at around 45 or 50. After realizing that she would be playing “Twinkle Twinkle” until she was 80, she started ukulele — and found a community instead.

“It’s easy to be competent, it’s not easy to be great,” Schnepf said. “And it doesn’t punish you if you don’t practice it for a while. You can strum and sing do and do it with a whole group of people or by yourself.”

Enharo, Schnepf, and Pollock

After she started playing, she found a community. Bernunzio’s has hosted the “Ukulele Support Group” for ten years, and hosts “Saturday Ukulele Hour,” which is hosted by Pollok.

Enaharo has played the ukulele for ten years. She started working at Bernunzio’s a year ago, but the store and community has been with her for a long time.

“I was coming in here when I was in high school to try out the ukuleles, and went to the ukulele support group,” Enharo said.”Everybody is just really nice and welcoming, and it’s just about having a good time, being yourself, and picking up and strumming with other people.”

She plays the baritone ukulele, which is tuned like the higher notes of a guitar.

“It just make me feel happy, and I just love it,” Enaharo said of the sound of he baritone ukulele. “It’s right for me.”

She hopes that others find the big community that the little stringed instrument gave her.

“It’s an opportunity for a lot of growth, when you’re supported by people,” Enaharo said. “You can be yourself around other people who are doing something similar to you, it makes you feel like you’re a little bit more sane and comfortable.”

Update: We’re told the festival went off without a hitch. Here’s a photo by John Bernunzio of two of the featured performers, Amy Kucharik, and Peter Pashoukos:

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