THE RYDGES POST
Bit of trivia. Ukuleles come in four sizes – soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. And with the Cairns Ukulele Festival coming up, Pip Miller caught up with Gaby Thomasz…
Gaby, I believe that this year's marks the Cairns Ukulele Festival's fifth birthday. Congratulations! Can you please tell me a little bit about the Cairns Ukulele Festival journey.
This year marks the sixth year of the Cairns Ukulele Club and the fifth year of the Cairns Ukulele Festival. When in America for a musical instruments trade show early 2008, I was asked along to a ukulele club meeting in Huntington Beach. It was one of those life-changing moments. All I could think was,’wow’, this is amazing, so many people of all ages playing ‘uke’ together and having a good time! I thought to myself there and then that I must start a ukulele club when I get back to Cairns!. And so I did, with the first meeting taking place April 1of that year. Also at that time, more and more ukulele festivals started also popping up around the world, so it was time for Cairns to join the trend and have our own celebration. Cairns is the most uke-ambient city in Australia, and perhaps even the world, besides Hawaii, so the fit is natural. Moreover, we have some beautiful venues and locations that we incorporate into our program each year, showcasing our region to the world. Right from the start we have featured the world's best players and an interesting and diverse festival program, which ensured we were on the worldwide ukulele map right from the start. What's more, many ukulele festivals started copying our model and events, with the 47th Hawaiian Ukulele Festival now being modelled on the Cairns Ukulele Festival as well.
Have you always played the ukulele?
I started playing ukulele late 2007. I played a bit of guitar, but I didn't really know anything about the ukulele so I browsed the internet and went from there.
How many people in Cairns get involved each year and is it growing?
The festival has become a hallmark event on the Cairns festival calendar. It is one of very few local musical community celebrations and thousands enjoy the free and ticketed entertainment each year, with the biggest day being the free community concert day in Fogarty Park, this year it will be held on Saturday July 5. Local participation has increased over the years, but a large proportion of attendees actually come from all over Australia and overseas; it's a great mix of people from all walks of life and all ages, which adds to the unique character of the festival.
Why do you think it is so popular?
The ukulele is the people's instrument. It's affordable, easy to learn, portable, happy, unpretentious, fun, and to top it off, it has a beautiful sound. Not only that, the festival comprises various concerts – ticketed and free ones, appealing to many different musical tastes, workshops, an art exhibition, and tours; there's something for everyone. One of the festival's other strengths is that it appeals to well-heeled baby boomers as well as local families and everything in between. Ukulele players are generally very friendly and inclusive, adding to the overall feel and atmosphere of the festival; everyone's welcome!
What about this year's program - what is planned?
The festival template is similar to previous years because it has proven to work well. We are taking our festival artists and participants on a chartered boat to the reef where there will be performances, jam sessions and workshops. There will be concerts at the Hilton, Casino, Fogarty Park, and Gilligan's - showcasing the various venues and we have a new concept for the Uke Art Exhibition in store as well. Of course the World Record Attempt is part of the program again – bigger and better this year!
What about when the Festival isn't on, does the ukulele live on in Cairns? If so, in what capacity can we expect to enjoy this fun form of entertainment?
Absolutely! The Cairns Ukulele Club meets every first and third Tuesday of the month at Billy's on Sheridan Street, a social ukulele gathering lead by the Bad Boys of Uke can be found every Wednesday at Straight on the Beach at Holloways and every Friday at the Crown. Many primary and high schools in Cairns teach ukulele these days as well, so be ready for a new crop of ukulele virtuosos soon! There are also smaller groups getting together in cafes, community centres and more recently two groups for people with disabilities have formed. The Club and Bad Boys of Uke perform at various community and corporate events and for some beautiful ukulele playing, make sure you catch Ryo Montgomery of The Montgomery Brothers at one of his many gigs throughout the year (and generally every Friday at the Crown Hotel). All music stores in Cairns have sold hundreds - if not thousands - of ukuleles, so there's bound to be a ukulele around everywhere you go these days.
Tell me a little bit about you? When and what brought you to Cairns?
Originally from The Netherlands, my first visit to Cairns was in 1997 and I fell in love with the region after spending eight months riding horses, booking tours, picking fruit and working in retail among other things. After several more visits to Cairns over the years whilst in university, I returned to Cairns in 2004 for further studies at JCU and ended up staying.
What is it about music that you love so much?
Music has the capacity to cheer you up, enhance experiences, and connect people. When making music yourself, you forget about everything else. It makes me even more happy to see people make music together and share this joy with others. If you want to see what I mean, come along for a few hours to the Crown on a Friday night or attend the World Record Attempt at the Cairns Ukulele Festival this year on Saturday 5 July. If you can't make it to either gig, have a look at the festival videos: https://www.youtube.com/user/cairnsukefest
When not working, what would we find you doing?
I love cooking – and eating! Rusty's Markets is a great place to drink the best coffee eat some delicious Thai and get everything for an elaborate weekend cooking session, so I try to get there at least once a week. I also cycle regularly and go to the gym a couple of times a week. On Saturday, when I can, I try to squeeze in a yoga session. Other than that I make a point of enjoying the beautiful surrounds, the Esplanade, the Red Arrow track, and the beaches as much as possible.
Best coffee in Cairns??
Billy's Coffee next to Music City, also home of the Cairns Ukulele Club, and Oscar at Piccone's Shopping Village – both also represented at Rusty's Markets.
Best kept secret??
Smith Park Cycledrome near Raintrees on Keeble Street – not many people know it's there but it's a peaceful place to be – almost like a little oasis in suburbia, and a great track to blow off some steam on your bike without worrying about traffic. The club members are friendly and helpful too. It's the perfect environment for kids and adults to start their cycling career.
Thanks Pip & Gaby!
If you are strumming into town for the festival, Rydges Cairns can look after all your accommodation needs at Rydges Tradewinds, Rydges Esplanade Resort and Rydges Plaza.
And here’s your humble blogger’s favourite ukulele song – Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole’s wonderful version of Over the Rainbow.