Music at the Mount Baker

From the Big Island to the Big Easy



Who: Jake Shimabukuro
When: 7:30pm Sat., Oct. 12
Cost: $30.50-$44.50
Who: Take Me to the River Live
When: 7:30pm Sat., Oct. 19
Cost: $25.50-$59.50

Where: Mount Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commerical St.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: When I think of “cool” instruments, the ukulele does not come to mind. And when I think about people who play the ukulele, I tend to picture a guy of a certain age in a Hawaiian shirt strumming lazily, not a nimble-fingered young shredder.

I will readily admit those are preconceived notions not based in any real knowledge of the instrument or the musicians who play it, but I’m betting I’m not alone in my half-cocked hot take.

However, Jake Shimabukuro is singlehandedly changing the way people perceive the wee four-stringed baby guitar, and once you become aware of him, you’ll never think of the ukulele in the same way again.

Like most people who grow up in Hawaii, Shimabukuro was exposed to the ukulele early and often, and began playing at an early age. However, he wasn’t too far into his teenage years when he realized that his style was more than a little different than your average ukulele practitioner. He’d learned to play in the Hawaiian tradition, but it was not long before he began to draw inspiration from guitar players, drummers—even singers and pianists proved to be fertile creative fuel. As such, he evolved from strummer to shredder, and began to build a following in the 50th state as well as in Japan.

But was the rest of the world ready for a dynamic ukulele player who existed way outside the accepted musical margins?

He got his answer in 2006 when a video of him playing the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral. According to Shimabukuro, he wasn’t even really aware of YouTube when the video started racking up views, but YouTube was certainly aware of him. Unlike most people who achieve viral fame and then fade back into obscurity, Shimabukuro was just getting started.

With the video came opportunities, and the young ukulele prodigy with such electrifying style made the most of them. He signed a record deal with Epic Records International—the first Hawaiian artist to do so—and started his own label so he could release his albums in the United States. His albums, which had done respectably well on the Billboard World Music chart, began to climb until his 2011 release, Peace Love Ukulele, reached the top spot. He also brought his ukulele to mass audiences with appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Today Show, and others.

However, mostly what Shimabukuro has done is tour, as much as he can, all over the world. He’s on the road for at least six months of the year, and due to a stage presence that is as big and dynamic as his ukulele stylings, has the kind of draw that must be seen to be believed. I’m not sure if the ukulele has grown in popularity in the last 15 years or so, but if it has, it surely has Shimabukuro to thank.

If you still find yourself to be skeptical that the ukulele could ever be cool, I encourage you to shell out for a ticket to Shimabukuro’s Sat., Oct. 12 performance at the Mount Baker Theatre. By the end of the night, it’s highly likely he will have converted you as he’s converted so many others.

But there’s more than ukulele action happening onstage at the Mount Baker Theatre in the coming days.

Just one week after Shimabukuro departs, the historic venue will be filled with the rich sounds of the Big Easy when Take Me to the River Live: Celebrating the Music of New Orleans makes a Sat., Oct. 19 stop in Bellingham.

Much like Bellingham, New Orleans is a city in which everyone is a musician, so putting together a tour to represent its deep music tradition had to have been an embarrassment of riches. Make no mistake, the performers who have signed on are heavy hitters, even for a region that is full of them. On the roster is the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who have been spreading the gospel of the Big Easy for more than 40 years; Ian and Ivan Neville, Crescent City musical royalty who will no doubt bring the funk; Walter “Wolfman” Washington, who mines the past to inform the musical present; “Big Chief” Monk Boudreaux, head of the Golden Eagle Indian Tribe, who represents traditions that go back even deeper and farther than those of the Big Easy; and others.

At press time, the supply of tickets for Shimabukuro’s concert was limited and dwindling quickly. Slightly more seats remain available for Take Me to the River Live, but you’ll want to act fast. If the ukulele doesn’t get you, the sweet sounds of New Orleans will.

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