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Ukulele Fest ‘strumming for good, virtually’

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

The Flower City Ukulele Festival was getting ready for its third year as a volunteer-run event to bring people together with the joy of playing and learning ukuleles while supporting the Rochester Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. Then, the pandemic hit. 

Organizers faced a dilemma. They could wait a year and hope things would be better, missing out on music-making and helping a community in need, or they could figure out all the technical and logistical challenges of producing an online festival while not being sure if it would be as interesting to participants who might attend. 

Stuart Fuchs performs in the virtual Flower City Ukulele Festival on Facebook.

The festival went online in October through Zoom and Facebook Live, with performances by local artists Sungmin Shin, Tom Toyama, the Rochester Ukulele Orchestra, Awkward Marina (Marina Sneider) and Stuart Fuchs. 

Workshops included “Learning the Fretboard,” “The Inner Game of Strumming,” “Songwriting” and “Chord Theory.” The online festival attracted more than 200 registrants from North America and Great Britain, in addition to many from the Finger Lakes and western New York. 

Participants tuned into the concerts, shared their talents in the open mic and jam sessions, attended workshops and connected with folks from all over in the Virtual Little Café hangout room. 

Tom Toyama holds a virtual concert during the Flower City Ukulele Festival, which ran virtually in 2020 due to the pandemic.

This community of musical enthusiasts raised $3,500 for RAIHN, a nonprofit organization that works to provide prevention, shelter and stabilization services to families currently or at risk of experiencing homelessness. 

“We are truly grateful for individuals and organizations that want to make a difference for families and keep RAIHN funded and growing,” said Kim Hunt-Ukelac, executive director. “Your commitment to strengthening community and awareness is inspiring, and your support truly could not have come at a better time.”

The Flower City Ukulele Festival is set to return next fall, likely in a combination of virtual and in-person activities. Visit flowercityukefest.com or facebook.com/FlowerCityUkeFest for information.

Sungmin Shin performs a ukulele concert on Facebook.