By Liz Kirchner
Weaverville – There’s a dreary afternoon drizzle in traffic on Weaverville’s Main Street, but in the basement of the Weaverville Library, it’s all gin-clear water and sugar-white sands – the library’s Ukulele Jam is in full, sunny strum.
Down the stairs, players come in shaking umbrellas, unzipping wet uke cases, noodling and tuning up their Lanikais and Makala dolphin sopranos: some elegant in blonde wood with braided inlay, some playful glossy pink, fresh lemon, one moss green and triangular.
Wildly popular and welcoming, the Weaverville Library ukulele group comes together at least twice a month to jam, learn, teach and share.
“It’s one of the – if not the most successful programs outside of Storytime,” said Jill Totman, library branch supervisor on a recent Uke Jam Wednesday. “We get a lot for book discussion, but getting more than 20 people is really unusual. The Uke Jam turnout is just amazing.”
The jam started last summer when Weaverville resident Coleen Coble, who had launched a uke group in Florida, grew the Weaverville group by first offering a series of beginner lessons. She took the students up to a capable intermediate level, creating a little dynamo eager to keep learning and teaching.
One of those students was Marti Davis, who leads the group now.
“Coleen moved to this area and had started another ukulele group in Dunedin, Florida. She wanted to bring the fun to Weaverville,” said Davis. “Coleen has recently moved to Oregon and we hear she’s starting a group out there.”
The plucky ukulele, symbol of island paradise, political protest, silly noodling and real musical artistry, has experienced a resurgence in the last decade or so for its mobility, quirky vibe and friendly four-string accessibility.
Two million ukes, it’s thought, are purchased every year in the U.S., and the Weaverville Library group seems as accessible as the instrument itself.
All songs are posted on the group’s website and new songs are added every month, printable or downloadable to iPads and laptops to bring to the jam. People of all ages make up the group, mostly in their 40s and 50s, but younger too.
Ezra, who is 10, arrives. Chairs are shoved over to make room. Her music sheets are in tidy, alphabetically-arranged plastic sleeves in a binder. She props up the binder so her neighbors can follow along too.
It’s 3:30 and the group settles down around the conference table.
“We’re doing ‘Jambalaya,’” Alice Taylor, leader for that afternoon, says.
Someone says, “Oh, that’s good. It’s got two chords and one of them only uses two fingers.”
At the head of the table, Dave Holdredge, an accomplished guitarist, finger-picks a bouncy intro transporting everyone to the fais do do and diving into a jaunty “Goodbye, Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh!”
In the two-hour jam, going around the table, each person chooses a song from the collection.
“Da Do Ron Ron,” “Wagon Wheel,” “Amazing Grace,” “Down on the Corner,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Everyone sings – some very well and, with Dave adding musical layers, every song is rousing and fun.
“We welcome all skill levels,” says charter-player Davis. “Our regular members tuck in the new folks by making sure they have a chord chart and can follow along, even if they can just play C chord. It’s about having fun and creating a sense of community, which is essential for everyone, especially as we age.”
Jams are held on the third, fourth and, if there’s a fifth, Wednesday of every month. Beginner classes are offered several times a year.
“I think the group is successful because we simply have fun playing and singing in a group. We have all skill levels and people are just very kind and encouraging to each other,” she said.
For more information, visit the library’s Events page at www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/library/branch-locations/weaverville.aspx