By Isiah REYES
orn out of casual monthly ukulele jams at the Java Brew Coffee House, now Thee Elbow Room, in Montrose, the Honolulu Avenue Strummers have graduated to the big time. The group has been selected as finalists in the national Holly Jolly Ukulele Contest sponsored by Ukulele Magazine and members are hoping to come out on top.
“There’s something about the ukulele that it’s just a happy thing,” said Bambi Hale, a member of the group who has been playing for two and a half years. “Usually people just smile and they’re really charmed to find us. We get little kids who will just dance and we also get a lot of people who want to learn. They’ll come up to us afterward and ask ‘Where can I learn?’ and ‘Where can I get a ukulele?’ It’s becoming a popular thing these days.”
The members of the Honolulu Avenue Strummers are made up of different ethnicities, experience levels and ages. Hale said that the ukulele was so easy to learn that she went from not playing a musical instrument in her life to being a part of two different performance groups.
The Strummers made their way down Honolulu Avenue during the Montrose Christmas Parade last year, which could be considered their professional debut. It took off from there.
The Holly Jolly Ukulele Contest had over 100 submissions that were narrowed down to 10 finalists. There are five solo finalists and five ensemble finalists. The Honolulu Avenue Strummers are one of the final ensembles finalists. They are the only group in the contest to have a member use a U-Bass, which is a bass ukulele.
The solo winner will receive a Cordoba 23T tenor ukulele and the winning ensemble will share the Cordoba 35T-CE. Although they are looking to win, the Honolulu Avenue Strummers are happy to have made it this far. They are the only group from California.
“It would be an honor to win,” Hale said, “and to know that within a year of even forming this group we were finalists in this huge contest.”
The song that was entered in the contest is called, “Ukulele Christmas Carole” and was written by Sue Olson of Glendale. The video that was submitted was shot in the backyard of her house.
“Our video is adorable and guaranteed to put people in the holiday spirit,” Hale said.
In addition to participating in the contest, Honolulu Avenue Strummers were asked by La Cañada to be a part of the Memorial weekend Fiesta Days celebration as well as a seated show at the gazebo up in Bicentennial Park and an event at the YMCA. They also played at the Altadena Farmers’ Market and are set to play in the Montrose Farmers’ Market in the coming year. The band has a bright future ahead.
Voting for the contest ended on Dec. 17. The winner will be announced on Dec. 19 and featured in an upcoming issue of Ukulele magazine. To view the videos of all the submissions, visit www.ukulelemag.com/home/enter-the-2nd-annual-holly-jolly-ukulele-contest.