Dani Joy & Perry Stauffer are Betting Big on Ukulele


Dani Joy was not interested in a career in the music business. After graduating from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, she wanted to pursue a career as a graphic designer and illustrator—that is, until her father put a ukulele in her hands.

“I got home from school and spent months looking for a graphic design job. During that time, my dad, Stu Herreid, got the idea to open a music store and encouraged me to begin teaching there until a job in the design field opened up,” says Joy. Before long, she was a full-fledged ukulele instructor at her dad’s store, the Strum Shop, the Northern California uke mecca known for its large selection of instruments and community involvement. Little did she know that within a few years she would record with Grammy–winning ukulele artist Daniel Ho, begin touring the ukulele festival circuit with her husband, Perry Stauffer, open her own music shop, and become a producer of the popular Reno Uke Fest.

“Music always came naturally to me, and the ukulele was a perfect conduit for me to find self-expression instantly,” says Joy. “I had played guitar for a while, but the music I wanted to play was much easier on the ukulele. Once I picked up the four-string, my hands felt much more comfortable. Complex fingerstyle pieces, like the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird,’ were more accessible. In fact, that was the first song my dad taught me on the ukulele.”

Joy’s family has a long history in the retail music business. Before her dad opened the Strum Shop, her grandfather (who once played accordion on The Lawrence Welk Show), opened a small music shop in his home in Redding, California, in 1960. That store, Herreid Music, was in business for 60 years before closing in 2020. Before it closed, Joy’s uncle, Rich Pires, opened a second location in Chico, California. And now, she and Stauffer own Starlight Ukes, a retail shop and online teaching academy in Portland, Oregon. 


Smooth Operators

Stauffer’s path to ukulele also marked a change in his career trajectory. Though he did study music in college and played in rock bands in his twenties, by age 30 he had started working as a software developer and engineer with his family’s computer business. Still, he continued with what he called his “serious hobby,” playing jazz with numerous groups in Grass Valley, California.

Stauffer and Joy met in 2016, when they pulled into the parking lot of a recording studio at the same time for a session that involved mostly Hawaiian music. “During the session, Perry asked if I played a lot of Hawaiian music. I said ‘No, I play jazz.’ Perry’s facial expression suddenly lit up,” says Joy. “A week later, we went on our first date.”

Before long, the two had formed a trio playing smooth, easy-listening jazz in and around the greater Sacramento area. They bring that smooth jazz sensibility to their live sets at uke fests around the world and local gigs in their new home of the Pacific Northwest. Joy’s delicate vocals weave through the music with fingerstyle ukulele, with bass or baritone ukulele holding down the low end. 

Stauffer started out playing upright bass, but as the gigs increased to include ukulele festivals, he quickly tired of the bass jokes. “First off, upright bass is a lot to carry around,” he says. “And I kept hearing lines like, ‘That’s the biggest ukulele I’ve ever seen,’ so I switched to ukulele bass.” During the pandemic the two began occasionally swapping instruments and now switch off often. Stauffer’s work on the much larger fretboard of an upright bass seems to have trained his left hand well, as his uke playing always sounds and looks effortless.


Joy describes their music as acoustic American roots, folk, and singer-songwriter. “We play music from every 20th century decade and write more contemporary original music. But everything has a jazzy twist,” she says.

The Daniel Ho Connection

Although Joy and Stauffer had seen and heard Daniel Ho several times when he played at the Strum Shop, the trio discovered their shared musical interests after he saw them perform at a trade show.

 “I first heard Dani singing over ten years ago. She was doing an open mic in Reno, and I was drawn to the sound of her voice,” says Ho. “In January 2020, she sang ‘Nobody Else’in the Romero Creations booth at the NAMM Show (the National Association of Music Merchants convention in Anaheim, California). There was fast and loud music all around us, and she was singing a heartfelt ballad. In that less-than-ideal setting, she was somehow able to touch people’s hearts. I noticed tears in people’s eyes! After she finished her set, we went outside and talked about doing an album together. Over the next few months, we recorded a six-song EP titled Drop In My Flower.”

Ho was also impressed with Stauffer’s musical acumen. “One of the songs I often play live is ‘Na Pana’ Elua—The Two Heartbeats.’ It is based on an Indian polyrhythm of 10.5/7 and, conceptually, quite unusual. I usually spend a fair amount of time rehearsing this song with others, but when I played it with Perry the first time, he played it perfectly.”

The multi-instrumentalist has also served as a mentor for them both. Says Stauffer, “Daniel reminded me that focus on practice and performance is the key to becoming a better musician. The precision and purposefulness of what he does when he plays made me want to be that kind of musician.” For Joy, his most important three words of musical advice have been discipline, timing, and tone.

A Winning Bet in Reno

In 2022, Joy and Stauffer took over as producers of the longstanding Reno Ukulele Festival. With their performing, touring, teaching, and retail shop schedule packed tighter than a concert uke jammed into a soprano case, why in their right minds would they take on the immense job of producing a major ukulele festival like Reno? “We love that festival. We’ve always loved that festival. It’s like a home away from home for us,” says Stauffer. “So when the original promoter, Doug Reynolds, decided to retire, he called us.”

It seems they have a knack for it: in 2023, attendance was up 40 percent, including 100 first-timers. Headliners included Daniel Ho, Victoria Vox, and Italy’s Ukulollo. The pair says that popular components include participant collaboration projects such as the “Band Scramble” and open mic stage, which create opportunities for attendees to meet and play with others. The 2024 festival is scheduled for October 9-12 at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada.

Left to right: Dani Joy, Perry Stauffer, Daniel Ward, Victoria Vox, Lil’ Rev, Gerald Ross, and Jack Maher at the 2022 Reno Ukulele Festival

It was about ten years ago that Joy started working in the vendor’s space in Reno for the Strum Shop. “Each year, I would encourage Doug to let me teach a workshop and perform, and by and by, he would give me more responsibility,” she says. She would eventually start gigging at other uke fests around the country, too. And thanks to the fact that her dad had a production company, she grew up behind the scenes in stage production and knows what it takes to put on a big event. “I’ve been preparing for this role my whole life,” says Joy.

If one had to choose a word to describe why Joy and Stauffer put their hearts and souls into their work, it would be family. Says Joy, “We spend all of our time with ukulele players, be it teaching through our Starlight Ukulele Academy, recommending instruments through the store, or producing the festival. Our students are adult learners setting off on a journey of musical discovery. They are our family.”


What Dani Joy & Perry Stauffer Play

UKES Tiny Tenor Dreadnoughts from Romero Creations, one strung with Romero low-G strings, the other in baritone (DGBE) tuning with Stauffer’s own Baby Baritone strings. Both have MiSi Trio undersaddle pickups. 

BASS Ohana OBU-22 with stock La Bella strings.

ELECTRONICS L.R. Baggs Venue DI for the baritone, L.R. Baggs Para DI for the tenor, Radial Pro DI for the ukulele bass.

VOCAL MIC Shure Beta 58A