By Jim D’Ville // Photos by James Millar and Linda Grist D’Ville
As an American who has never been to Scotland, arriving at the Ukulele Festival of Scotland was like entering a magical, musical ukulele utopia. This year’s festival took place in Dumfries and Galloway, in the southwestern portion of the bucolic Scottish countryside, just a stone’s throw from the English border. Scottish national poet Robert Burns plied the streets of Dumfries in the mid-18th century, but now—for one enchanted weekend each year—it’s the ukulele that holds forth.
The festival, held June 9–11, is the brainchild of organizers Linda and Stuart Butterworth. In only its second year, the Ukulele Festival of Scotland has already established itself as one of the premiere ukulele festivals in the world. The festival attracts nearly 600 attendees, instructors, and performers to the lush, manicured grounds of Easterbrook Hall and the Crichton Church. Four main stage concerts were held over the course of the three-day event with headliners including Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel and newcomer Gracie Terzian from the US, Bermudian Mike Hind, and rising Scottish star Zoë Bestal. The list of other top quality performers on the bill was a virtual geographic cornucopia with acts hailing from England, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and, of course, Scotland. Other major talents at the festival were the great English jump-swing band the Jive Aces, Formby-style master and multi-instrumentalist Andy Eastwood, swing-uke king Gerald Ross, and the world’s only operatic ukulele duo, Opera-lele. And keeping this three-ring circus of four-string delirium flowing seamlessly throughout the entire event was master of ceremonies, Londoner Paul L. Martin.
One of the highlights of the Ukulele Festival of Scotland is its Rising Stars Competition, during which up-and-coming players have the opportunity to play on one of the festival main stages. A number of amateur ukulele groups were also featured throughout the event including Stuart Butterworth’s own DUKES (Dumfries and Galloway Ukulele Strummers and Singers). And when it came to ukulele education, with nearly thirty workshops offered, there was something for all levels and interests.
The Ukulele Festival of Scotland feels like one big musical family reunion. Combining the beauty of the southwestern Scottish countryside, the gathering of like-minded musicians, and the attention to detail that the Butterworth’s and their Purple Army of volunteers attend to will make the Ukulele Festival of Scotland a bucket list item for ukulele players worldwide for years to come. Imagine singing the wistful Loch Lomond with a Scottish piper and 600 of your closest new friends as confetti cannons launch a blizzard of colored paper in a finale that can only be described as a wee bit o’ brilliance.
And according to festival organizer Linda Butterworth, there will be no slowing down for the 2018 event, already scheduled for April 27–29, 2018. “We were delighted with this year’s festival and we have already started to plan next year’s. We have some exciting ideas including a mass jam in a nearby castle to kickstart the festival, as well as a bus and beach busk tour, Rising Stars competition, a ceilidh and dance night, and seven wonderful concerts.”
Music educator and facilitator Jim D’Ville is the author of the Play Ukulele By Ear DVD series and hosts the popular Play Ukulele By Ear website www.PlayUkuleleByEar.com.