The 2017 Reno Ukulele Festival: Bet On It!

By Jim D’Ville / Photos by Kelly Anderson

The 9th Annual Reno Ukulele Festival, “the biggest little ukulele festival in the West,” was held at the Nugget Hotel and Casino in Sparks, Nevada, April 6-9, 2017. As always, producer Doug Reynolds delivered a top-tier slate of the ukulele world’s best performers and instructors.

The swinging jazz side of things included Abe Lagrimas Jr., Michael Powers, Gerald Ross, and all the way from Kansas City, Victor & Penny with The Loose Change Orchestra. The island side of the ukulele was represented by Faith Ako and Steven Espaniola. Rounding out the bill was Dani Joy, Jason Arimoto, Julie Holloman, and this writer.

Dani Joy Trio

Canadian ukulele legend and former Langley Ukulele Ensemble Director Peter Luongo was also on hand showing off his new ensemble, The Luongo Ukulele Experience. The group is made up of over two dozen adult ukulele players who have been working with Luongo in the ensemble setting since last September. They performed a number of times throughout the festival including opening the Saturday evening concert in the Nugget’s Celebrity Showroom. Victor & Penny with the Loose Change Orchestra had the showroom swinging for the remainder of Saturday night’s show as happy ukers danced on a parquet floor in front of the stage. Friday night’s concert in the showroom featured a parade of ukulele all-stars demonstrating the wonderful versatility of everyone’s favorite instrument.

Victor & Penny & The Loose Change Orchestra

For those afflicted with UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome) the Reno Ukulele Festival vendor area is heaven on earth. Some of the West’s finest luthiers were on hand including Pat Megowan, Mike Pereira and David Iriguchi, and brands including Kinnard Ukuleles, Tyde Music, Moku Ukuleles, and Blackbird.


Eager players kept Dan Elliott of the Strum Shop busy installing strap buttons and changing strings. Photo by Greg Olwell.

A cornerstone of every Reno Ukulele Festival is the Super Raffle. A number of mid-range ukuleles were given away leading up to the five grand prize ukuleles with a retail value of $13,000. This year’s grand prizes were built by Mike DaSilva, Pat Megowan, David Iriguchi, Mike Pereira, and Tyde Music.

This year’s Reno fest workshops covered the full gamut of ukulele instruction. From brand new beginner to the advanced student, there was something for everyone with topics including slack-key ukulele with Arimoto, Holloman’s flamenco uke, Victor & Penny’s advice on performance skills, my own Beatles workshops, and a Michael Powers’ classes on advanced jazz improvisation and U-Bass essentials.

Steven Espaniola’s class on kani ka pila basics was a popular one. Photo by Greg Olwell.


Organizer Doug Reynolds promises that next year’s 10th anniversary festival will be one for the ages, and held in a shiny new venue. “The 10th Anniversary Reno Ukulele Festival will expand to four full days and promises to have the biggest roster of talent yet. It’ll be the Woodstock of ukulele festivals!”

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