Winter Getaway to the 2017 Palm Strings Ukulele Festival

By Jim D’Ville

Let’s see … who wants to head south to Palm Springs in late February, relax by the pool, and play some ukulele? I DO! And I did! The 3rd Annual Palm Strings Ukulele Festival was held February 23-26, 2017, at the colorful midcentury modern design Hilton Hotel in downtown Palm Springs, California. The festival is produced by ukulele impresario Doug Reynolds, who also produces the popular Reno Ukulele Festival every April. In a mere three years, the Palm Strings festival has become a West Coast favorite. It has everything one could want in a weekend ukulele event. According to Reynolds, the Palm Strings Ukulele Festival will surpass his Reno festival in attendance by next year.

Poolside with the Peter Luongo Experience. Photo credit: Kelly Anderson/Palm Strings Uke Fest
Poolside with the Peter Luongo Experience. Photo Kelly Anderson/Palm Strings Uke Fest

This year’s headliners included James Hill and Anne Janelle, Victoria Vox with her new husband and duet partner Jack Maher (Jack & The Vox), Stu Fuchs, Abe Lagrimas Jr., and Peter Luongo. The extended weekend kicked off on Thursday afternoon with special workshops and a poolside party and jam session. Friday and Saturday were chock-full of workshops with subjects in a wide variety of musical genres including Hawaiian slack key, rockabilly, flamenco, Caribbean, Beatles (yes, The Beatles is a genre), and jazz. Yours truly hosted two poolside jam parties on Saturday, where 25 Waterman ukuleles were given away to lucky ukers. (Disclosure: I endorse Kala Brand Music, the giveaway’s sponsors.) Friday and Saturday activities both capped off with evening concerts which enthralled the audience with virtuoso performances.


Victoria Vox. Photo credit: Kelly Anderson/Palm Strings Uke Fest
Victoria Vox. Photo Kelly Anderson/Palm Strings Uke Fest

One very special event that took place during Saturday night’s concert was the performance of the Peter Luongo Experience, a group of 25 adult players that have been studying for the past six months under the guidance of former Langley Ukulele Ensemble Director Peter Luongo. According to Peter: “From the get-go my hope was to emulate what I did with the LUE with adults as opposed to children. I feel very fortunate to be part of a group of motivated adults that see an opportunity to challenge themselves both musically and personally. I’ve been so very impressed with the development of this group that as they performed in Palm Springs it very much reminded me of my years with the Langley Ukulele Ensemble.” The Luongo Ukulele Experience will also be performing at the forthcoming Reno Ukulele Festival, April 6-9.

Extensive Vendor Area. Photo Kelly Anderson/Palm Strings Uke Fest
Extensive Vendor Area. Photo Kelly Anderson/Palm Strings Uke Fest

One visit to Palm Springs in the late winter is all it will take to have you hooked on this festival. With a simple glance to the west from the Hilton poolside you view majestic Mt. San Jacinto blanketed with a dusting of snow as you are warmed not only by the desert sun but by the camaraderie of your fellow uke enthusiasts. Next year’s gathering is tentatively slated for the last weekend in February.